Belizean Stew Chicken – A mouth-watering dish from the Jewel
The natural partner to rice and beans is, of course, that other Belizean staple, stew chicken. Elegant in its own humble way, like a philosopher in simple workman’s clothes, this is rustic-luxe Belize cuisine at its finest.
If you are lucky enough to have recado, that achiote based paste common in Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula, it’s a wonderful addition. If not, don’t sweat – I make it all the time without and have survived. Mix a bit of paprika with cayenne as a substitute if you like.
So get out the pots and pans, crank up some Andy Palacio, Garifuna All Stars, Paul Nabor, Aurelio Martinez or any Belizean music, imagine the sounds of toucans, gentle surf or children playing in the background, and get ready to go.
1 Chicken (about four pounds) cut into small pieces
1 clove garlic
1 onion chopped
salt, pepper (about a teaspoon of each)
Cumin ( a good pinch ground or about a teaspoon whole)
Thyme (a good pinch)
Black pepper (good pinch to taste)
Recado or Paprika (a half teaspoon piece of recado or a big pinch of Paprika as a substitute for recado and to add colour)
Vinegar or lemon juice (a few splashes or squeezes)
Chopped bell pepper (red or green)
One ripe tomato
1 teaspoon Brown sugar
Wash chicken and rub in the vinegar or lemon juice. Season with salt and set aside.
Heat the oil in a heavy pan or deep skillet and sprinkle flour, stirring to dissolve (like a thin roux) before adding chicken pieces. Brown chicken. Add onion and garlic, stirring until onion softens, being careful not to burn. Add remaining spices, stir, and begin adding water until chicken is almost covered. If you have the recado, mix with water until just runny and add with spices. Reduce heat and cook slowly to stew, about 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally and adding water as necessary.
A note on the seasoning. As mentioned, every cook has his or her own spicing tricks. Thyme is one favourite, and many Belize cooks use Season All instead of salt when initially seasoning. Bay leaf, oregano, basil – whatever strikes your fancy probably won’t go amiss. Some people add a small tin of tomatoes, a big splash of beer, dashes of Worcestershire and other personal favourites.
While delicious when served immediately, this is a dish that can be made well ahead of time and reheated – in fact, it seems to get better as it matures.
Serve alongside your rice and beans (see blog post of 26 June) and Belizean potato salad, homemade flour tortillas (recipes to come), or whatever you like, and you have a true Belizean dish.
If you’re in Belize, lucky you. If not, close your eyes once or twice while eating, listen to that Belizean music and picture paradise. You may find yourself transported back.
Chaa Creek blog