Galinha (Chicken) Cafreal — to Goa with love from Portugal

Galinha (Chicken) Cafreal — to Goa with love from Portugal

Chicken Cafreal is one real mouthwatering thing, I’m tellin’ ya! I fell in love with it in my twenties, and by God, I still love it so much. In it’s long absence, I get gustatory and olfactory hallucinations. No, I ain’t psychotic…but seriously….if I do not make this to feed myself each month, my taste buds and nose begin to fantasize. And there is a reason why. This heavily spiced up fiery Goan chicken is so damn flavorful and aromatic!! The lingering aroma makes me go hungry down to my knees. Yet again, in the US, and away from my land of spices, no matter how much I try and cook, I do miss the spicy good stuff real bad and crave for them often.

I spent 10 long years in the southern part of India studying and then working. And given my proximity to Goa, the smallest, most free-spirited and sea-shore-rich state in India, I sneaked out at least 4 times, to be on it’s serene beaches. Goa is very unique in its culture and cuisine. This tiny state has a history of 450 years of Portuguese colonization, and thus it presents a strikingly different atmosphere than you’d see anywhere else in India. It was in Goa, that I first tasted the Cafreal magic, and I didn’t stop there! I bet, this isn’t what you can eat just once. So, ever since,  I’ve had it innumerable times. This spicy preparation of chicken is fairly common and a popular favorite among Goan population. 

In Portuguese, “Galinha” means chicken or fowl. And “Cafreal” is derived from the Portugal word “Cafre“, meaning African Black. I am told that the Portuguese were the first to introduce Cafreal chicken in Goa. Apparently, this dish with it’s unique mix of spices and aroma was born in Portugal occupied region of Africa. Then the Portuguese brought along with them, many African soldiers and slaves to India, after they conquered Goa. And loads of chicken cafreal were made to feed them! “Cafreal love”  was one of the best things that the Portuguese left behind when Goa was liberated.

Galinha (Chicken) Cafreal -- to Goa with love from Portuga

Eventually, over the years, I picked up the nuances of the Chicken Cafreal recipe from a couple friends from Goa, their moms and mastered it, to feed my chicken-greedy Mr. Man and myself. By far, this has probably been one of the best chicken preparations I do — the list of compliments it has earned me, from friends and family, has been the eyewitness (well, if they had any eyes!). On a rather sincere note, this succulent and savory dish is indeed a show stopper. It steals away the limelight! You cannot go wrong with it. 

Customarily, this cafreal dish was meant to be deep green in color and slow cooked over burning charcoal. However, with stove-top cooking and frying taking their place in modern times, the color of cafreal has now changed to rich brown to blackish. Incisions are made on chicken pieces and they are rubbed with salt, lime, ginger, garlic, cilantro paste, chillies, and ground whole spices, and left to marinate, before being grilled over charcoal to make juicy, succulent cafreal chicken. 

Though its traditional to serve Cafreal with Goan breads, fries and fenny (Goan alcohol),  I didn’t have any tonight. And I also didn’t have the time to do my breads or have the patience to wait until my rice was done. So I sat on my porch and finished a plateful with my Rosé wine! Cannot tell you how wonderful that was…

Whilst I soak in a lot of the Cafreal-rich fantasies and day dream, hope you all enjoy the recipe and make some soon.


Serves 3-4

  • 1.5 lbs (about 700 gms) of medium to large cut ChickenGalinha (Chicken) Cafreal -- to Goa with love from Portugal
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1″ inch piece of fresh ginger root, chopped
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 5 Indian hot green chillies or more
  • 1 small bunch of (about 15 twigs) of Cilantro or Dhania patti
  •  3 to 4 tbsp of oil
  • 3 tbsp of water (to facilitate grinding)
  • Salt to taste
  • WHOLE SPICES — 1 tsp cloves or lavang, 1 tsp black pepper corns or kali mirch, 2 ” inches cinnamon or dalchini (broken into a couple smaller pieces), 1 tsp poppy seeds or khus khus, 1.5 tbsp coriander seeds or dhania, 1 tsp cumin seeds or jeera, 1 bay leaf or tej patta torn into 2 halves, 1 nutmeg or jayphal coarsely ground or powdered, 1 mace or javitri, 1 black cardamom or bari elaichi, 5 green cardamom or choti elaichi


  1. Clean and rinse the chicken pieces. Drain out all excess water and pat dry. Make small incisions on th epieces using a knife, or prick with a fork.
  2. Rub the lime juice and salt on chicken and keep aside. 
  3. In a dry frying pan, place all the whole spices and dry roast them till aromatic and very slightly browned. Take the pan off from stove when done.
  4. In a grinder, throw in the chopped onion, ginger, garlic and cilantro. Transfer the roasted whole Galinha (Chicken) Cafreal -- to Goa with love from Portugalspices, and add 3 tbsp water into the blender. Grind to a smooth paste.
  5. Transfer the ground paste on the chicken pieces and mix them well, so that the spices paste uniformly coats chicken.
  6. Cover and let the chicken marinade in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours (or overnight). [**There have been days when I had no time and had to skip the marination step. I proceeded to cook chicken directly and it turned out as great — just that I had to spend a teensy bit more time cooking them well!]
  7. When you are ready to cook, heat oil in a cooking pot and add the chicken in it. Do not add the marinade at this time.
  8. Fresh chicken has a natural tendency to release out a lot of juices. Fry them till dry over medium-high  heat for about 5 minutes or until they are slightly browned. Turn the chicken often to avoid charring.
  9. Add the marinade to pot. Adjust salt if required (you may not have to add anymore).
  10. Switch stove to medium-low and cook, cook, cook till done! I do not cover cook my cafreal, since that results in a some gravy. Because this is a dry preparation, I prefer mine succulent and juicy, and yet without the gravy.
  11. When chicken is done, take off from stove. Serve them hot with Goan undo pao or poee or your favorite bread, with lots of salad and fries on the side!



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