Chicken Pelau for the Stupidly Busy Soul

victoria —  March 22, 2009 — Leave a comment

So working three jobs and trying, sometimes failing, to meet previously agreed upon social and volunteer obligations makes one’s family adjust to leftovers that go on and on, sometimes for a full week. I think Keifel may never eat white chili again. But, bless them, my husband and boychild have been troopers and as they are both pretty handy in the kitchen themselves, we haven’t survived on toast and Cheerios or warmed-over Chinese takeout. Well, not for weeks at a time at least.

Today, Keifel and I managed to team up for a slam dunk of a dinner. Now I don’t know that any Trini worth their salt would proclaim the delicious leftovers in our fridge authentic in any way other than a Trini was involved in the making. But, damn, if Keifel and I didn’t make some good chow.

The shopping was done almost two weeks ago, as canned and frozen bits stay that way. I made an auxiliary trip earlier in the week to get the things that don’t cotton to canning and freezing so much. Over the course of the last three days, Keifel saw to it that the chicken thighs went from freezer to fridge to thaw and then seasoned them in his special kitchen cabinet/fridge door kind of way. I’ll leave that to your imagination or to a comment in Keifel’s own realm to get to the bottom of that.

This morning, while driving back from collecting Julian from his Spring Break adventures, Keifel called to see if I would put together the green seasoning to speed along his cooking this afternoon. I pulled out the NAPS girls’ cookbook, one of the bibles of Trini cooking for the uninitiated, and turned to page 255 and the recipe for green seasoning. Now understand that this is an exercise fraught with pitfalls. A large one being that we have seen chadon beni all of one time in Nashville. A wilted pile of it was given to me by one of the produce guys at Whole Foods. Apparently, I can order it but who has time to remember to do that. Again, for those not familiar with this particular Caribbean/Latin American staple herb, it’s also called culantro or shadow beni. It looks kind of like arugula but not so curvy and tastes like cilantro on steroids. Okay, so that is issue one. Dealt with by purchasing a huge hunk of cilantro and using the tender leaves and the fragrant stems. Issue two is less easily surmounted.

Some time ago this bottle arrived at our house in the arms of a friend of Keifel’s. It was a repurposed plastic bottle (formerly home to fruit juice, perhaps) lovingly filled with what looked like blended grass clippings and smelled of cilantro, garlic and vinegar but was in fact her mother’s Green Seasoning. It lasted some time, as vinegar-preserved items will and Keifel was exuberant every time he opened it to liberally bathe some chicken thighs or pork chops. I remember that look on his face and I remember the smell. I am a good cook, but I am not awash in the teachings bestowed range-side in a Port-of-Spain kitchen. This makes me a little nervous.

I use the NAPS girls instructions as a jumping off point. The herbs in my possession are a little less than perfect with the passage of time in the crisper drawer but they are fine. The grocery did not have fresh thyme and the herb garden here is still in the planning stages. Before me on the counter I have a huge bunch of parsley, an equally large chunk of a row of cilantro, a clam-shell box of chives (the worst for the wear of the lot), a head of garlic, three limes, a bottle of vinegar and some dried (I know, cooks of a Trini persuasion–or any, persuasion for that matter– look away now) thyme. I get out the mezzaluna and its board and start murdering the herbs. All of the them and the diced up garlic, too, go for a spin in the food processor with some white wine vinegar, the juice of two of the limes and a little bit of water. The kitchen smells suspiciously of that fruit juice bottle. I carefully scrape as much as humanly possible into a mason jar, secure a lid tightly and place it in the fridge. It looks like a jar of very fresh grass clippings or a wheat grass smoothie, heavy on the wheat grass.

Keifel returns and pronounces it a triumph. He suggests that it hasn’t had time to mellow so it isn’t as good as N’s mom’s. I know he is lying but I appreciate the fib. He adds that to the marinating chicken, burns some sugar in oil and browns the chicken, adding canned black-eyed peas (’cause you can’t get canned pigeon peas at Whole Foods) and lets that stew. We discovered early on that cooking the rice and peas together made for mushy peas (and not in that cute English way) and hard bullets of rice. Rice was made separately with some coconut milk and a little ginger. Together they were amazing. And I get to eat it for lunch tomorrow, too.



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