It’s not ‘Jerk Chicken’ but it’s still a Caribbean classic: check out Elizabeth Ortiz’s Jamaican “Chicken Fricassee” from The Complete Book of Caribbean Cooking (1973).
To the shock and dismay of my friends and family, Jamaica’s famous dry rub ‘Jerk’ marinade was strangely missing from Elizabeth Ortiz’s ‘complete’ book of Caribbean cooking. Only 2 recipes are attributed to Jamaica out of the hefty poultry section of the book. The first of which: a kind of Asian-inspired chicken stew with pineapple and water chestnuts titled “Annie’s Tropical Chicken” a childhood recipe from Ortiz’s servant growing up in Jamaica. The second, was this more successful concoction entitled “Chicken Fricassee” that’s marinated over night in a dry rub of garlic, paprika and ginger and then stewed with onions and tomatoes.
In my mind, I have always associated fricassee with a cream sauce but in point of fact it is the method of cooking that determines a fricassee as opposed to the ingredients therein. Essentially, fricassee is a medieval French cooking term that operates as a portmanteau of the French words frire (to fry) and casser (break into pieces) and is essentially a ‘dry’ stew where the meat is sautéed first to brown the skin with a minimal amount of liquid added afterwards.
Being such an old cooking term, it has had plenty of time to circulate throughout the world and has spread to both the Americas and Caribbean Islands. There are times when working through Ortiz’s The Complete Book of Caribbean Cooking that I pine over the lack of flavour text to contextualize these recipes and this is certainly one of them. What made this recipe unique to Jamaica? Where did she source it? What did she know about the use of poultry in Jamaica and what was her thought process behind choosing these two recipes as her exemplars of Jamaican chicken? The poultry section is certainly hefty and represents an ample wealth of variations on fricassees, stews, pilaus, etc. from all over the Caribbean islands. So, it will be interesting to see how this recipe compares to the other poultry recipes in the book, in particular her Puerto Rican version of the same dish.
Regardless, this is one tasty dish. The marinade of garlic, paprika and ginger permeates the chicken nicely and the honest goodness of the onions and tomatoes gives it a hearty finish. I decided to use boneless chicken thighs instead of piecing out a full chicken and I feel like this was a really good decision. It allowed diners to enjoy the flavours without having to navigate all the bones and cartilage on their plate or being stuck with an entire chicken breast. While, this certainly isn’t the most outlandish dish in the world, it is an excellent example of Caribbean cuisine and fulfills my two major requirements to make it onto this blog: “Was it delicious?” YES. “Would I make it again?” YES.
1 chicken cut into serving pieces (or equivalent amount of chicken)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 tbsp lard
2 onions, chopped
3 tomatoes, peeled & chopped
1 red hot pepper
1. Marinate chicken overnight with garlic, paprika, ginger, salt and pepper.
2. Scrape off marinade and sauté chicken in lard until brown and transfer to a large heavy casserole or pot.
3. Sauté onions in chicken fat.
4. Add onions, tomatoes, red hot pepper (whole) to chicken and simmer until tender and cooked down.
5. You can add a little bit of chicken stock if your stew looks too dry but be very sparing! The tomatoes will create a lot of moisture as they cook. I recommend adding no more than 1/4 cup of stock at first.