jamaican curry chicken

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This is a light and flavorful curry, not at all heavy. It’s one of the dishes I grew up eating in Jamaica–just smelling the spices takes me home again.

Jamaican Curry Chicken 

3 medium potatoes, cubed
2 medium carrots, cut into chunks
1 1/2 medium onions, peeled, halved then quartered
2 tablespoons Jamaican curry powder (I recommend Betapac)
salt and pepper
4 chicken legs
4 chicken thighs boneless with skin on
2 chicken breasts boneless with skin on
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cups water

In a large bowl, season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper to taste and 1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder. Set aside.

In a large Dutch pot, put the potatoes and cover with water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer potatoes for 10-15 minutes or until just softened. Drain potatoes and set aside.

In the now empty Dutch pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Brown the chicken pieces in the oil, skin side down. Add the vegetables and 2 1/2 cups water. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook for 15 minutes.

Remove the lid and taste. Add up to a cupful of water if you want more gravy. Add the rest of the curry powder if you want a deeper orange color to the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. The potatoes will have thickened the sauce, but if you want it thicker, add a little cornstarch to some of the gravy and mix it together. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pot and stir to combine. Serve chicken curry hot over rice.

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jamaican curry lamb

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Every cook in Jamaica has his/her own version of curry goat—for that’s what you get when you go to the island. But goat isn’t readily available elsewhere so here we use lamb when we can get it. My dad makes his version of Jamaican curry lamb—rich with curry powder and Scotch Bonnet pepper. My tolerance for pepper is so low that I don’t taste anything but I feel the burn. As a result, I have never been able to taste and appreciate curry lamb. So when I came across Melissa Clark’s recipe (attributed to Martin Maginley of Round Hill Resort), I decided it had possibilities. I reviewed the ingredients and accepted the challenge.

It took me two days to gather all the ingredients. Lamb is not a common commodity and neither are Scotch Bonnet peppers. Andy did some networking. His friend Robert recommended we try Villa Supermarket at Paradise Park for the lamb. He was right. I bought a 3 pound boneless lamb shoulder there.  Bangkok Foodies ‪#‎BangkokFoodies recommended to Andy that we try the other Villa on Sukhumvit for the peppers.  On Friday, I went to the Villa on Sukhumvit and bought their last pack of Habañero peppers. Habañeros are a good substitute for Scotch Bonnet peppers. That afternoon I seasoned the lamb and put it in the fridge to marinate overnight. Today, the curry lamb is center stage.

Jamaican Curry Lamb (adapted from NY Times)

Prep time: 30 minutes
Marinating time: 2 to 12 hours
Cooking time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours

3 pounds boneless lamb stew meat, 2” chunks (I used boneless lamb shoulder)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 large white onion, coarsely chopped
2 scallions coarsely chopped or 1/ 2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1/2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 whole allspice berries (pimento) or 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil, more as needed
1 1/2 cups diced potato
1 cup diced carrots
1-2 whole Scotch Bonnet peppers, seeded and chopped (leave in the seeds if more heat is desired)

Cooked white rice or coconut rice

Lime wedges for serving
Mango chutney or mango pickle, for serving
Fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped for serving

Pat lamb dry with paper towels and place in a large bowl. In a small bowl combine 1 tablespoon curry powder, salt, ground ginger, and black pepper. Add spice mix to large bowl and toss with lamb.

Cook’s Note: After patting the lamb shoulder dry, I trimmed as much excess fat and skin off the shoulder as I could. Lamb is very oily when it stews. Then I chopped up the meat into 2 inch chunks.

Combine onion, scallion, garlic, fresh ginger, allspice, thyme, and 2 tablespoons oil in a blender; purée until smooth. Scrape mixture over lamb and toss to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Stir in 2 teaspoons curry powder and heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding the pot, brown the meat on all sides. Drizzle in additional oil, if needed, to prevent meat from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Transfer browned meat to a plate.

Once all the meat is browned, return it to the pot along with any juices on the plate. Add enough water to cover the meat, just. Bring liquid to a simmer, covered, then uncover the pot and cook gently 45 minutes.

Stir potato, carrots, and Scotch Bonnets into the pot. Simmer until the vegetables are fork tender and meat is cooked through, about 30-45 minutes longer.

Cook’s Note: Jamaican cooks use Scotch Bonnet peppers for their flavor as much as for their heat. I slit the peppers before adding them whole to the pot. One is spicy, two may be extremely spicy.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer meat and vegetables to a bowl. Simmer cooking liquid until it has reduced and thickened to a saucy consistency (to taste), about 15-20 minutes. Remove the peppers from the pot. To make the pot spicier, chop up the peppers then add them back to the pot. Or you could skip this step altogether. Don’t throw out the pepper but offer it as a side for those who like more heat on their plate. Taste sauce and add more salt if needed. Pour sauce over meat and vegetables.

Cook’s Note: To make a simple coconut rice, substitute unsweetened coconut milk for half the water. Add a pinch of salt. I recommend  using basmati rice.

Serving Suggestion:  coconut rice with curry lamb and gravy topped with a squeeze of lime, a dollop of mango chutney or mango pickle, and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro. And the pepper from the pot.

This curry is full of flavor, everything melded together in the meat and in the sauce, and not spicy-hot at all. The mango chutney adds a sweet-tartness to balance the spiciness, and the coconut rice is the stalwart in the background, a perfectly al dente accompaniment for the sauce.

basil chicken in coconut curry sauce with stir-fry baby bokchoy

When a dish “needs something” the cooks in my family (the Jamaican side, that is) always say, “Put  a country pepper in-a de pot!” When I tried this dish from Simply Recipes for dinner, I thought it was light and delicious, but it definitely needed a country pepper. What we call a country pepper is also called a Scotch Bonnet. Its close relative is the Habañero. I took the last Habañero out of  the freezer and put that into the sauce. Now a Scotch Bonnet/Habañero will add some heat but mostly it will add flavor to the dish.

You can tell I’m so used to the vivid flavors of Jamaica and Thailand, and even though I added the country pepper,  I still wasn’t happy with the sauce.  I could hear a voice in my head say “sai nam pla!” So I added some fish sauce to the curry. Fish sauce or nam pla is pungent but it  adds saltiness and flavor without changing the color of the sauce, thus making it ideal for this light curry.

Some compromises in favor of “lite” cooking. To lighten the calorie load of this dish I used “lite” coconut milk. White rice is best to serve with curry sauces because it soaks up the sauce. However, brown rice won’t do this.  So instead of a traditional white rice accompaniment to this curry dish, I made a medley; a mix of white Thai jasmine (hom mali) rice and brown basmati. Both were the long grain varieties. The ratio is 1 cup white to 2 cups brown rice.

Basil Chicken in Coconut Curry Sauce

INGREDIENTS

1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs or breast (2 thighs or 1 large breast)

1 large red onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large whole country pepper (Scotch Bonnet or Habañero) (2 jalapeño peppers in original recipe)
2 Tablespoons olive oil, grapeseed oil, or canola oil
1 14-oz can lite coconut milk
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce, to taste
3 Tablespoon fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger

Hot cooked rice

METHOD

1 In a small bowl, mix together the salt, ground coriander, cumin, ground cloves, cinnamon, ground cardamom, black pepper, chili powder, and turmeric. Set aside.

2 Rinse chicken, pat dry. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Put into a bowl and sprinkle the spice mix over all the pieces. Coat well and let sit for 30 minutes at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

3 In a large skillet heat 1 Tablespoon oil on medium high heat. Add the onions and country pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Remove the onions, pepper and garlic from the pan and put into a medium sized bowl. Set aside. Use the same pan for the next step.

4 Add 1 Tablespoon oil to the skillet and heat on medium high heat. Add one half of the chicken pieces, spreading them out on the pan so they are not crowded. Brown for a few minutes on each side. When the chicken pieces are cooked through, and no pink remains, remove from pan, add to the bowl with the onions. Cook the second batch of chicken pieces the same way. Remove from pan, add to bowl with onions.

5 Add the coconut milk, minus a couple tablespoons, to the skillet. In a small bowl, mix the remaining coconut with the corn starch to dissolve the corn starch. Add the corn starch mixture back to the skillet with the coconut milk. Cook on medium heat and stir till thick and bubbly. Mix in the fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce. Add chicken mixture, basil, and ginger. Cook 2 minutes more to cook through.

Serve over rice. Serves 4.

I served basil chicken in coconut curry sauce with Stir-Fry Baby Bok Choy from about.com. Baby bok choy is sweeter and the stems thinner than the adult variety.

Stir-Fry Baby Bok Choy

Ingredients:

4 bunches baby bok choy (basically, 1 bunch per person)
2 slices ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 cup water
A few drops sesame oil, optional
1 tablespoon vegetable oil for stir-frying

Preparation:

Wash the baby bok choy and drain. Separate the stalks and leaves. Cut the stalk diagonally and cut the leaves across.Trim the tips and the ends.

Heat wok and add oil. When oil is ready, add ginger and stir-fry briefly, for about 30 seconds, until the ginger is aromatic. Add the bok choy, adding the stalks first, and then the leaves. Stir in the soy sauce, sugar, and salt, and stir-fry1 on high heat for 1 minute.

Add the water, cover the wok and simmer for about 2 minutes. Stir in the sesame oil and serve. Serves 4.

coconut curried chicken

I’ve made this recipe from the South Beach Diet cookbook many times and each time it always surprises me because it’s so flavorful. It’s sweet, sour, salty, nutty, and a little bit spicy. To season it, I’ve added fish sauce (in Thai: nam pla) instead of salt  and it really makes a difference. Instead of brown rice,  I served the coconut curried chicken tonight with cooked pearled barley, steamed broccoli drizzled with lemon juice, and steamed green beans with kosher salt.

Coconut Curried Chicken

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound chicken tenders
1 tablespoon chicken broth
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon powdered coriander or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup light coconut milk
2 tablespoons almonds, ground
1 teaspoon sugar substitute
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
2 teaspoons water
Scallions sliced diagonally for garnish
2-4 teaspoons fish sauce, to taste, if desired

Preparation

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the chicken and cook until no longer pink. Remove chicken to a plate and set aside.
  2. In the same skillet, heat the broth. Add onion, garlic, cilantro, ginger, lemon peel, cumin and turmeric, and cook 5 minutes or until the onion is tender. Stir in the coconut milk, almonds, sugar substitute, and red pepper. Return chicken to the skillet, cover and simmer 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the chicken to a plate. Reserve the sauce. To the sauce in the pan, add the tamarind paste mixed with 2 teaspoons water. Stir into the sauce and gently boil until thickened. Add the fish sauce, if desired, to taste. Pour sauce over the chicken.
  4. Serve with brown rice, if desired, and sugar snap peas with red peppers.