The Easter Recipe Hidden in the Portuguese Mountains | Catavino
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Cabrito Estonado: The Easter Recipe Hidden in the Portuguese Mountains

Cabrito  Estonado - Roasted Goat PortugalGrowing up, Portuguese kid stew was as ordinary to me as beef stew was to my American friends. Whenever there were mentions of “cabrito,” my smile lit up! Around this time of year, my younger self would be jumping for joy around my mother’s kitchen, since this was often the meal of choice for Easter. Chocolate bunnies didn’t excite me at all, but this sure did. Let’s just say I was a foodie way before I had a clue as to what the word meant.

The pieces of kid would soak up the overnight marinade it sat in unlike any other meat I had ever tasted. Years later, I learned it had to do with goat in general being drier than most other meats—an ideal characteristic for marinate absorption. The kid stew, “Chanfana (or Ensopado) de Cabrito” in Portuguese, consists of drowning bone-in pieces of kid in “Vinha d’Alhos,” garlic, red wine, vinegar, bay leaves and spices. The next day, the mounds of meat are slow cooked until über tender and served with boiled baby potatoes.

How could this ever be topped for me? Turns out, it could. In the same region where my grandparents’ tiny village in rural Portugal lies, the Beira Baixa, is a place in the mountains that serves up a Medieval-style roasted kid that’s magic for goat meat-lovin’ folks like me. Called “Cabrito Estonado,” loosely translated to “Kid Undone,” this refers to how the animal is submerged in scalding water after the slaughter, making it possible to pluck its fur (or undo it) without skinning it. The skin is what makes this dish special; it crackles in the oven à la suckling pig.

On my trips to Portugal, I had been asking around if others had tasted this dish. Most had no clue, which of course further fanned my curiosity. Forget gluttony, tasting this dish and writing about it had become a goal. Some might call it … ahem … an obsession. For one reason or another, however, I kept missing the boat on devouring this dish. But last fall, it finally happened. I learned that my cousin had restored a rural, schist home (two more are in progress) called Casas da Encosta for tourism in his mother’s village of Cunqueiros nearby none other than Oleiros, the mountain village where the roasted kid recipe originated. You can imagine my excitement! I immediately sent my cousin a message, “Nuno, do you know anything about this dish?” He absolutely did and set it all up for us at O Prontinho, the go-to place for this dish in the heart of Oleiros. The catch: you need at least six to eight people to reserve an order and to split the 200-euro cost of the meal (prices may vary). No surprise, it wasn’t difficult to find takers to join us. Enter: wide smile.

Casas da Encosta Maria Afonso dos Santos Silva, the restaurant’s chef and owner, has played a principal role in preserving the ancient ways of this recipe. For nearly 55 years, her restaurant was one of the few places serving this dish, which Maria learned in her early 20s from five spinster sisters in town with a passion for this local tradition. Though Maria is no spring chicken, she’s full of life and dedication to her patrons. She answers phones in the front of the house, checks on roasts in the yard, stirs pots and skillets in the kitchen and brings a smile to the table with everything she serves. She’s a multitasking master! Stocky and tall with short, kinky reddish hair, I’d say she’s the Julia Childs of the mountains.

Maria took me out back and let me peek at the kid, crackling in her stone oven atop a bed of branches. Wafts of roasted garlic enwrapped by grassy, sweet scents tantalized my senses. It was evident we were in for a seriously succulent ride. The trouble, Maria tells me, is how labor intensive it is to prepare the kid (preferably, one to two months-old). Then, there’s how long it takes to roast it. You have to pluck every single piece of fur from the animal to ensure all you’re left with is smooth white skin. It’s then marinated for 24 hours in garlic, white wine and bay leaves and other secret ingredients. The next day, it gets a lard rub down and then it’s placed whole atop a bed of thick branches to keep the kid from touching the marinade that’s placed in the tray. The skin must stay dry in order to crackle. It’s also important to get a vibrant and aromatic fire going with the aid of eucalyptus. Never use pine, Maria, advises. That’ll only make your meat taste bitter. The eucalyptus, on the other hand, injects refreshing notes into the roast. Maria started the fire that day at 9:00AM, placed the kid in at 10:30AM and served it to us at 1:00PM with baby roasted potatoes and kid gizzard-infused rice. She also served my favorite, “Esparregado de Nabiça” (chard mousse; also delicious with spinach), another staple of my mother’s Easter table. What a feast! It was the best of both worlds—the crackling skin typically associated with suckling pig but on one of my favorite meats. This food adventure was so worth it. And, I couldn’t thank my cousin enough for his suggestions and guidance. It sure pays off to have authentic Portuguese connections!

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Entirely satisfied with my experience, all that was left to accomplish in “Mission Cabrito Estonado” was to open the rest of the world’s eyes to it. Ironically, not a week went by after my arrival in the U.S. that my cousin sent me the news that one of Portugal’s celebrity chefs had become an ambassador for this dish after discovering it at a local gastronomy festival a few days after we had tasted it in Oleiros. The chef was wowed. Yeah, tell me about it! Soon after, O Museu da Cerveja (the beer museum) in Lisbon announced it would be throwing a Medieval-themed event in honor of the “Cabrito Estonado,” a dish they would now be featuring on their menu. I was floored. So, guess if you stir the pot enough something does happens. In this case, the universe must have heard me.

What now? I say, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying this dish in Lisbon. But if you can, I highly recommend you go to the mountains. The views are breath taking, the villages are charming and there are adventures for foodies and nature buffs galore. And most special, there’s nothing like a chat with an old-school chef that gets her kid from a local farmer and roasts it in a eucalyptus-powered stone oven on site. Memorable indeed!

Still, I’m thrilled to see other restaurants adopt the dish. This is way overdue! Not only because I’m a fan of this tasty meat, but so that the region it comes from can gain the recognition and attention it deserves and needs. And, trust me that there is a whole lot more where that came from … Ever hear of “Maranhos?”

If we’ve just tipped your hunger levels to epic proportions, then let us take you on a customized tour of the most exquisite and mouthwatering foods of Portugal. 

Cheers to food adventures!

Sonia Andresson-Nolasco

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  • Sonia – what a wonderful article. I am part of a Northern California culinary group named Fond of Goat (“F.O.G.”) and just shared the article to our FOG Facebook page. In fact FOG’s inspiration came from a trip I took last year to Lisboa. Andrea Smith, another CataVino contributor, took us on a food tour which included an excellent goat dish at a restaurant that is the home base of the Confraria dos Amigos do Cabrito Assado. We have since learned of other Portuguese dishes using goat, including now Cabrito Estonado. In honor of our “heritage” FOG is organizing a group dinner here in California next month which will be overseen by one of our members who originally came from Fundão – most appropriately he will be preparing Cabrito à Caçadora for us that evening. I hope one day to make it to Oleiros to try this special dish. Muito obrigado!

    • Sonia Nolasco

      Hello Michael, Great to hear from you. Thanks for such kind feedback. It’s exciting to be in touch with a fellow goat meat lover 🙂 So cool about F.O.G. — I’ll definitely be following on Facebook. Fundão is close to where my family is from in Portugal, we’re in Penamacor. I like Fundão’s cherry version of the Pastel de Nata. Cherries from that area are spectacular. If you ever decide to visit Oleiros, let me know. We’ll do our best to steer you in the right direction. Thanks for reading!

  • Sonia Nolasco

    Hi Michael! There is an annual culinary festival in Oleiros around this time of year. I haven’t visited during the festival, so not sure if it’s worth it. The upside is you get to taste lots, but having a few hand-selected items prepared just for your tasting the way I did it with the goat, might be a best bet. Nothing like food coming to you straight out of the oven 🙂 I think Oleiros to Caramulo is about 2 hours. I’m a huge fan of Chanfana, some call it Ensopado, and yes, usually it’s made with an older goat. The stew tenderizes the gamey meat. Some make it with kid, too. Both are delicious, though the gamey tone of the old goat are worth experiencing. Just tons of flavor! Other than these dishes, the other one I enjoy is BBQ goat, on a coal-fired grill, it’s called “Grelhado na Brasa.” Maranhos are stuffed goat tripe. In addition to the goat meat, the stuffing might include minced onions, cured ham, rice and mint. It’s surprisingly light! I didn’t have mine in Oleiros, but the goat restaurant also makes them. I had it at Praca Velha restaurant in the city of Castelo Branco –that’s the big city in the Beira Baixa region, the second would be Covilha which has its own culinary delights and sits at the foothills of the mountain, Serra da Estrela, also jam packed with fun stuff! If I think of any other interesting goat recipes, I’ll share with you.

    • Many thanks Sonia. If we can find some goat stomachs we may try to make some Maranhos for our Fond of Goat dinner on April 25!

      • Sonia Nolasco

        Sounds like fun to me 😉 enjoy!

        • Hi Sonia. I recently came across a site that mentioned a goat dish called “Foda à Monção” from the Minho region – see I was curious as to whether you might have heard of it? Coincidentally, a goat dish we enjoyed very much while we were in Lisboa last year was a Cabrito no Forno à Monçao at Solar dos Presuntos. Must be a lot of goat activity up there in the Monçao region!

          • Sonia Nolasco

            Hi Michael,

            I imagine that the cabrito you had at Solar dos Presuntos was the same as the dish “Foda à Monção,” except that they cleaned up the name as “Foda” is a naughty word 😉 I’ll let you google translate that one! lol! The dish sounds terrific. I haven’t had it, but there are definitely gastronomical reasons to visit Monção. I have to get up there!

          • Thanks Sonia. I now understand the meaning of “foda” — not a term that has appeared yet in our Portuguese textbook! All the same, probably helpful to be aware of its meaning. I will have something interesting to share at our next class for sure! Incidentally, I was curious as to the derivation of the term in the context of that dish from Monçao. I came across the following explanation which suggests two explanations:

            Estamos a uns dias da Páscoa e nas mesas de muitos portugueses vai estar presente o cabrito, por isso decidi partilhar hoje uma receita de cabrito típica de Monção e muito conhecida, tanto pelo nome como pela iguaria em si.
 Não se sabe ao certo qual a origem do nome, mas existem 2 versões mais conhecidas que vou contar resumidamente.
 Antigamente os criadores de gado dirigiam-se às feiras para a venda dos animais, mas como nas feiras há de tudo, o bom e mau
            existiam criadores que punham sal na alimentação do gado para que ele bebesse muita àgua e assim ficassem mais pesados e os vendedores lucrassem mais. Quando os compradores chegavam a casa e se apercebiam do que tinham comprado exclamavam “mais uma foda!” vulgarizando-se o termo e associando ao prato de cabrito!

A outra versão diz que os maridos depois de “encherem o bandulho” diziam para as esposas que aquilo era melhor que uma foda.

          • Sonia Nolasco

            These are hilarious, especially the second one!! Do you have a favorite 😉 lol! Did you google translate them?

          • Thanks Sonia. I was able to understand most of the text but took them to my Portuguese class on Sunday to address a few questions. I think the story about putting salt in the food sounds plausible, but the dish I had in Lisboa was pretty good so I don’t discount the second! Incidentally, I also found another amusing story about local customs:

            “O termo tanto se vulgarizou que o prato passou a designar-se, localmente, por foda. De tal modo que é frequente, pelas alturas festivas (Páscoa, Corpo de Deus, Senhora das Dores e Natal ou Fim de Ano) ouvir as mulheres: “Ó Maria, já meteste a foda?”

            Also, I noted that just this past October Monçao held “o 1.º Festival do Cordeiro à Moda de Monção, 3 a 5 de outubro.” From the standpoint of our Fond of Goat organization, I have to object strongly to the outrageous cordeiro for cabrito substitution, but perhaps lamb is more readily available than goat these days? Also, they seem to be “cleaning up their act” (as we say in English) by downplaying the use of the “foda” reference. Sad to see political correctness making such advances in the Minho!

          • Sonia Nolasco

            I couldn’t agree more that lamb is no substitution for goat! I like lamb, but not in any way as much as goat, especially for stews. I wonder if the Cordeiro is an entirely different recipe. I might email them to find out. As for cleaning up their act, I actually read an article that said the opposite. It claimed the people of Moncao were filing to certify and protect their “foda” name and how it’s made. We must find out more!