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Monday, September 20, 2010

Trinidad Stew Chicken with Cornmeal Cou Cou

This is a crazy meal that I adore thinking about, preparing, and eating.  I've had a hankering for it for quite some time.  The deal was sealed after our friends Allan and Alison offered up the fresh okra from their latest CSA delivery and when I recieved my latest e-newsletter from

It's not really a stew. It's borderline insanity.   Hang with me on this one.

I purchased a whole chicken from the market, cut it  up into serving pieces, and set it aside while I prepared the seasoning marinade.  Pre-bottled green seasoning can be purchased, but I opted to make it with fresh ingredients.  After dicing 3 green onions, 4 tablespoons of fresh parsely, 3 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, 3 thyme stems,  4 roma tomatoes, a vidalia onion, and 1/2 green pepper, I tossed them with 4 cloves grated garlic, a one inch knob grated ginger, 3 tablespoons  worchestershire sauce, olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Once incorporated, I added the chicken pieces, covered them with plastic wrap, and refrigerated it all for 24 hours.

I had farmers market baby finglering sweet potatoes and white sweet potatoes hanging around the pantry, so I peeled them and cut them up for the stew.  Traditionally yams, plantains, or cassava would stew with the chicken. I had access to those, but went local.

Cou Cou is the national dish of Barbados and it always eaten with flying fish.  Trinidad has  version of it as well.  Cou cou, similiar to polenta, is a simple and humble side dish made with  cornmeal, butter, water, salt, and okra. I made it first so it could set up.  With apologies to the people of Trinidad and Barbados, I jazzed it up a bit. Using their traditional method, I boiled 1cup of thinly sliced okra in 3 cups of chicken stock  before slowly adding 1 cup of Weisenberger Mills stone ground yellow cornmeal, salt, and pepper. I tossed in a few tablespoons of sliced green onions and a very thinly sliced red pepper from the back garden.  After stirring constantly on low simmer for 45 minutes, I poured it  into a  buttered bowl to set. 

It was time for the fun part. Although simple, complete attention to the method was utterly required. Mise en place was in order with everything at hand.

I heated 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a dutch oven before adding a combination of white sugar and palm sugar to literally caramelize. 
I contsantly stirred it as it went from raw sugar to blond clumps to liquid sugar to melting caramel. It needed  to go one step further.


Scary. Once it smelled almost like burning marshmellows (uh huh), I carefully added the chicken into the molten mix to cook, color, and caramelize.  After turning the chicken a few times to envelope all sides with the sticky goodness, I added 1 cup of chicken stock to mellow the bubbling madness before dropping the remaining marinade ingredients along with the sweet potatoes into the pot to simmer with the chicken. 

Whew!  It didn't burn.  It easily could have, but didn't. I walked a glorious culinary tight rope with that part of the method and loved it.

I simmered the chicken and vegetables for 30 minutes to cook  until the onions, tomatoes, garlic, and ginger had completely melted into the sauce, reducing to a mahagony glaze.

I scooped the cornmeal okra cou cou onto our plates and topped it with a  drizzle  olive oil and dusted paprika. ( not traditional).

After spooning the candied chicken over steamed white rice, parsley and lime wedges finished it off.

Surprizingly, it was not overly sweet.  It wasn't pralined chicken, although it appeared so.  The herbs, fresh tomatoes, onions, pungent ginger and garlic coaxed the caramel into a deeply spiced savory sauce. The sticky chicken, with its instantly boiled-sugar-seared  exterior, was moist and tender while the vegetables vanquished into the molten sauce,  releasing their juices to infuse flavor and depth.

The cou cou was a playful side.  Contrary to what most think of okra sliminess, the gifted CSA okra from Allan & Alison were  tiny, fresh, and devoid of the goo.  They were crisp and subtle, complementing the grainy cornmeal cou cou and providing calmess to the crazy chicken stew.

In the wee hours of the morning, I had seconds.  I'm still sticky.

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