Arroz de pato is a traditional Portuguese dish. It can literally be translated to “duck rice”.
The recipe is typical of the region of Alentejo, which means “beyond the Tagus”, a river crossing Portugal, originating in Spain and flowing into the Atlantic Ocean around Lisbon, the capital of the country. This region is located in the southern half of Portugal, where rice paddies abound.
The rice production in Portugal is a Muslim heritage. Its cultivation was however prohibited because of the risk of malaria, but during the nineteenth century, the sowing gradually resumed, or at least officially, because it seems that rice never really disappeared and became a source of enrichment for Portuguese agriculture.
Originally cultivated in the Mondego, Beira Baixa and Alcacer do Sal basins, its production has spread to all regions of the country since the 1930s. The cultivated variety is the Carolino, a rice that is used for arroz de pato and in many other Portuguese recipes. A popular and ubiquitous companion to tables, its endless possibilities make rice the daily ingredient of many families.
The most emblematic rice dish in the country is our arroz de pato. Originally from Braga and Lafões, it is traditionally prepared with wild duck whose flavor is more pronounced and a flesh that is less fat than its breeding cousin. The rice is prepared using the technique of estrugido, i.e. by sautéing the rice in a mixture of onions and fat exactly as one would do to prepare a risotto (tostatura) or a rice pilaf.
Arroz de pato is usually accompanied by greens and vegetables seasoned with various spices. In the old days, this dish was prepared in a clay mold, or even in a clay tile for a slower and tastier cooking. It is served almost invariably with a glass of very good red wine, usually Aragonês.
In addition to duck and rice, the other essential ingredient of arroz de pato is chouriço, the Portuguese cousin of Spanish chorizo. This smoked pork sausage, however, is fatter and spicier. It is seasoned with cumin, paprika, garlic and white wine. Although it goes into the composition of the dish and beautifully reveals the flavors, chouriço is usually consumed flambéed with brandy. There are different types of sausages that are more or less fat and their usage differs. Here, people will more often use a chouriço de carne, the least fat of the family. Black and white blood sausages are also called chouriço de sangue or farinheira. They are served whole or sliced.
The recipe for arroz de pato became popular in the middle of the 20th century. According to historian and food writer Virgilio Noguiero Gomes, it is the need to eat out and the increasing number of restaurants that have made this recipe so popular. However, it has become a typical family recipe for Sunday lunch. The quality of duck broth prepared before assembling and baking the dish is as often a testament to the quality of the final result. Indeed, it must be fat enough to be appetizing without becoming too fat. Personally, we preferred to degrease it after letting it sit in the fridge all night. This step is not essential but also makes the dish more digestible.
There is a recipe close to arroz de pato on the other side of the border, in Spain, in the province of Seville between La Puebla der Rio and Aznalcázar. The climate of the region with the largest rice paddies in Europe attracts migratory ducks, and farmers there have also been able to take advantage of the best nature had to offer. The duck rice recipe (arroz con pato) can also be found in Peru where the wine in the broth is replaced with jora chica, a whitish fermented drink made from corn. The Colombian poet Próspero Pereira Gamba (1825-1896) mentioned it already in 1860. Arroz de pato became popular in Lambayeque in the north-west of the country and became a national emblematic recipe during the twentieth century. The color of the dish depends on the season because it incorporates peppers of different colors depending on their maturity. The dish then takes the name of “green rice duck”, yellow rice, red rice… Cilantro is also added to add flavor. In Brazil, arroz de pato is prepared with beer. However, the Bracarense recipe we are interested in here is known to be the most famous.
As we live in France and we are outside of the regulated hunting season, we replaced the mallard with a little duck. The method of cooking the palmiped in a broth to perfume it and at the same time degrease the flesh of the animal was already known in ancient Rome. The famous gourmet and epicurean Marcus Gavius Apicius mentions it in his book De re coquinaria.
We did not resist the pleasure of nibbling a few thin slices of chouriço throughout the preparation of the arroz de pato whose perfumes that emanated from the pot definitely whetted our appetite.
- 1 whole duck
- 1¼ cup extra long grain rice
- 2 onions
- 1 carrot , cut into very small cubes
- 3 cloves garlic , chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ chouriço (Portuguese chorizo)
- ½ cup red wine
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- Place the duck in a pot. Add a half-onion, the bay leaf, red wine and a little salt.
- Cover with water and cook over medium heat for 1 hour 30 minutes, or, depending on the quality of the duck, until the meat begins to detach from the bones. If the cooking liquid evaporates too much, add boiling water.
- Remove the duck from the pot. Remove the skin and bones and chop the meat.
- Filter the cooking liquid and reserve it for cooking the rice.
- Finely chop the onion.
- Coarsely chop ¾ of the chorizo.
- In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion, garlic, carrot and chopped chorizo.
- Sauté over medium heat until golden brown.
- Add the rice and fry for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Add 5 cups of reserved broth and cook for 10 minutes.
- Correct the seasoning if necessary.
- Add the meat and mix well.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Pour the duck rice with the juice (if there is any left), in a large baking dish and smooth out the top.
- Garnish with the remaining chorizo slices and bake for 15 minutes or until the rice is golden brown.
- Serve very hot.