I grew up eating Trinidadian stew chicken, since both my mom and dad were born and raised in Trinidad & Tobago. This is one of the quintessential homecooked meals of Trinidad, and I have only the fondest memories associated with it (like the lovely aromas that would permeate our entire household, whenever my mom would make it). To this day, it remains my favourite homecooked Trinidadian dish!
It’s sad to say, but in all these years of blogging, I haven’t once shared a Trinidadian dish. Why? Sounds silly, but it’s not that easy to make many of the best Caribbean dishes look photogenic (I’m not exactly thrilled with the photos for this blog post, but I’ve decided to share anyway).
Believe me, West Indian dishes smell and taste AMAZING. But many things are saucy in nature, and a lot of the food is brown, yellow, orange in colour… Am I digging myself enough of a hole already? I’ll just stop here. To my Caribbean family and friends reading this, please don’t lambaste me!
In my opinion, the best way to prepare Trinidadian stew is with chicken – specifically dark meat. It should be cooked low and slow, so the meat practically falls off the bone! Any attempt to make Trini stew chicken with breast meat always turns out dry. You could theoretically make it with beef or pork, but also not as good. If you do opt to make Trini stew beef, please do cook it low and slow and don’t commit the 2 cardinal sins: cutting the beef into pieces that are too small and buying the wrong cut of beef. Stew beef should melt in your mouth. Hence, larger pieces of a cut of beef that has a lot of connective tissue will work best (think chuck, not top sirloin). But, I digress. This is about chicken.
In my Trini stew chicken, I like to add red kidney beans for added protein, texture, and flavour!
Fun fact: ‘burned’ sugar forms the base of any Trini stew. Sugar is cooked in oil on high heat, almost to the point of burning, before the meat is added. This causes a beautiful caramelization of the sugar and browning of the meat (no further browning agents are required).
Almost as important as the method of cooking the stew is how you season the meat. West Indians use a special green seasoning, which the chicken should be marinated in for at least 2 hours or overnight, if possible. It’s an everything but the kitchen sink kind of marinade that includes fresh herbs (culantro, cilantro, chives), aromatics, and peppers (traditionally habanero, but you could use red chilis, jalapeños or whatever else you have). I don’t share a recipe for green seasoning in this post, but if you Google, you can find thousands. Another trick I learned from my mom is to throw 1-2 oz. of rum into the marinade. It’s said to help the seasoning penetrate, and the added aromatics and flavour of the rum complement the stew chicken.
Last thing I want to mention is you may see/hear many different variations of the name of this dish – Trini Stew Chicken, Trini Stewed Chicken, Trinidadian Stewed Chicken. It’s all the same. The only thing that is not appropriate is to call it “chicken stew”. That’s a whole ‘nother story!
Without further ado, here is the recipe.
Trinidadian Stew Chicken
- 4 lbs. chicken dark meat is best; use legs and thighs
- 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp. granulated or brown sugar
- 1 medium tomato chopped into small cubes
- 1 small onion chopped finely
- 3 green onions chopped finely
- 2 cloves garlic minced finely
- 2 tbsp. ketchup
- 2 tsp. worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup water
- 1 can red kidney beans
- salt & pepper to taste
- hot pepper sauce to taste (not Tabasco, but homemade West Indian pepper sauce, if you have on-hand)
- Wash, dry, and marinate your chicken using green seasoning. Cover and place in refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight, if possible. Note: if you don't have green seasoning, you can season with salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and/or minced fresh garlic, cumin, coriander, fresh thyme, peppers or chilis etc. But a green seasoning is best.
- Heat 3 tbsp. of vegetable oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add 2 tbsp. of sugar. Let the sugar begin to dissolve and brown. Begin stirring sugar to dissolve evenly. Once the sugar starts to form bubbles and become a deep brown (almost burnt) colour, carefully add your meat. Do not burn the sugar, or your stew chicken will be bitter. If you burn the sugar, discard and start this process again.
- Once you've added your chicken, stir quickly so that the meat becomes evenly coated and browned on all sides. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and let cook for 2 minutes.
- Add onion, garlic, tomatoes, green onions. Stir. Cover and cook for a few minutes, so the onions become a bit translucent. Add salt & black pepper to taste, worcestershire sauce, ketchup, and hot pepper sauce to taste (optional). Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add 1 cup of water. Optional: add 1 can of red kidney beans. I include the liquid from the can, as it thickens the sauce. But you can drain, if you prefer. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, until chicken is tender and ready to fall off the bones. While simmering, stir occasionally. You can use a teaspoon to taste and adjust flavours, as necessary.
- Serve over rice. Enjoy!