Friday, April 02, 2010

Trade Winds

One of the great things I've experienced while learning to cook is how inter-connected our global cultures are. Last night's dinner is a great example of the tangled web we humans create. The island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost islands in the Caribbean Sea and just off the coast of Venezuela, has a cuisine indicative of the local region and a global influence. With roots as far reaching as the Indian sub-continent, Africa, Europe and as local as the Caribbean Sea and the Latin nations of Central and South America, these flavors are sure to awaken your palate and liven your senses. So as summer approaches the northern hemisphere, dim the lights, light the torches and turn on some steel drum and Calypso music and enjoy.

Trinidadian Chicken Curry

To start, you need time to marinade the chicken. A couple hours minimum, overnight is nice. Onions, tomato, garlic, jalapeno and I forgot the cilantro. A spoon of mustard and a little drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Basically a salsa/pico de gallo.

When you're ready to cook, get the spices ready. I used a standard brand of curry and added a teaspoon of Jerk Seasoning to bring some Caribbean flavors to the party. Plus some tumeric, which has good health benefits. And great dying ability. Tumeric can and will stain things. Including wooden spoons and some plastic utensils. Mix these spices with water to make a slurry.

The first step in cooking is to get some oil hot. Use regular vegetable oil if you like. Or do as I did and use some olive oil and butter. That's how I roll. Butter is a good thing. To the fat you will add the slurry and cook until it becomes a thick paste.

After the slurry has become a paste, add some sliced onions and cook until soft.

To the onions, add the marinated chicken. Shake off the excess marinade, but don't worry if a few bits and pieces stick around. They will cook up in a minute. Cook chicken for a few minutes on one side, then turn. I like using boneless/skinless chicken thighs best. Great flavor! But chicken breasts will work as well.

The recipe I tried also suggested the addition of potatoes. So, I sliced up some leftover fingerling potatoes I had and tossed them in. Add potatoes will require a little bit longer of cooking time to give time for the potatoes to become tender. The dish also screamed out for some tomato to me. So I added 1/2 cup of diced tomatoes.

Top off the ingredients with broth and water as needed. Bring to a boil, drop the temp to keep at a low simmer. Cover, leaving partially open to let the steam escape and the sauce to eventually reduce some. At this point, if you added some warm spices (cinnamon/allspice) and some golden raisins, you basically have a Moroccan-style Tagine.

Having cooked for about 25 minutes. We're ready to go.

Along the Tagine lines, I served the chicken curry with couscous (from a box, with flavors, didn't like it. won't try it again). Traditionally, it would be served with white rice. If you don't keep forgetting the cilantro, you can toss some on as a garnish. Add some roti or flatbread for a wonderful meal! Spicy, rich, tender, amazing flavor.

Trinidadian Chicken Curry

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks
Click over for great photos.

For 2

4 boneless/skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp salt
Fresh black pepper
1 tsp yellow mustard
1 whole medium onion, halved
1 whole tomato, quartered
1/2 jalpeno pepper
8 cloves garlic
8 sprigs cilantro
1 TB curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp Jerk seasoning
1 TB olive oil
1 TB butter
1/2 cup diced tomato
1 cup chicken broth + 1 cup water (if needed)

Place chicken in a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and add mustard.

In a food processor, chop half the onion, tomato, cilantro, garlic, and black pepper and/or jalapeno.

Add mixture to the bowl. Stir the whole mixture together so that the chicken is totally coated in the seasoning ingredients. Allow chicken to marinate for at least two hours, or overnight.

After chicken has marinated, make the curry slurry: Add curry powder and turmeric to a bowl. Pour in 1/3 cup water and stir until dissolved.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium-low heat. Pour in the curry slurry and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Curry slurry will deepen in color. If the mixture becomes too dry during cooking, add a little water.

When the curry slurry has become a thick paste, Slice the other half of the onion and add it in. Allow the onions to soften, then add in the chicken. Stir to coat the chicken, then cook, half covered, for five minutes. Turn the chicken, then add in the broth and water if needed to nearly cover the chicken. Shake the pan to let the broth distribute. Add the diced tomatoes. Allow the chicken to cook until done, stirring every five minutes. Cook for about 20 to 15 minutes.

At the end, be sure to taste and adjust salt and pepper. Serve chicken over rice; spoon sauce over the top.


DancerInDC said...

I also could see the global connections here - it was similar to a tagine, but also a basic chicken curry that you might have in Indian cuisine. Add some coconut milk and it would be similar to a Thai dish.

The main point is not to be afraid of those spices! There's a big difference between "that's too spicy for me" and just having a lot of spice to add depth of flavor.

P.S. Chicken thighs are definitely my preference over chicken breasts nowadays. Always better flavor, and they don't dry out.

Lady Brandenburg said...

That is very similar to what Netta makes. She calls it roti but I'm starting to think that's her Trinidadian equivalent to "gumbo" or just "stew" meaning "throw everything but the kitchen sink into the pot. She uses a whole chicken though, from a market, including the bones so in hers I end up fishing out a few stray body parts that I don't recognize.

When I google the word roti, it's nothing like what Netta makes, what she makes is something like this recipe.

But hey, she's Trinidadian and like 150 years old, so I'm not going to arge with her. :)

Lady Brandenburg said...


ScottE. said...

Roti as far as I know is bread...but I could be wrong. This is very stew-ish, especially if you were to thicken the sauce a bit more and perhaps chop the chicken up some.

Anonymous said...

"and added a teaspoon of Jerk Seasoning to bring some Caribbean flavors to the party" hurt my heart. First Trinidad and Tobago are typically considered West Indian...Jamaica...where Jerk originates and is popular is not. Within all the islands you will find differences in the food - even among foods by the same name and each island truly takes pride in their own style. Trini's would not use Jerk seasoning in curry. Not to say that what you made wasn't delicious...

A lot of Trini cooking and West Indian cooking have heave Indian influences because Indian people were brought there as slaves.

To answer the other comments - Roti- which is a word for bread to many Indians is also a word for many West Indians - but there are different types of Roti - Dosti Roti, sada roti, but Roti as a dish is completely different. For the west indians it is composed of a roti skin (Dhal puri roti) which is a bread like wrapper typically with layers of Dhal (split peas) cooked with spices throughout. Inside you wrap up whatever stew you choose - as simple as just potato (aloo), chickpeas (channa) and potato, or stewed chicken, or even curry chicken. The stew itself without the wrapper is not roti. A similar dish is a buss up shut which incorporates a wrapper and stew, but is cut up or buss up (busted up). Most trini's would leave the bones in their chicken when they make the stew for a chicken Roti.

If anyone wants some Trinidadian food, or to try a great Roti, the best place around to get one is Teddy's Roti Shop which is on Georgia Ave. Near Walter Reed Hospital. I always get take out cause it's more of a carry out than a sit down place. Best Roti and Buss Up Shut around here...Good stewed chicken and curry chicken too. Don't order a Roti at's a waste of time. Go there for Jerk Chicken or a Patty. You can also typically get decent Caribbean food at the DC Carnival in June, but I quit going 2 or 3 years ago because it gets too crowded for me sometimes.

some resources: (keep in mind they moved since this review, so i believe the address is wrong)

(with the disclaimer that this gal is not 100% trini and sometimes Americanizes things)

ScottE. said...

Dear Anon:

1st--I know Jerk and Trini-Curry aren't the same thing. No disrespect! The original recipe called for using a Trinidad style curry. I don't have that and made the assumption the Jerk would bring something more closely associated with the general region, to the party. I didn't really notice the Jerk flavors to be honest. So it's probably not necessary, but like I said, I wanted to try to replicate what I assumed Trini-Curry was.

2nd--thanks for the great info! I didn't have time to do much research before doing this post, really only enough time to get some regional influences. So to learn more about all the differences is great. Especially for the first time making something like the Trinidadian Chicken Curry.