Thursday, February 9, 2012

FREE COOKING: "Frango Caipira" (Brazilian Country Style Chicken)

This dish is the perfect example of free cooking at its core! I happened to have these organic chicken drumsticks in my fridge (cost only $4 bucks!) from the day I bought them at the store, and sort of forgot about them for a couple of days. So I HAD to make something with them! This particular day I had pizza in mind all day, especially since I still had some shredded mozzarella cheese in the fridge, which is a rare commodity these days! So I looked up at the Brazilian recipe website (tudogostoso) for a pizza crust I remembered once seeing. 

As I'm looking that up, I decided to go ahead and be efficient by putting these drumsticks in the pan so they could start cooking, and I could just shred them and use as a topping for my delish pizza!!! "Way to go G.!"

As I start browning them to then proceed to cooking them, I get completely swept away by the thought of a Frango Caipira

"Uhhhmmmmm....sooooo good I thought!!!" I kept looking at those sizzling, beautiful brown chicken legs, and kept thinking they were just too beautiful to simply get shredded and turned into a pizza topping! They deserved being a dish of their own! They deserved to be the most tender, soft, and tasty Brazilian country style chicken...or as Brazilians would say, "Frango Caipira"! "Aha! Perfeito! I thought" :)

So off I went trying to figure out what I had in my kitchen that would make this task possible.

When I think of "frango caipira", I think of two things: my childhood years in my grandparent's farm and my grandma! 

My maternal grandma is a very interesting woman. In her, fragility and strength are so intertwined that you can't tell where one begins and the other ends. She used to tell me in a jokingly yet resentful manner, that she was meant to be born in a "golden cradle" (a Brazilian way of saying you were meant to be born rich) but instead, she ended up being born into a "cradle of rags" with her rough life. 

And rough it was! Her skin was so sensitive and thin, that she would be filled with bruises from simply bumping into a tree, or the chickens pricking her as she looked for eggs or fed them. Her skin so pale, and her eyes such a light blue that the bright and hot Brazilian sun made her beautiful round face quickly wrinkle away. But as fragile as she often looked, her arms were stronger than my washing machine! With all the cooking, cleaning, tending the animals, the orchard and washing by hand clothes for her family of seven, she developed a strength that I doubt I ever will! 

That woman never stopped! As a child I would convince her after much arguing (also thanks to my persuasive skills), to go sit under the mango tree to relax a bit and say her prayers, while I would go do the dishes for her stepping onto a stepping stool to reach the sink. It made me feel so good to see her rest!

Grandma & Grandpa in their golden days!

Grandma & Grandpa now (2010)

The greatest memories of my life were created in that farm with her and my grandfather. I would milk the cows with my grandpa in the early morning ( I can milk a cow if you never knew that about me ;), then make bread and cheese with my grandma in the afternoon, and finally go to the village and sell the milk, cheese and eggs with my grandpa in the evening or the next day! Best of all, he would let me drive his old FIAT on the dirt road of the farm, all by myself, until we reached the fence to exit the farm! He actually taught me how to drive on that dirt road, first on his lap, than as I was old enough to reach the pedals, he would let me drive by myself! I thought this was the coolest thing ever! Still do ;)

But the memory that came to mind when I was making this dish, wasn't the milk, the cheese or the bread, but of course, the chickens! One of the memories I will never forget is my grandma killing a chicken by the hand to prepare for dinner! She would grab that chicken like there was no tomorrow (which for the chicken there really wasn't!), and would twist its neck so rapidly and effortlessly, that I barely had time to process the event! I remember just hearing the chicken scream and try to get away, and all of sudden it was dead! It freaked me out every time, and I could never understand how my grandma could get herself to do that! I think I would be a vegetarian if I had to kill my own meat. I remember when I first cooked a chicken in my life and the process of having to perforate the chicken's skin with a knife completely freaked me out! 

But being exposed to life on a farm you also learn to appreciate the cycle of life, and all that God provides us through nature! Although, I used to say that I wanted to send my Pitucha (my pet cow...more on that some other day) to India so she would never be eaten and would get treated like a god! hehehe...But luckily I found Christ before I went to such lengths...hehe.

Anyhow... so this is actually me as a kid (probably my daughter's age ~14 months) in my grandpa's farm in central Sao Paulo, Brazil (holding some corn to feed the chickens!):

Now enough chatting, and let's get down to some chicken business!!!

First, let the drumsticks brown in some oil. Keep switching sides as it browns-it takes a while for it to get this golden brown! Be patient :)

Then I added smoked paprika! If you've never tried smoked paprika, PLEASE do yourself this favor and buy some. It's revolutionary in the kitchen!!! :) At least for me! It gives that "bacon" flavor, without bacon ;)

Added minced garlic (lots of it!)

Reduced heat and placed sliced onions on top of chicken.

Added sliced baby potatoes, finely sliced leeks, pitted kalamata olives and seasoning-salt & black pepper. Just laid them on top of the chicken.

Covered skillet, left it under low heat to let the chicken cook slowly! That's the big secret here, for it to cook slowly under low heat.

Chicken gets VERY soft & juicy!

So good that it was approved even by our toddler!!! And this was her very first introduction to chicken :) Her face was TOTALLY priceless when she took her first bite. She loved it! She ate a little bit of everything in this dish and kept asking for more!

We ate it the Brazilian way with some rice! Only difference is that most Brazilians will eat white rice and we do brown ;)


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