Since becoming a columnist for this newspaper and having to focus on all that is taking place in the culinary industry throughout the year, it made me realize how much is happening based on or including food on a yearly basis. It also became clear that everyone realizes the power of food and the key that it might hold in the development of our country.
As good as this might have been for our awakening, it was instrumental in me having to alter my original plan for this column which was to reveal the art and science of food and all its commodities. So I can say that this experience has been full of information for me as well.
Additionally, what all of this activity clearly signifies is that not only is the culinary industry a very dynamic one indeed, but that food has now become important for many different reasons. It is no longer just a source of sustenance, but is definitely a platform for economic growth and could even be the foundation of tremendous wealth for those who ply it properly.
Cognizant of the fact that NIFCA is around the corner, with Christmas hot on its heels, both huge food event based seasons, I will take this short window to sneak in a quick look at something we hold so dear. Chicken! The fast food industry has turned simple chicken into a multi-million dollar industry, grossing unimaginable profits.
This, though not even going deep into the breeding of chickens for specific reasons such as capons for their larger breasts, the poulardes, which are at least 120 days old at the time of slaughter or even game birds, which are of a large group or variety, hunted for food or sport.
Chicken is one of the most widely eaten protein items in Barbados and figures from the Barbados Agricultural Society indicate that approximately fourteen million, nine hundred and sixteen thousand, four hundred and fifty-one (14, 916, 451) kilos of poultry were produced in 2016, down by approximately one point three (1.3) million kilos when compared with production figures for 2015.
World-famous chicken, however, has its own unique history in Barbados. One might remember the days when almost every household raised its own chickens which usually had to be chased around the yard in order to retrieve the eggs and were at some point in their lives, sacrificed for the Sunday lunch. I guess this is as close as we came to game birds.
At this stage, they were commonly referred to as yard fowls. What stood out about these birds were the distinct flavour and texture which would probably have come from the hundreds of yards covered in a day scavenging food which would have been plucked from between the rocks and rubble.
As the knowledge and understanding of poultry grew and the style of raising these chickens changed, coupled with the fact that, of course, medication and nutrition improved tremendously, the quality and flavour changed as well, from gamey to a much milder one. We can debate if that is a positive or not, as some older folks still much prefer that strong, gamey flavour which was prevalent in the early days.
Another big evolution was that of texture, which influenced a change in cooking methods. The birds of yesteryear which because of lifestyle were tougher in texture, demanded moist-heat cooking methods such as stewing or boiling to be rendered edible. This type of bird, though, was perfect for producing the bold flavour in our very popular and widely enjoyed chicken soup with sugar dumplings.
These days, because of a better understanding of rearing practices, the flesh is significantly more tender and can now be prepared applying a number of easy and quicker cooking methods, such as frying, pan-searing and even rotisserie, which has rapidly grown in popularity in recent times. Rotisserie is the clever way of getting that out-door, BBQ flavour coming out of the kitchen and is now one of the growing fast food methods by which chicken is prepared, evolving from out-door grilling and spit roasting, which is cooking over an open fire on a skewer.
What elevates chicken to being such a fancy meat in Barbados is the way it is seasoned, usually washed with lime and salt and sometimes soaked for a few hours, then stuffed with one of the hundreds of flavours of our home-made or store bought Bajan seasoning, before being fried in hot oil or slow roasted in an oven. Either way, the unmistakable flavour of chicken prepared Bajan style is hard to find outside of our shores.
Here’s a recipe for stew chicken that I got from my grandmother but, of course, I added the rum. This recipe works best with yard fowl, but if you can’t get your hands on one, ask your farmer to sell you a couple of his laying hens which have come to the end of their egg production life, as the texture here would be quite similar.
3 lbs chicken cut in pieces
2 ozs fresh herbs, chopped
2 ozs vegetable oil
3 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp Mello-Kreem
2 ozs rum
3 tsp tomato paste
2 tbsp tomato ketchup
3 ozs onions, diced
3 ozs carrots, diced
2 ozs celery, diced
2 ozs sweet peppers, red & green
½ oz fresh ginger
1 ½ pts brown stock or water
1 tsp flour
Scotch bonnet pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1. In a container with a fitted lid, mix the herbs, oil, scotch bonnet pepper, soy sauce and salt; add chicken pieces and let marinate for one hour.
2. In a hot sauté pan, heat the oil and Mello-Kreem, add the chicken and allow to brown on all sides
3. Deglaze with rum, add tomato paste, ketchup and flour
4. Brown lightly before adding stock or water and allow to simmer for fifteen minutes
5. Add remaining vegetables and simmer until chicken and vegetables are cooked
6. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper