Upgrade Your Chicken Dinner With This Highly Addictive Caribbean Recipe


Adobe Stock | photo by Piotr krzeslak

Julia Turshen, author of the Hudson Valley Cookbook, shares a childhood dish with a unique preparation of Caribbean chicken pelau.

My babysitter, Jennie, took great care of me and my brother for a decade, starting at the age of three. Now, over twenty-five years since we’ve met, she and I have a close relationship. When I was a kid, the kitchen, unsurprisingly, was my favorite place to hang out with Jennie, especially when she cooked dishes that originated in St. Vincent, the small Caribbean island where she is from. Caribbean Chicken Pelau, a unique dish of chicken, rice, and vegetables (which turns a little chicken into a lot of food), was something she made up all the time. It is reminiscent of arroz con pollo or even paella. I thought since I had eaten pelau so many times, I could probably cook it myself just remembering the flavors.

But every time I did, something was missing. Recently, I asked Jennie to show me how she does it, and she started by burning sugar in oil until she smoked. I couldn’t believe this first step and I never would have understood it on my own. Small victory: you can really learn something new every day. Another small win: Have a few all-in-one meals up your sleeve – they’re great for when you want a home-cooked meal but don’t really feel like cooking (check out Spin-Offs for a few more ideas). I added some coconut milk to it (something, just for the record, that Jennie never used) because I love its sweet and rich undertone, but feel free to use chicken broth or l water instead. Finally, the preparation belies the long list of ingredients. This recipe is very easy to make and therefore very comforting, and burning the sugar makes you feel like you’re breaking the rules.

Jennie’s Caribbean Chicken Pelau

For 4 people


1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 tsp sweet paprika
Kosher salt
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1 inch [2.5-cm] cubes, at room temperature
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 large or 2 small stalks of celery, diced
1 small green pepper, seeded, seeded, dribbled and finely diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
½ jalapeño pepper, halved, seeded and thinly sliced
Leaves of 4 fresh thyme sprigs, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of ketchup or tomato puree
A 13 ½ oz can of whole coconut milk, shaken
1 cup of water
A 15 oz can of green pigeon peas or black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1 cup long grain white rice


In a large bowl, combine the garlic powder, paprika and 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the chicken and toss to coat with the spice blend, rubbing with your hands to make sure each piece is evenly coated. Put aside.

Turn on your exhaust fan if you have one and open your kitchen window. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and all the sugar and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is not only dissolved, but totally black and steaming and burnt, about 4 minutes. Immediately add the chicken pieces in an even layer and cook, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned, about 4 minutes (this happens faster than usual because you are browning the chicken in burnt caramel, which is already incredibly hot and very dark).

Lower the heat to medium-low and add the remaining vegetable oil, onion, carrots, celery, bell pepper, garlic, jalapeño, thyme and a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are slightly softened, about 10 minutes.

Combine the ketchup, coconut milk and water in the saucepan. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring everything with a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan to release any tasty bits that might be stuck. Then lower the heat and stir in the pigeon peas, rice and a big pinch of salt. Stir everything well, cover the pot and cook until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pelau rest, covered, for 10 minutes.

Season the pelau to taste with salt. Use immediately.

Photo by Gentl + Hyers

Benefits to Caribbean chicken:

For a Mexican arroz con pollo, heat a layer of olive oil in a large saucepan and brown the cut chicken seasoned with cumin, salt and pepper.

Remove it to a plate. Add a large chopped onion, a few chopped garlic cloves and a chopped red pepper to the pot and cook until tender. Add 1 cup of white rice and stir until the grains are opaque. Add 2 cups of the chicken broth, return the chicken to the pot and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the rice is tender and the chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes. Add a handful of frozen peas, cover the pot and let stand 10 minutes so that the residual heat cooks the peas.

Serve sprinkled with chopped cilantro.

For the arroz con chorizo, brown diced chorizo ​​in a little oil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup of white rice and stir until the rice is toasted. Add 2 cups of broth or water and a can of rinsed and drained black beans. Cover and cook over low heat until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Spread a large handful of frozen peas on top, replace the lid and let sit off the heat until the peas are cooked in the residual heat. Fluff with a fork and serve with chopped cilantro, salsa, diced avocado and sour cream.

For a Caribbean chicken dinner on a baking sheet, season the diced potatoes with salt, pepper, minced garlic and olive oil. Roast, turning once or twice, until almost tender and a little brown, about 20 minutes. Add the seasoned bone-in chicken breasts (salt, pepper, maybe a little paprika if you like) and continue to roast until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through and the potatoes are tender, another 20 to 25 minutes. Add a large bowl of spinach that you’ve coated with olive oil and seasoned with salt and roast until the vegetables wilt, final 5 minutes.

For a simple one-pot pork meal, brown the large cubes of pork in olive oil in a deep saucepan. Add a few diced carrots, a few diced parsnips and a diced apple.

Add enough broth, apple cider, or water to reach half the sides of the pork and vegetables and spread over a handful of dried cherries. Simmer until the pork and vegetables are tender, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.

Reprinted from Small Victories by Julia Turshen with permission from Chronicle Books, 2016.

Related: Upgrade Scrambled Eggs With Bold Flavors And Simple Ingredients


Michael M. Tomlin

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