How to Cook Chanfana or Portuguese Goat Roast/Stew
Never has a dish had so many legends of how it came to be. This Portuguese roast goat stew, called in “Chanfana” in Portugal, is a traditional dish from Beira Litoral Province in Portugal.
The Beira Litoral Province is mainly made up of the Central Region of Portugal and the capital is Coimbra.
Although the Chanfana is also well-known in Coimbra, the actual birth place of this dish is in Vila Nova de Poiares, more specifically, Semide – if the legends are correct.
You see, the story ofthis dish got tangled with the French Invasions during the Napoleonic campaigns in Europe in the 19th Century, so versions of the story shift. Although the base of the story remains basically the same. Let’s jump back to the 19th century and try to figure what happened and how this recipe came to be.
Nuns, Frenchmen, Shepherds, Farmers, and the Poor Old Goats
In August 1810 the French Troops invaded Portugal, pushing the English and Portuguese troops all the way to Buçaco, in the Beira Litoral Province. Eventually they pushed the troops south, remaining in the Central Region for about 3 years. During that time, as it was normal back then, they pillaged the surrounding areas, taking everything they could find, that included the animals, but they left behind the old Goats and Billy-goats, because they found they weren’t good to eat, since it was tough meat. So, the Portuguese people had to make do with what they left, the old animals and they found a way to cook it, so that it would taste better and also the meat was tender. What did they use and what did they do? Red wine, lots of it, to cook the meat and also, another one of my favorites, taking a long time to cook in order to let the meat tender and capture all the flavors.
But another version tells us that was not what happened. What happened was that there a Monastery in Semide, which is part of Vila Nova de Poiares in Miranda do Corvo, where the nuns displeased with the state of things, invasions and invaders and pillages and the likes, decided to kill all the animals they had and cook them, so the French couldn’t have them. And apparently according to this version, all the animals they had were old Goats, by the looks of it. But here is where the stories differ: by one account, the Frenchmen, to get back at the population or the nuns, had poisoned the waters, so the nuns had no water to cook; another account mentions, that actually who poisoned the waters were the nuns, so the Frenchmen had no water. No matter which version is accurate, the matter is that they didn’t have water to cook, so instead they used red wine.
Finally, a more peaceful version of the events leaves out the Frenchmen and just mentions that actually the farmers and shepherds around the Monastery had to pay a rent each year. Many of them paid the rent in kind, depending on what they had, so a lot of them had wine, so they paid in wine, others had Goats and so on and so forth. Now, the nuns didn’t have the time or the expertise to keep a large herd, so they found a way to cook the meat in a manner that actually preserved the meat for a long time.
Once the Goat was cooked, the nuns stored the meat in its original cooking recipients in the fresh cellars of the monastery. The roasted/stewed Goat meat cooked in the red wine was preserved in the solidified gravy from the cooking for several months.
After All, Which Is It? A Roast or a Stew? Goat or Billy Goat?
Well, it’s hard to explain in which category a Chanfana is included, after all it seems like a stew, but it’s roasted in an oven, so let’s agree to call it a Roastew.
About what kind of meat you use for this dish, depends on where you are at, but the original recipe, which is from Semide, says you need to use Goat. So, for all purposes intended, Chanfana is made up of goat meat. Nonetheless, there are certain places in the Beira Litoral Province that use billy goat instead, such as Coimbra, the capital of the this province.
Either way, goat or billy goat, it’s simply delicious…
And then - you know how these things go - it didn’t take long for people to replace the goat for mutton, lamb, goatling, or whatever suited their fancy, so nowadays you can actually find Chanfana of about any kind of meat you can think of…
The Black Clay Pot
Now if you are talking about Chanfana you cannot forget the pot in which it is cooked, it’s no ordinary pan or pot, it’s a traditional black clay pot from Olho Marinho in Vila Nova de Poiares. The shape is a bit funny and it’s black, it comes in several sizes, but it’s the traditional cooking and serving pot for the Chanfana. Do you really need it if you are cooking Chanfana? Well, not really, but everybody says it tastes much better if you use it.
How to Cook This Dish
Now, this recipe, it’s a bit tricky and it takes quite sometime, not the time you take to prepare it, which is reasonable, but the time it takes to actually cook the meat. Also, it may seem funny or peculiar, but it’s terribly tasty, so set your fears aside and give it a try. And here is what you need:
- 1 teaspoon of Paprika
- 2 teaspoons of Black Pepper
- 5 Cloves of Garlic
- 1 Onion
- 1 tbsp of lard
- 3,4 oz/1 dl of olive oil
- ¼ pound/125 grs of bacon
- 6 pounds/3 kgs of goat
- 1 laurel leave
- Salt to taste
- +/- 1¾ pints/1 l of red wine
- At the butcher ask him to chop the goat meat in medium size pieces.
- Take your black clay pot and put the pieces of meat in, then add the other ingredients and leave the wine for last. The red wine should be a good quality wine and you should put enough, so that the meat is totally covered by the wine. If it’s possible season the meat the day before actually cooking it, because it will taste better, since the meat will have more time to absorb all the flavours. You just use the pot, place the meat and all the ingredients, including the wine, and leave it in the freezer until the day after.
- Pre-heat oven to its maximum allowed for half an hour.
- Place the pot in the oven and lower the temperature of the oven to 338ºF/150ºC, then leave the Chanfana in the oven for about 4 hours.
- Be sure to check, while it’s cooking, if you don’t need to add some extra wine. If you have a firewood oven, use it for this dish, because the flavour will be much better, than if you cook the meat in a regular oven. It’s done when you notice that the meat is coming of from the bones.
When it’s time to serve, heat up the Chanfana and serve it with boiled potatoes and some home made bread.
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I would like to thank the Club "Bike On Elas"- , namely Mr. Pedro Cunha and Mr. Filomeno Dias, for allowing me to use their wonderful photos of the " Chanfana".
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© 2012 Joana e Bruno