Bloke in the Kitchen. Tropical chicken stew

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

It is very easy to get into a rut with our cooking, churning out the same old stuff week after week because we know how to do it and we know people like it, but it can get predictable.

One way to freshen things up without overtaxing the brain is to do similar things with different ingredients.

For instance, chuck a bit of meat in a casserole dish with some carrots and potatoes, add a stock cube and some water and you’re making a stew.

But if you use chicken and some less common vegetables, it’s just as easy but tastes completely different. Tropical vegetables are easy to find in most places these days, and people don’t use them because they don’t know what to do with them.

Today we’re going to make a tropical chicken stew with aubergines, okra and plantain.

Tropical veg
Fresh from my garden in the tropics? No, but photographed there

Aubergines, the smooth, shiny purple things also known as eggplant, are a doddle. Cut off the green bit where the stalk is, cut them up and they’re ready to go. We used to be told to lay salt on them to remove the bitterness, but I don’t find them bitter at all. They’re not fantastically flavourful, in fact, but they add texture.

The same is true of okra, which some may find a bit slimy when you have them as a bindi bhaji. In a stew, though, they make it succulent.

Plantains, the macho big brother of the banana, can be cooked when they are still green (we did that months ago as the Venezuelan dish tostones). As they ripen they get sweeter and when they’re very ripe and you fry them they are very much like bananas, funnily enough. For this recipe we’re going to use them in a medium state, on the verge of turning yellow but nowhere near the black state (at which they are still perfectly edible, by the way).

INGREDIENTS

Chicken thighs or drumsticks

One large aubergine, sliced crossways into half-inch rounds

Half a dozen okra, chopped into half-inch pieces

One large or several small plantains cut in half lengthways and into chunks

One green pepper, chopped

Onions, sliced

Root ginger, not grated but chopped into small cubes

Chicken stock

Soy sauce

Chilli powder

METHOD

Marinate the chicken in soy sauce and garlic for at least one hour.

Fry the chicken quickly just to seal it, and sprinkle a little chilli powder on it.

In the same pan, put the plantain in first and give it a minute or two on its own, then do the remaining ingredients – you will probably have to do them one at a time.

Put all the vegetables and the chicken into a casserole dish and add half a pint of chicken stock plus a splash of red wine and a sprinkling of celery salt (not too much).

Cook in a medium hot oven for two hours, checking occasionally. If it is drying out, add more stock and wine. When it’s ready, squeeze some lime or lemon juice over it

Trop stew
And as the tropical shadows fall across the dining table, dinner is served. I used boneless pieces of chicken this time

VARIATIONS

The plantain provides the carbohydrates, but by all means use potatoes or sweet potatoes for bulk – or mash and serve separately. You could also use yam, dasheen, cassava or one of the other tropical root vegetables, peeled and chopped.

Spice it up with some sort of hot sauce if you like. Chefs in the Caribbean often use white vinegar to liven up this sort of thing. Try a dash and see if you like it.

 

Bloke in the Kitchen. Tostones with shrimp ceviche

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

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Could do with more onion and pepper, maybe. See what you think

Everything on Bloke in the Kitchen is easy, because we’re making food for everyday living and why complicate life? Even this recipe: you might not know the word tostone and ceviche might sound strange, but they’re both simple enough.

The tostones part is just quickly frying something, and any fool can do that. These are pronounced toss-TON-ess, by the way, and they are just slices of plantain, fried, pressed and fried again. In Venezuela the pressing is done in a special tool that is just two pieces of wood joined by a long hinge. We’re going to do it with two chopping boards (or one board and something big and hard to put on top.

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Plantains: they’re not good looking, I’m not a photographer and I didn’t take this, anyway. I was cooking, so I asked my niece to do it. And she’s not very good either. But you get the idea

Plantains are the bigger, macho, less sweet  brothers of bananas. You want green, unripe ones. There are things you can do with ripe ones, but this is not one of them.

The other part might sound fancy at first, but it’s really not.

We’ll do the ‘fancy’ part first. Shrimps. Buy some small ones and if they’re frozen , give them an hour or so to thaw before you start.

INGREDIENTS

Green plantains

Small shrimps

Fresh lime juice (freshly squeezed would be great, although bottled will do. But real juice, not cordial.)

Onion

Red pepper

Cilantro or parsley

METHOD: THE SHRIMPS

THE FANCY WAY

Put the shrimps in a smallish plastic storage box and spread them out one layer thick. Pour in the lime juice, enough to cover the shrimps, and leave them in the fridge for two days. The acid in the lime cooks the shrimps.

THE LESS ALARMING WAY

Boil some water with a splash of lime juice and put the shrimps in. As soon as it comes back to the boil, turn off the heat and drain the shrimps. This may seem very quick, but they only take a few seconds to cook and if you keep boiling them they will shrink and go rubbery.

Then put them in the plastic storage box as above. Pour in fresh lime juice, enough to just cover them.

Cut an onion in half and slice both halves. Don’t be afraid of the amount of onion; the juice and a few minutes will take the sting out of it. Put it in with the shrimps.

Chop a red pepper into sticks about one inch long. Add to the mixture.

Chop half a handful of fresh cilantro. If you can’t get cilantro, parsley is an acceptable substitute, but  less interesting. Add to the mixture.

Leave it in the fridge for as long as you can. Overnight would be good but half an hour will do.

METHOD: THE TOSTONES

Cut the ends off the plantains and peel them. Slit the skin from top to bottom and get cracking. It won’t come off like a banana skin; it will break off in pieces. This is normal. If it peels too easily, it’s too ripe.

Slice the plantains lengthways, about a quarter of an inch thick. That might mean just cutting them in half. It all depends on the thickness of the plantain. (Some people cut them crossways and thicker so they come out round rather than long, and there’s nothing wrong with ‘some people’ but you don’t have to do things like they do).

Heat a little sunflower oil in a pan (just enough to cover the bottom) and fry the plantain on both sides for a couple of minutes until golden.

Remove the tostones and place each piece on a chopping board. Put another chopping board (or a large plate, saucepan or whatever) on top and press it so the tostone gets a bit thinner and a bit wider. Don’t press too hard or you’ll split them.

Return to the pan and do them again on both sides, so the golden turns to brown. It’s like frying potatoes.

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Your new best friend, tostones

Serve the shrimp mixture on plates and use a knife to scrape it onto a tostone you’re holding in the other hand instead of a fork.

COWBOY TIP

If you like the tostones but aren’t sold on the shrimps, you can use them with chilli, or dips, or scrambled eggs. Whatever you like. Once you’ve mastered tostones, that’s just another string to your bow.