Tasty Little Thighs

Title got your attention didn’t it? Well sorry to disappoint, but the thighs I’m referring to belong to chickens. The word Coxinha [co-SHEEN-ya] means little thigh and this is the name of one of Brazil’s tastiest and most popular snacks.

The Portuguese word for snack, lanche [lansh], originated from the English ‘lunch’ but at some point lost the original meaning and came to mean any quick bite.  Dotted all over the city are lanchonetes [lan-shon-ETCHES] or snack bars and these are great places to grab something quick, tasty and satisfying.

The much-loved coxinha, found in almost every lanchonete in Rio.



Of course some lanchonetes have a particular speciality, but there are some snacks on almost every menu. Pão de queijo (covered in an earlier post) is one such dependable and coxinha is another. The coxinha is a teardrop shaped ball of dough, stuffed with creamy shredded chicken, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried. They can be bite-sized snackettes or large enough to fill your palm and keep you going for an afternoon. Interestingly, the chicken used tends to breast meat, rather than thigh – the name stems from the fact that the shape is meant to resemble a chicken thigh (personally I don’t see it, but that’s the story they all tell).

I enjoyed my first coxinha soon after I arrived in Rio. We were on our way to the cinema and decided to stop into to a little lanchonete so that we didn’t get hungry half way through the film. My girlfriend ordered us a coxinha each and I loved it from the first bite. Crispy on the outside, a satisfyingly stodgy dough and then a juicy chicken filling. And then two thirds of the way down I got a surprise! Some coxinhas include an extra filling of catupiry [catoo-pi-REE] or requeijão [heckay-ZHOW], a creamy, gooey cheese – rather naughty but utterly delicious!

Anatomy of the coxinha with catupiry (Latin name: Tastius maximus) Image: Botequinsruteza.

Of course you don’t need to be a nutritionist to see that eating a lot of these would not be a good idea if you’re watching your weight. In fact I heard the story of a friend of a friend who was working in a lanchonette – when asking customers whether they wanted their coxinha with or without catupiry he would say “Would you like your coxinha with cellulite?”. Apparently he didn’t last long in the job…

But, whilst not exactly a health food, the coxinha is certainly not in deep-fried mars bar territory. And if you make the little ones then you can just have one or two right? The bite-sized coxinhas are great served as finger food with drinks and once you’re comfortable with the main recipe, you can mix it up – make them spicy, lemony, garlicky, extra creamy, etc.

The dough can be made from potato, wheat flour, cassava (mandioca) flour or a combination of these three. I’ll show you a potato and wheat flour version, but if you can find cassava flour then why not try using this in place of the wheat flour to see which you prefer? Also you can cut out the potato completely and simply add flour to chicken stock (stirring all the time) until you have a think, pliable dough.


1kg (2 pounds) mashed potato
400g (14 ounces) plain flour
Chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 or 3 eggs
Plenty of breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil for deep frying

Chicken Filling
500g (1 pound) chicken breasts without skin
Chicken stock (broth)
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large ripe tomato, skinned and chopped
1 desert spoon of paprika
Oil or butter for frying
Handful of fresh parsley or other herbs, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of requeijão or cream cheese
1 small lime
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Put the mashed potato in a bowl and mix in a little chicken stock, mixing well until you have softened the potato a little. Season with salt and pepper and then gradually add the flour a little at a time, mixing well. You will need to judge how much is required – you are aiming for something the consistency of modelling clay. Put in the fridge to cool.
  2. Place the chicken in a saucepan, cover with chicken stock (for extra flavour, add a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme). Simmer gently until the chicken is just cooked.
  3. Drain the chicken and allow to cool a little. Place in a large bowl and shred finely using your fingers or a couple of forks.
  4. Gently fry the finely chopped onion and garlic until softened, then mix in the chopped tomato and paprika.
  5. Add the onion and tomato mixture to the chicken. Mix in the chopped herbs and the cream cheese and stir well.
  6. Add a squeeze of lime juice. Taste the mixture and add more salt and pepper if you think it needs it. If it is still hot, allow it to cool a little.
  7. Retrieve your potato mixture from the fridge. Take some in your hand and form it into a ball around  5cm (2.5 inches) in diameter. Now flatten it into a disk and cup your hand so you have a hollow.
  8. Place some of your chicken mixture in the hollow and work the edges up and around the filling, turning it in your hand as you go. Gradually mould the edges around the mixture until they meet at the top. Form into a pear shape and make sure there are no holes or cracks. Roll the ball in beaten egg and then breadcrumbs. Repeat until you run out of chicken or dough.
  9. Place enough vegetable oil for deep frying in a saucepan and heat to 180°C (350°F) and fry the coxinhas until golden. Drain on absorbent paper and serve.
Coxinhas, chilli sauce and beer – a great combination that won’t last long! Image: Cervejarium
Serve your coxinhas with lime wedges and fiery chilli oil or other hot sauce – many people like to add a drop of chilli, take a bite, add more chilli, take a bite and so on. They will be gone in no time, especially if you are washing them down with beer or caipirinhas!
7 replies
  1. Alan Twelve
    Alan Twelve says:

    They look pretty awesome. Is there a similar snack that doesn't contain meat? Or even a fish version – I suppose that would work..?

  2. Tom Le
    Tom Le says:

    They *are* awesome! Really yummy. I was thinking about a non-meat version earlier – coxinha aren't that dissimilar to the Italian Arancini (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arancini) which have mozzarella in the middle – that would work I reckon. Or for a fishy one, maybe cooked prawns, minced up in a creamy sauce with loads of lime/lemon zest? That could be good too!

  3. Alan Twelve
    Alan Twelve says:

    I've definitely had something very similar to coxinha before, but not with chicken (and I can't think where I might have had them…)

    The reason that making them with fish springs to mind is that with the deep frying and the potato, they might be quite similar to salt cod fishcakes like you get in Barcelona.

    Deep fried food, though – you can take the man out of Glasgow… Mind you, I've never actually had a deep fried Mars Bar. Deep fried pizza, I'm ashamed to say, I have had.

  4. Tom Le
    Tom Le says:

    Ah yes, we have salt cod fishcakes here too – bolinho de bacalhau! Really delicious.

    Deep fried pizza – my god! Is there nothing you people won't deep fry?! ;)

  5. Alan Twelve
    Alan Twelve says:

    Yeah, bacalao is Spanish salt cod.

    And we don't deep fry salad. Although I'm sure someone has tried.

  6. Bruno
    Bruno says:

    Alan Twelve, coxinhas are typically filled with chicken, but most importantly, as long as it’s drop shaped, it’s a coxinha, and can be filled with anything you want. More commonly bovine meat or cheese, sometimes with shrimp as well (and damn, it’s so tasty!)

    Usually the cheese variants of the recipe (bolinhas de queijo = cheese balls) are perfectly round. And there’s the half-moon shaped ones called risoles, typically stuffed with bovine meat. But, just like anything else in Brazil, it’s not a rule you can’t adjust to your needs with a smiler


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