Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trini Tuesday-Stewed Chicken

Travelling Spirit asked for a Stewed Chicken recipe so here goes. First a little background...Stewed chicken is often considered, along with callaloo, to be the national dish of Trinidad & Tobago. Everyone there makes it, be they Afro-Trinis, Indo-Trinis, Chinese, Portuguese....I'm betting even the Syrians on the island make it. You can't possibly spend any amount of time in Trinidad and not come across stewed chicken. That does not, however, indicate that it is easy to make. There is one very crucial step in the process that is so easy to mess up. Everything before hand and everything after is easy and forgiving but the definitive step requires great practice and finesse. Sometimes even people who have made this dish their whole lives mess it up severely. I'll be sure to alert you. The recipe I am providing comes fro mthe Naparima Girls' High School Diamond Jubilee Recipe Book which most locals generally regard as a pretty definitive source on local cooking. I will add commentary on the recipe for the sake of clarity.


1 3 1/2 - 4 lb. chicken, cut up (That means cut up small, breast is to be split and then quartered, thighs are to be separated from drumsticks and cut in half, wings and drumsticks as themselves, the back is to be cut up and used as well, so is the neck...Trinis tend to be fond of the bony parts like these and refer to them as the 'sweet meat')
1 Tbsp seasoning (That means fresh chives, celery leaves, thyme, and a local thing called chadon beni...I'm told cilantro is a reasonable substitute for chadon beni)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp of sugar (In Trinidad you assume brown sugar any time a recipe says sugar, if there is qualification it will be telling you to use 'white' sugar. This recipe takes brown sugar.)
1 Tbsp cooking oil (I don't care what the book says, me eh NEVER see a Trini housewife use only 1 tablespoon of oil! Just throw enough in the pot to make a puddle....Likewise, they use more sugar than this recipe says to.)
1 onion, chopped or sliced
salt and pepper
(Now, dis de list de book givin all yuh...but dey missin tree tings, boy. Yuh would also need lemon or lime, Angostura bitters, and den some Golden Ray cooking margarine. Now where all yuh would fine Golden Ray I cannot say. If all yuh have a Caribbean market yuh could look dere. Dis eh no margarine yuh would put on yuh bread. Dis is just especially fuh addin flavor to yuh pot. Ok den...let we cook...)

-Cut up chicken and rinse quickly, do not soak. (Alright, I seen plenty gyuls ignore dis. but the important ting is...when yuh rinsing de chicken yuh must squeeze de lemon or lime onto it as well. Put de chicken in a bowl, after yuh rinse, den add the juice and a bit more water. Give de bird a good bath. Trinis eh like de smell of any kind of meat so yuh jus' go an wash and rinse and wash and rinse until yuh cyar smell nuthin but nuthin. If all yuh can still smell meat go again den drain off all de water.)
-Add seasonings, onion, garlic, salt and pepper and leave to marinate for 1/2 hour. (Dis is where yuh also put in de bitters. Yuh want a Trini taste, den add we own bitters. Yuh know we does make dem right here on the island. Is a real Trini ting! Jus' splash a little in, doh be heavy handed wit it. And if yuh wantin to let tings marinate overnight is yuh own business, eh no problem wit dat.)
-Heat oil in a heavy pot, add sugar and allow to brown. (ALERT! ALERT! WARNING! WARNING! This is where all can go wrong. And when I am telling you wrong I mean it can be inedibly wrong. Heavy pot means a big honking iron pot with a bowled bottom. You can attempt this in a traditional heavy gauge, flat bottomed stock pot but good luck with that. A light gauge pot is out of the question, you'll burn the whole friggin thing. A slightly bowled bottom is what makes a nice pool of everything for the chicken to stew in. I'm just sayin... Now, 'add sugar and allow to brown' that sounds sooooooo easy right? HAHAHAHAHA! You poor innocent people. Now if you were just looking for a little carmelization it would be groovy, no big deal. But for this recipe you put that sugar in the hot oil and wait until it looks BLACK, not a pretty golden brown, but black! You have to wait until the last possible second before it actually carbonizes and goes all bitter on you and thus becomes inedible. Trinis want this dish to be a rich dark brown when it's all done. If you put the meat in too soon it doesn't get the rich color. It tastes fine but looks all wrong. If you wait too long it looks great but taste like charcoal. I had many different people stand over my shoulder like a coach and shout 'NOW!!!' at that magical moment so I'd get it right. That is probably the only way to learn when the moment comes and be able to recognize it. I wish I could describe it in such a way to guarantee you'd get it right but I can't. You'll just have to be brave. I screwed it up several times in the learning process.)
-Add chicken and allow to brown all over, cook until water dries out. (I gave you all the appropriate warnings above. the color is important. The only thing is, you want to sort of avoid throwing the marinade juices in when you do this because it splatters like hell and makes it a little harder to do the browning.)
-Add one cup of water and cover pot, cook until chicken is tender. (Most people I know throw in the marinade juices instead and only use water if it seems too dry. You don't want the bird submerged in liquid, just a puddle of it to simmer in the bottom of the pot. This is also the point at which you add a little bit of the Golden Ray. How much? I dunno, an egg sized blob should do it. Turn down the heat some too while it stews.)

This gets served over rice and often with callaloo, which is a recipe for another day.

Now fix up yuh plate!

Happy Trini Tuesday!


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, sounds very yummy! But I'm a chicken and won't try to cook it :).

ttfootball said...

"I had many different people stand over my shoulder like a coach and shout 'NOW!!!'"
Lime I love it! your descriptions are SO funny! but true! I was showing a friend from Iceland how to do this once, turned out to be the best stew chicken I had had in a whiiiile, DAMN good stuff.
Yuh ever try using white sugar? it works the same, tip from my grandmom ;-)

barefoot_mistress said...

Sounds like cooking in Trini is a lot of fun!

Anonymous said...

Lime, that recipe sounds wonderful! Since I do all the cooking in my house, I'll certainly try this one out....You always say the kindest and nicest and most soothing things to people.

rose_michelle said...

I am a bonefide chick-atarian so I will definately try this one. Apparantly, living here is the deep south of Louisiana my T-shirt that reads, "Save the crawfish. Eat more chicken." is offensive. I'll wear it as I cook this dish!

Anonymous said...

Where I was living in Indonesia, that would be too hard. They fried everything. Chicken was hacked into little pieces with a machete and thrown into a frypan, shattered bone and all.
This was then put on the stove, then, everybody went to the market. When they got back a couple of hours later, it should be cooked.
Rice was a different matter.


Gary said...

I love chicken just about any way it can be cooked. I loved reading that recipe, but I can't try it. Way too hard for me. For almost all of my cooking I use the KISS method. (keep it simple, stupid)

Logophile said...

Sounds yummy and like waaaaay to much effort.
Can I come over and eat yours?

Seamus said...

So now the challenge is on to fix this properly???? I love a challenge! ;)

Moosekahl said...

I might make a side of stewed pumpkin to go with it :)

AndyT13 said...

Ohhhh! Deeee-licious! Excellent!
Must. Try. And no, I didn't tke a meal to the lady or play for her.
I gave her my number and told her to call if she wanted to talk...
but no response. She wasn't really open to the idea. That was some tense body language. Eh, she's a rape victim (from 20 years ago) and I got the idea she wasn't terribly fond of men. Nevertheless I tried. Anyway....Happy Trini Tuesday!

Rob said...

That sure beats the heck out of the Colonel's "secret herbs and spices", Michelle! Want to come over and stand behind me, then shout "NOW!" at just the right moment?!

I'm just interested in learning, ya know... ;-)

Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Lime, this sounds scrumptrulescently wonderful! ;)

I wonder if I can make a mock chicken version of this (being a vegan and all)? I see no reason why not.

m said...

mmmmm.....yummy to the tummy.

do you deliver?

Tommy said...

sounds scrumptious. I might give it a try ... I'm pretty good with those now moments. I mean can't be much harder that judging a roux or making peanut brittle (which I excell at by the way.) can it? Might wanna stand behind me any way just in case ... closer, closer, yeah ... that's it. Oh, were we cooking? Sorry.

lecram sinun said...

This I like. I miss cooking as a spectator sport. I just might give this a whirl! :)

m said...


Thank you for the poetic quote you left on post! (-:

Have a great Thanksgiving!


Blither said...

What about the pickle? And I don't see strapping lad included in here anywhere.


Susie said...

LMAO @ Tommy....

I just have one thing to say:

Amber said...

I would like to try that recipe, however, I must invest in large iron pot first. Do I have to hang it over an open fire in my foreplace too? J/K

RennyBA said...

Hmmmmmm, my mouth is watering - thanks for this recipe and in all this details. A must try I can tell:-) What do you drink to it?

Anonymous said...

Stew chicken is my all time favourite. But yeah, the biggest problem is figuring when to throw the seasoned chicken into the pot. It's a downright skill. I used to think if I could get a cooking thermometer and start to keep a record of the temp of the burning sugar, it would help me get it just right. Lord knows when I went to school in the Midwest and started cooking for myself I had many meals of stew chicken (and by extension Pelau) that was either too sweet or too bitter, and very few just perfect ones. It was my one big obstacle to feeling like I was home in the Midwest. Coming down to the end of my stay, I began to make more good pots than bad ones.

Good luck to all of you trying this. But don't give up if at first it doesn't come out right. It'll be worth it in the end.

Anonymous said...

OH BOY Stewed Chicken! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lime, you rock!

I can't wait to try it. While reading your post I could see myself watching my mother (who went to the Naparima Gir's School) make it in her big iron pot (I'm hoping a large wok would do) and I'm hoping I will be able to remember the colour of the sugar so I get the timing right.

I'd almost forgotten about the Angostora Bitters. Which, by the way, is good for a case of the runs. Just pour about an ounce in a glass add a little water to thin it a bit and drink it (while holding your nose...not an official insturction, I just couldn't stand the taste). That was my mother's home recipe. Tasted nasty, but certainly did the trick!

Happy cooking everyone!

p.s. I'll pass on the Callaloo :-)