Friday, January 22, 2010

Chicken à la Créole recalls the “old” Haiti

This is an update of a recipe I posted nearly two years ago. The timing is obvious, with Haiti so tragically in the news these days.

I first encountered this savory, and attractive, way of fixing chicken legs -- and “steaks” sliced frozen from turkey legs -- in Haiti a few years ago. The venerable Hôtel Montana in Port-au-Prince, at whose dining room I enjoyed the dish, was destroyed in the recent earthquake.

“Chicken Créole,” named for people of French ancestry born in the overseas territories, is not limited to Haiti, but is a common food term throughout the French-speaking tropics. Just to confuse things, “Créole” is also the name of the Haitian dialect of French, which I cannot understand despite being fairly fluent in standard French.

Chicken Créole typically describes chicken braised in a thick, savory sauce made of locally available ingredients. These often include peppers, onions, and tomatoes, plus spices. I’ve had so-called Creole Chicken, variously made, in several countries.

The recipe below reproduces the dish I enjoyed in Haiti. Naturally, I did not get an actual recipe from the chef there. Rather, this is my rendering from memory, first tried and recorded soon after my return.

I would have had local beer with this in Haiti, since imported wines were difficult -- and expensive -- to find. However, here I would choose a light- to medium-bodied dry red wine, such as a Beaujolais, Chianti, or Malbec.

The recipe serves six generously, and should be accompanied by a rice dish. See my blog posting of 3/18/08 for a Creole rice recipe.

Haitian-style Creole Chicken

12 large chicken drumsticks (about 4 pounds)
Melted chicken fat or olive oil for frying
1 medium-large onion, chopped
1 medium-large bell pepper, cored and chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth (made from leg trimmings)
4 tablespoons tomato paste (1/2 of a 6-ounce can -- freeze the rest in a plastic bag)
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper or cayenne
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon thyme

On a cutting board, using a cleaver or kitchen scissors cut off bottom 1 1/2 inches of drumsticks. Pull skin off the meat. Sprinkle chicken moderately on all sides with salt.

In large heavy pot, fry skin and bone pieces over medium-low heat to bring out some grease and to get a crust on the pan.

Transfer fried skin and bones to a small pan, keeping grease and crust in cooking pot. Add 3 cups of water to the skin and bones. Simmer to make broth while the main dish is cooking. Skim off the fat (part of which can be used for frying the onions). Use this broth in the recipe and put any extra into the rice dish.

In the large pot, fry chicken pieces, half at a time, turning them frequently, until outsides have changed color. Meanwhile, prepare onion, pepper and garlic.

Once chicken is removed from pot, add more grease or olive oil, if needed, and fry onions, stirring frequently and scraping the pan gently until they begin to turn golden. Add garlic and peppers, and fry, stirring frequently, for two minutes.

Add fried chicken, broth, tomato paste, salt, herbs and spices. Simmer, covered, scraping bottom of pan occasionally and turning chicken. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until chicken is tender. If sauce gets dry, add a little broth or water.

As the chicken is cooking, taste the sauce and add salt if necessary, especially toward the end of cooking. Uncover the pan for the last several minutes for the sauce to thicken.

Serve with a rice dish.

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