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 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 chanfana is also well-known in Coimbra, the actual birthplace of this dish is in Vila Nova de Poiares, more specifically, Semide—if the legends are correct.
You see, the story of this 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 out 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 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 the goat meat was tough. So, the Portuguese people had to make do with what they left—the old animals. They found a way to cook the meat so that it would taste better and become more 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—they took a long time to cook it in order to let the meat become tender and capture all the flavors.
Another Version of the Story
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 were displeased with the state of things—invasions and invaders and pillages and the like.
So, they decided to kill all the animals they had and cook them so that 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 with. Another account mentions that it was actually the nuns who poisoned the waters so the Frenchmen had no water. No matter which version is accurate, the matter is that they didn’t have water to cook with, so instead they used red wine.
The Third Version
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 rent each year. Many of them paid the rent in kind, depending on what they had; a lot of them had wine, so they paid in wine, while 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 receptacles 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.
Which Is It?
Is It a Roast or a Stew?
Well, it’s hard to explain in which category 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.
Do You Use Goat or Billy-Goat?
About what kind of meat you use for this dish, it depends on where you are at, but the original recipe 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 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 with 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, it’s black, and 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 is a bit tricky and it takes quite some time—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 tablespoon of lard
- 3.4 ounces (1 deciliter) of olive oil
- 1/4 pound (125 grams) of bacon
- 6 pounds (3 kilograms) of goat
- 1 laurel leaf
- Salt to taste
- about 1 3/4 pints (1 liter) of red wine
- Ask the butcher to chop the goat meat into medium-sized pieces.
- If it’s possible, season the meat the day before actually cooking it because it will taste better; the meat will have more time to absorb all the flavours. You just use the pot, add the meat and all the other ingredients, including the wine, and leave it in the freezer until the next day.
- If you don't have time to season the meat the day before, then take your black clay pot and add the pieces of meat, then add the other ingredients and leave the wine for last. The red wine should be a good quality wine, and you should pour it enough so that the meat is totally covered by the wine.
- 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.
- While it's cooking, be sure to check whether you 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 off from the bones.
How to Serve It
When it’s time to serve, heat up the chanfana and serve it with boiled potatoes and some homemade bread.
And If You Enjoyed This Recipe, Why not Give It a Star...
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".
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Joana e Bruno