Canja de galinha is a variation of chicken soup that is popular in Brazilian and Portuguese cuisine. The exact origins of the soup are unclear, but it appears to date back to the 1500s. Some historians believe the soup is similar to earlier rice-based types of soups found in India. Traditionally, canja de galinha is served as a comfort food to those who are suffering from colds or general ailments. The comforting dish is also served at weddings and other special occasions.
For Portugal-based recipes, preparing canja de galinha usually starts off by simmering the chicken. Although some variations use specific parts of the chicken such as only the breast or thighs, most recipes use the entire chicken and simmer the meat while still on the bones to develop a richness of flavor. A stewing chicken or a hen is often used in the recipe because the older hens have a richer flavor that responds well to slow, moist cooking. The stewing hen and giblets are simmered for several hours along with water and flavorful ingredients such as bay leaves, celery, and onions.
After the chicken is cooked thoroughly, the meat is removed from the saucepan and rice is added to the pan and simmered in the stock. Alternatively, however, a rice-shaped pasta such as orzo can be used. After the skin and bones are removed from the chicken, the shredded meat is added back to the pot and all of the canja de galinha ingredients are simmered together for a few minutes. Fresh lemon juice is then added to the dish, and bowls of the soup are served up with a sprinkling of mint leaves. The Portuguese version is generally light and refreshing and is often served up as an appetizer preceding the main course of a meal.
In Brazilian cuisine, however, canja tends to be heartier. Alternate recipes for canja de galinha may feature flavorful vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes. Instead of a whole chicken, just breasts might be used, and the meat along with vegetables and other flavoring ingredients like garlic and parsley can all be sauteed together in the pan. Other meats such as bacon and ham may also be added before water is added to allow the dish to simmer and finish cooking. To save time, the rice may be cooked in advance and then reheated with the remaining ingredients.