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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Haitian Stewed Chicken

I initially intended to write this post on the 12th, not because I planned it, but because it just worked out that way.  I hadn't had Haitian food since I was living in Miami, and I recently pulled out all of my books that had been packed away.  I've been going through a few of my cookbooks again, including my Haitian cookbook, The Art and Soul of Haitian Cooking.  When I came across the stewed chicken recipe, I just had to make it!  I'm actually glad that I made this dish on the 12th.  I felt closer to a very dear friend of mine who passed in the earthquake.  I would have shared this dish with her and we would have surely exchanged stories, laughed, and listened to some music over a great meal.  This post is in honor of her and her love of life, her contagious joy, and her love and pride for her country.

For those who have never tried Haitian food, I encourage you to give it a shot.  This recipe is very easy and super delicious!  In honor of my dear friend Stephanie and of all those who perished that day and in honor of every soul that was touched by the earthquake in any way, I hope that you will be encouraged to try something new and experience a taste of Haiti.

As an introduction for those who may be unfamiliar with Haitian cuisine, it is very similar in technique to other Afro-Caribbean cuisines--it has a strong focus on braised meats in a spicy, well-seasoned sauce that is most often served with white rice or seasoned rice and beans.  Out of all of the Afro-Caribbean cuisines that I know, I would say that Haitian food is closest to Jamaican.  If you like Jamaican food, you will love Haitian food too.  Although Haitian food tastes very different from Jamaican food, the ingredients are quite similar.  Haitian meats are marinated and braised in a sauce that contains everything that Jamaican meats do except where Jamaicans would use allspice, known by Jamaicans as pimento berries, Haitians use whole cloves.  Also, Haitians also add vinegar and, like their Dominican neighbors, tomato paste.  This particular recipe is very easy, authentic, and you probably already have all of the ingredients to make it.  Haitian stewed chicken has a rich, spicy, slightly tart flavor. The cloves impart a deep, rich flavor that has a wonderful aroma.  All of the flavors combine create a very unique flavor that is sure to delight the palate!

Also, as with many other Afro-Caribbean cuisines, the meat is chopped into bite-sized pieces using a good knife and a hammer to pound the knife through the bone.  This technique, although a bit intimidating at first, is actually very convenient because flavor penetrates the meat much more thoroughly, and cooking time is significantly accelerated.

Here is a recipe that I have adapted, with some changes, from The Art and Soul of Haitian Cooking by the Haiti Institute in DC.  I highly recommend this cookbook, by the way.  It is very authentic and has tons of great Haitian recipes, including baked goods, drinks, and even candies and ice creams.

Haitian Stewed Chicken
1 whole chicken, or about 8 drumsticks, chopped (bone-in) into bite-sized pieces (3-4 per drumstick)

1/2 a medium green bell pepper, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

6 whole cloves or about 1/4 tsp of ground cloves

5 green onions, minced (if you don't have them, no biggie)

1/2 tsp thyme

1 whole scotch bonnet pepper (habanero is a perfect substitute and is much more readily available in most areas) (do NOT break the skin of the pepper or your dish will be too spicy)

1-1/2 TB tomato paste + water for diluting (about 1-2 TB should be enough)

juice of 1 lime + extra juice for washing the meat (about 1 lime)

1-1/2 TB white vinegar + habanero hot sauce (traditionally pikliz vinegar, vinegar from a seasoned hot pepper and veggie pickle, is used)

1 tsp chopped parsley

salt and pepper to taste

2 TB of oil for frying

1. Wash the meat with lime juice and let set for about 5-7 minutes, no longer than 10.  Rinse and pat dry.

2. Crush the thyme, parsley, garlic, lime juice, bell pepper, and onion in a mortar and pestle or grind in a small blender or food processor until a uniform paste is achieved then add in whole cloves

3. Cover and rub the meat with the marinade.  Marinate the meat for at least 1 hour.  I discourage marinating overnight as acidic marinades can cause meat to become tough if left to sit for too long.

4. Remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving the marinade for later use

5. Brown the chicken in the oil over medium heat

6. Add in the reserved marinade, the thinned tomato paste, and the vinegar/pikliz

7. Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes until chicken is done

8. Serve with white rice or Haitian rice and beans

*Although this is not done traditionally, I like to strain out the solid onions and peppers after cooking is done.  It's not necessary, but it is just my preference because I like the nice, smooth sauce that results.

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