14 June 2011

Frango na Púcara, Santo António, and the Marchas Populares

Behold, my first attempt at recreating the deliciousness experienced in Alcobaça, which I raved about in a previous post.  Monday was the Feast of Saint Anthony, a big holiday and day off in Lisbon, so what better way to fill my afternoon than with a couple hours of fussing over some delicious, drunken chicken stew?

I think Frango na Púcara will become my traditional Festa de Santo António dish.  There was something so very right about the Feast Day and the memories of the Monastery in Alcobaça and the stories of the excesses of the monks who lived there.  I think they would approve of a three-liquor stew.

Of course, this little stew had a lot to live up to if it was going to compete with my memory of the other one.  And while I have to defer to Frei Bernardo as still the best frango na púcara I have ever tasted, this frango was pretty heavenly as well.

Same addictively savory taste, same touch of sweetness from the onion, same delicious surprise pieces of presunto stuck to the tender chicken.  Yum, yum, yum.

I only made a few changes to the recipe I originally posted.  First of all-- I am a fraud, because technically this is a frango na panela... I used a dutch oven instead of a real clay baking jug.  I obviously need to go shopping before my next attempt.  On the other hand, rest assured this recipe will work great in your jug-less kitchen as well!

Secondly, I had the butcher pre-cut the chicken, and this was both brilliant and a slight mistake.  The long cooking time needed for the sauce to come together meant that the chicken pieces cooked through long before the sauce was ready.  Now, using chicken pieces meant a vastly easier preparation, and with all this sauce and a closed top cooking method you would never have called the chicken dry. Just... not perfectly cooked, which is a bit bothersome.  

(You make the call in your own kitchen, efficiency versus perfection.  I won't tell if you don't.)

Also, although I had access to the real deal, I think you could substitute some of the alcohols if availability is a problem.  The port is an absolute must, you would lose too much of the flavor leaving that one out.  But a dry white wine for the vinho verde and any young brandy for the aguardente would work fine, I imagine. 

In the end, Bacalhau Boy and I each had three servings, with an obscene amount of rice to mop every drop of the sauce off of our plates.  

As fine a feast as Saint Anthony (or the greedy monks of Alcobaça) could have asked for.  

And to partake in the full cultural experience, take a look below at the Marchas Populares, the folk dance celebration and competition held every year on the eve of the Festa de Santo António in Lisbon.  Each neighborhood of Lisbon choreographs a routine complete with elaborate costumes, and performs it on the closed main throughfare of Avenida da Liberdade.  If this doesn't make you want to pour some wine on your chicken and scarf it down, nothing will!

Frango na Púcara
(Chicken in a Jug-- err... or a dutch oven)
adapted from Food of Portugal 
serves 4

A small broiler-fryer about 2 1/2 pounds, either whole or in pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
4 large or 12 small white onions, peeled and whole
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled
5 large branches of Italian parsley
1/4 pound presunto or prosciutto, finely diced
3 large bay leaves
one 14 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2/3 cup vinho verde or other dry white wine
1/2 cup Port wine
2 tbsp aguardente (or other brandy)
1 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tbsp coarse ground pepper
1 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).  If using a whole chicken, rub it all over with olive oil, then stuff the body cavity with 3 of the onions, 1 garlic clove, and 1 parsley branch; set aside. If using pieces, simply toss the pieces in the olive oil.

2.  In a bowl, mix together the tomatoes, vinho verde, Port, brandy, mustard, and pepper.  Set aside.

3. Scatter half of the presunto over the bottom of a 3 1/2 quart earthenware jug or any heavy, deep casserole dish with a lid. Add half each of the parsley, onions, garlic cloves, and one bay leaf.  Place the chicken in the jug headfirst (if using pieces, simply toss the chicken into the pot).  Tuck the remaining onions around the chicken, scatter with the rest of the presunto, drop in the remaining garlic, parsley, and bay leaf.  Pour in the tomato mixture, evenly over all.

4. Cover the jug or casserole and bake for 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, or until a drumstick moves easily in the socket.

5. Remove the jug from the oven, fish out the whole onions and reserve.  Next, drain the liquid from the jug into a large, heavy skillet.  If using a whole bird, lift it out and cut it into 8 pieces: legs, thighs, breasts, and wings.  Otherwise, simply remove the chicken pieces and reserve with the onions. Discard the parsley and bay leaves, rinse the jug, and set aside for serving.

6. Set the skillet over a high heat and boil uncovered for about 10 minutes to reduce the liquid by about half.  Keep an eye on the skillet and stir often.  Lower the heat if the mixture is reducing too fast.  If mixture still looks too thin after 8 minutes, add a teaspoon of flour and whisk in rapidly.  When it is reduced, turn the heat to its lowest point and keep the liquid warm.

7. Optional: Place the chicken about 6 inches under the broiler and broil 3-4 minutes until nicely browned.

8. To finish, place the chicken, reduced sauce, and whole onions back into the jug or casserole, and serve. You could also plate it separately for each person, chicken and onion over rice and potatoes with sauce spooned on top-- but I can't imagine not bringing the rustic púcara to the table, if you go to all the trouble of using it!

9. Suggested sides: fries, rice, pasta, rustic bread... anything that will sop up this sauce for your mouth to enjoy.


  1. Not wanting to make myself a guest, but one day you'll have to invite me for a meal, lol. Just one minor correction, it's Santo António and not São António. A friend of mine asked me the difference between both, i didn't know how to answer but after checking it, i found out São is used when the name starts with a consonant, when a name starts with a vowel, you'll use Santo instead. I think, lol

  2. Ahhh!! Always things to learn! Thanks for the correction and for investigating the rule, besides. Now I won't make the same mistake in the other direction and think it is "Santo Pedro" or something. :) You are definitely earning your place for that free meal! lol

  3. Lol, well, don't get frustrated, i'm Portuguese and i didn't even know how to explain the difference, lol. Maybe i can try the so-promissed creamy codfish ;)

  4. Geez, I was wondering the same as I read it, but did not think to look it up... I would say that it is Santo António, São Pedro e São João, and that would go along with the grammatical rule that boneko unearthed, but I know that, in Brasil, it is the race of São Silvestre that it is run on the last day of the year, so that would be an exception to the rule... so much for grammatical rules in any language (no offense meant) lol!!!! In any case, I'm the midst of trying out the recipe and it is smelling wonderful so far! Thanks for making it available!