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Making Belizean Chicken
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When shopping for groceries in the United States, we are lucky to have access to a huge variety of foods in our local supermarkets. I’ve heard that the average American superstore contains nearly 39,000 items! Americans fortunately retain the ability to choose from a wide array of cuisines – from everyday American to Chinese, Indian, Italian, Middle Eastern or Japanese to name a few. Belize, I have learned over the years, operates in a different way. The culinary repertoire of the average Belizean appears quite limited; chicken, rice and beans emerge as the mainstay of one’s diet in this small country.
Anyone who has visited Belize and eaten at a “local” restaurant anywhere within its borders has undoubtedly tried stewed chicken, rice and beans. Most native Belizeans consume this in some form every morning, noon and night. Sometimes they mix things up by adding tortillas for breakfast or dinner. Or, because it’s the “main” meal, their noontime lunch might feature the side dishes of coleslaw or potato salad.
Chicken, rice and beans surface as the ubiquitous local dish available at most every “fast food” stand. Most of the cooks in households I’ve visited begin their day by putting on a pot of stewed chicken. They crowd their tiny stove-tops with additional vessels containing simmering beans and steaming white rice flecked with fresh grated coconut.
As I noted, popular additions include mayonnaise-based potato salad and coleslaw. Mashed potatoes, a popular alternate side dish, emerge on menus as well. I must say that my preferred garnish remains lightly fried plantains. Balanced on top of the succulent, savory chicken, these crisp and somewhat sweet delicacies provide a lovely textural and color contrast.
Traditional Belizean stewed chicken presents with a very reddish color due to the addition of ricado, for which the country is famous. Ricado seasoning (often spelled recardo or racardo),a type of spice used in many Central American dishes, originates with the lipstick plant. Coincidentally I initially learned of this plant in Fiji nearly 15 years ago. Ricado occurs in two forms: black and red. Both smell vinegar-like. The red variety might be added as a meat or poultry seasoning while the black becomes an ingredient in many local soups. I have not personally cooked with black ricado but it remains on my “to do” list. If you vacation in Belize or find a Latin grocery store, look for it on the shelves; I often bring back a package of this exotic spice to my American friends. (If you cannot find ricado, substitute one tablespoon of regular paprika and some McCormick’s all-season.)
The following is my “Americanized” version of stewed chicken. I add potatoes, carrots and peppers and serve it with brown rice, refried black beans and healthful, vinegar-based coleslaw. I don’t know what my friends in Belize would think of my personal recipe, but it’s a favorite in our household!
Makes 4 generous servings
- 1 large white onion, sliced into rings
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 chicken fryer, cut into small pieces-dry and season liberally w/salt, pepper and season salt (I use my homemade spice rub: a salt/brown sugar/paprika based concoction that I always have on hand at home and in Belize).
- 5 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
- 2 potatoes cut same size as carrots
- 1 large red pepper, cut same size as carrots
- 1 portion of ricado (1 ½ Tbsp)
- 2 tsp chicken bouillon (or ½ cup chicken broth)
- ½ cup hot water -only if you use bouillon in lieu of broth
- Juice of 1 lime
- Juice of ½ orange
Heat oil in a large, deep fry pan. Sauté onion and garlic until slightly brown. Remove to bowl.
Add seasoned chicken (I remove skin from most of it) and sauté for about 1/2 hr until nicely brown.
Meanwhile, put veggies including onion/garlic in a crock pot or heavy pot on low. Everything in the pot is cooked over low heat until it is done.
When chicken is browned, add ricado and chicken bouillon and hot water (or broth) and mix well so the ricado dissolves. Bring to a boil and turn chicken so it is coated with the ricado mix.
Place the chicken on top of veggies, add lime and orange juice, cover and cook in the crockpot for 8 hours on low or until soft, stirring occasionally. Belizeans just cook this dish on top of the stove in the same pot over low heat-usually about 2-3 hours.
Once the chicken is fork tender, remove the poultry and place it in a bowl. Pour all juice (it will have thickened) in a measuring cup and put it in the fridge until cold, then remove the fat. (The fat will solidify on top and can be easily discarded) Once it’s degreased, pour the gravy back with the chicken to reheat.