I fell in love with this Latin American dish, not just because it’s so pretty, but because of the peasant nature of it. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Essentially it’s cooked, meat-filled cornmeal layered with peas, that’s then topped with hard-boiled eggs, hearts of palm, tomato slices, and olives. Then the whole thing is steamed before it’s served. I just had to try it.
The origin of this recipe, which translates into “Molded Steamed Chicken, Cornmeal and Vegetables,” is Brazil. The fanciful nature of this dish makes me wonder if it’s one that is served on a special holiday, but I couldn’t find any info on that.
The recipe I used is from the Time-Life series Foods of the World – my old stand-by cookbooks. This one – Latin American Cooking. I made a few necessary changes, but nothing that compromised the dish. I will type the recipe up exactly how I did it.
Truthfully, the recipe pushed me a little out of my comfort zone just because I’m not used to doing such fiddly presentations, but I challenged my patience and just stuck with it. The good thing? This is a fabulous dish!!!
Cuscuz de Galinha
6 chicken breasts*
1/4 cup white vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 large tomato, chopped, seeded
1 cup chicken stock
Line the bottom of a large skillet with the chicken breasts, then add the next seven ingredients.
Place the skillet in the fridge and marinate the chicken overnight.
The next morning, cook the chicken in the marinade for about 10 minutes, using tongs to move the breasts around. Then add the chopped tomato and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a plate, and strain the marinade, keeping the juices in a large bowl.
When the chicken has cooled, slice it up into narrow slices, and add to the juices, tossing to moisten the chicken.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo, crumbled
In another skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat, then add the sausage and cook them until they have browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Place the sausage on some paper towels to drain.
When they have fully drained, add the chorizo to the chicken mixture.
4 cups yellow cornmeal, medium grind
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1-2 tablespoons hot sauce (optional)
Place the cornmeal in a large pot and add the salt. Add the boiling water, and stirring constantly, incorporate the water into the cornmeal.
Then stir in the butter, olive oil, and parsley.
Add the chicken and chorizo and some of the juices if you think the cornmeal needs a little moistening.
3 tomatoes, seeded, sliced about 1/8″ thin
hearts of palm from a can, rinsed, dried, sliced about 1/8″ thin
4 hard-boiled eggs, cut crosswise into 1/8″ slices
Pimiento-stuffed green olives, cut crosswise into 1/8″ slices
1 cup thoroughly defrosted peas
Oranges, for serving
Grease the inside of a large colander, the finer holes the better. If you’re using large tomatoes, center a tomato slice in the middle bottom of the colander. If you’re using smaller tomatoes, just be as creative as you can be with the design. Build the design outward, using the hearts of palm, eggs, more tomatoes, and olives.
When you are done with lining the colander, place one-third of the meat and cornmeal mixture in the bottom of the colander and press down lightly. Try to lay the chicken slices horizontally, so you end up with a layered effect. Top with half of the peas.
Continue with one-third of the cornmeal mixture topped with the remaining peas, then press the remaining cornmeal mixture on top, smoothing the top.
Cover the colander tightly and place it in a large pot; the bottom of the colander should be above the bottom of the pot. Add water to within about one inch from the bottom of the colander, then cover everything tightly, either with foil or a tightly-fitting lid.
Proceed to steam for one hour, making sure the water doesn’t completely evaporate.
After one hour, let the dish cool slightly, then turn it over onto a serving plate.
To serve, carefully slice a wedge, and serve it with orange slices.
* I used chicken breasts because a certain person who eats my food only eats breasts of chicken. But if I had my way I would have used thighs, or a whole chicken, cut into pieces.
note: The name cuscuz is interesting, and the origin is intriguing, although this isn’t a wheat couscous like in the Middle East. However, the “grains” of cornmeal stay separated like a couscous, but maybe because I used a medium-grind, whole-grain cornmeal.
Verdict: I will probably never make this dish again, but not because it doesn’t taste good. I would actually make a deconstructed Cuscuz de Galinha in the future, because all of the components are really good. It was fun to try.