I have to admit something that I am rather ashamed of. I have heretofore been ignorant of Caribbean cuisine except that from the island of Jamaica. Being lucky enough to have a father hailing from said island means I have been blessed with the gift of traditional Jamaican food along with what I like to call a Jamaican/ British fusion (being my moms wonderfully interesting interpretation of the cuisine).
My dads cooking style is very traditional and not very experimental, home cooked food passed down through generations is at the heart of his cooking. Just the other week he asked my mom and I how to roast a chicken and what to accompany it with. Something that astounded me coming from a 60 year old man who is a wholly competent cook and has resided in this country for over 40 years, surely cooking a roast comes with the British package. I guess he has always had my mom for that.
The Islands of the Caribbean are actually very diverse. They each have their own varying culture, cuisine, music and are even seperated by different languages, which explains our previous lack of Caribbean cuisine creativity (excepting my mothers mixed bag that is our family personified in food). Each island is distinct from the other yet can be linked by certain factors, the cricket team being a perfect example of this.
The inspiration for this dish stems from a lazy day off at my mothers house with nothing to do aother than flirt with the different T.V channels searching for a companion for the afternoon (somewhat a novelty for me due to the lack of such a device at home). Flicking through channels I naturally landed on the Food Network with Jonathan Phangs camp take on Trinidadian cuisine.
It opened my eyes to a cuisine I had never previously considered, with ingredients that are familiar friends (thyme, coconut milk, scotch bonnet) but with a refreshingly different approach.The Chicken Pelau caught my eye due to its delightful simplicity as a one pot wonder, using ingredients that I mostly already own, keeping my purse at a weight I could handle at this time of the month.
To start me off on this culinary adventure of tasty proportions, the back bone of my Pelau (and so it seems to many a Trinidadian dish) is the somewhat refreshing, green seasoning. This is something so versatile it can be used in anything you fancy, from soups to stews and one pots for that extra depth of flavour (this is through personal experience having already used it a fair few times).
I have found a magical formula for making this now indisposable seasoning paste (as no two recipes for it are the same). This can be used as a rule and adjusted to your tastes.
O + G + GH + E = GS
Onion + Garlic + Green Herb + Extra ingredients = Green Seasoning
It is worth noting, the onions tended to be of the spring variety in many a recipe I happened upon. I choose to go one further and use a mixture of onion and spring onion for extra oniony freshness. The green herb section can be made up of as many as you choose, the very nice lady Mr Phang visited used sage and tarragon as well as thyme. I would say thyme is a must as it is an essential ingredient to many a Caribbean dish- it would be rude not to! I added coriander leaf alongside this for its fresh, cooling citrussy notes and due to previous existence in my fridge, quite frankly I do not have the money to be throwing around indulging in a catalogue of herbs that are not readily available in my house, convenience anyone! Note to self, must plant herb garden!!
The extra ingredients are, but not limited to, hot chilli pepper (Scotch Bonnet being the chilli pepper I choose due to its prevalence in Caribbean cooking and distinguishable flavour) and celery (used to lend to the seasoning a lovely peppery dimension). Many recipes include the addition of a sweet pepper (Pimento pepper being the usual suspect) to the seasoning as an extra ingredient. I left this out a) because I have no idea where to lay my hands on the elusive pimento pepper (it was nowhere to be found in my locals) and b) because I was feeling too stingy to buy any of the sweet peppers ASDA had to offer, roll on payday for unrestrained pepper purchases!! Pumpkin also seemed to rear its orange head in many a recipe, but not being the season I didn’t bother to open that can of worms.
The end result was something fresh and green that gave the dish that extra somethin’ somethin’. My own recipe is just a guideline, it really is just down to your own taste. I may tweak and change it for my next batch and for research purposes but this one worked a treat.
1 onion (chopped)
1 bunch Spring Onions (chopped)
2 Scotch Bonnet Chilli Peppers (chopped)
12 Garlic cloves (chopped)
1 stalk of celery (chopped)
A handful of coriander leaves (chopped)
As many thyme leaves as you can be bothered to pick mine was about two handfuls
Blitz in food processor till nice and pasty.
This can be refrigerated for about a week (or until it looks fousty), or frozen, I try to freeze in portions so as to not have to take an ice pick to break off individual chunks.
On to the Pelau. This was inspired by Mr Phangs recipe with a few tweaks, he uses curry powder, whereas I choose not to, as from what I can gather it is not traditionally included in the dish.
Hot pepper sauce can be found in the Caribbean section of your local Tesco, Sainsbury’s or shop self respecting enough to include this wonderful ingredient. I keep it in my cupboard to add a subtle or not so subtle kick to any dish, including cheese on toast. Nom Nom!
Scotch bonnets are also widely available and are very hot! When selecting remember that the red peppers are the hottest with the greens the least fiery (I don’t know if this is really obvious but it wasn’t to me)! Caution to be advised when handling these beasts as with all chilies. I had really tingly, oddly burning skin post hand washing after using these. Need to wash thoroughly. And then do it again! Keep away from eyes!
Trinidadian Chicken Pelau
2 tablespoons veg oil
2 table spoons brown sugar
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into sizeable chunks
1 onion (chopped)
2 garlic cloves
Sprinkling dried thyme
Hot pepper sauce (about 1 tsp or to taste)
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 carrot (chopped)
A good bit of ginger
300g easy cook long grain rice (sorry another of my approximations I used enough for 3 people)
250 ml coconut milk
375mi chicken stock
2 tomatoes (chopped)
Can of gungo peas (or kidney beans if you so wish)
Heat oil in (large) pan. Add sugar. Cook until bubbly and dark brown. Add chicken. Stir to coat. Cook for approximately 2 mins. Stir in green seasoning. Add onion, garlic and season with both types of thyme, hot pepper sauce worcestershire sauce, dark soy sauce and hot pepper sauce. Add rice and ensure each grain is incorporated with lovely stuff. Now add coconut milk, chicken stock, gungo peas and tomatoes. Bring to the boil then bring down to simmer. Put lid on pan and listen to stomach rumble as lovely smells fill house. Cook until rice absorbs liquid and chicken is cooked (about 25 mins).
The result is fresh and wonderful. One pot dinners are a weekday winner, when work has whittled away the will to wash up.
Watch Fire in Babylon for an excellent insight into the West Indies cricket team!!