Cape Verdean Cuisine — Canja: Chicken and Rice Soup

When a Cape Verdean cook wants a quick, hearty dinner he or she often looks no further than to canja (recipe follows), the chicken and rice soup that is well-liked not just in the islands, but in Brazil and Portugal as well.  Brought by the Portuguese colonists, canja is incredibly simple.  Whole pieces of chicken are simmered in rice and broth until tender, with some onions and garlic adding flavor.  Many cooks jazz the recipe up by adding peppers, mushrooms, or anything else their imaginations conjure, but the basic version is what most Cape Verdeans abroad miss.

More Cape Verdean dishes on The World Cup of Food:

  • Jagacida (Cape Verdean bean and sausage stew)

As is the case with most recipes of foreign origin we are trying for the first time, we opted for the most basic version of canja.  We added some garlic to ours, since that just seems like the right thing to do in most cases, and browned the chicken separately before adding onions and eventually the liquid.  Our sources varied on browning the bird so we simply followed our own sensibilities.

Canja

adapted from The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth’s Cape Verde Home Page

SERVES 4 TO 6

  • 1 chicken, cut into pieces
  • 2 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, whole and peeled
  • 2 cups Calrose rice (any rice will do)
  • 8 cups vegetable stock (most flavorful liquids will do, including chicken stock or even boullion cubes and water)

We used a whole fryer chicken for our recipe and cut it into pieces ourselves.  We think the recipe would be just as good with bone-in thighs or drumsticks substituted for convenience.

We heated the oil in our large Dutch oven oven just below medium heat on the stove, and once hot, added half our chicken (seasoned with salt and pepper, of course).  As is the case when browning any large amount of meat, it is preferable to brown in batches rather than overcrowd the pan and have the meat steam instead of brown:

canjachickenbrowning

After five or six minutes the chicken was a light golden brown in color and was ready to be turned:

canjachickenturned

After another four or five minutes, the first batch of chicken was brown on both sides and ready to be removed to a nearby large plate.  The other chicken pieces were browned in a similar manner and removed to the same plate while we worked on our onions and garlic.  Since we did not want to overbrown the onions, we turned the heat down to medium-low and began sauteeing the onions in the chicken drippings and oil:

canjaonionsinpot

Garlic has a much higher burning risk than onions do, so it was added after about five minutes once the onions had softened a little and taken on some color from the pan drippings:

canjaonionsbrownedgarlicin

After another three minutes, once the garlic had softened and the garlic aroma was noticeable,  we added the rice to the pot and sitirred to combine and to coat the rice evenly with oil:

canjariceaddedtopot

After another couple of minutes we returned the chicken to the pot:

canjachickenreturnedtopot

…and covered it with the vegetable stock:

canjabrothaddedtopot

The soup was brought to a simmer over medium heat, then covered.  The heat was dropped to low and the soup simmered for about thirty-five minutes until the chicken and rice were tender and cooked through:

canjachickendone

The soup broth and rice were ladled into large bowls and topped with a chicken piece.  We prefer the hindquarter so that’s what we served first:

canjaserved

Our canja was rich and hearty without being too greasy.  The starch from the rice had absorbed much of the moisture in the broth, giving the soup a very thick texture.  The chicken was thoroughly cooked but still moist.  For most Cape Verdeans canja is comfort food, and it easy to see why.  Easy to prepare and full of flavor, canja deserves a place on any dinner table.

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