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The Art of Caribbean Stews

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The Art of Caribbean Stews

Making a great Caribbean stew may take some time, but the result is meat that falls off the bone into deliciously flavoured gravy.

Cooking a proper Caribbean stew takes a laidback "no problem" attitude typical of the islands. Long cooking at a low temperature ensures you of tender meats that fall off the bone, and gives the flavours ample time to mix and mingle. Meat is a main element of most Caribbean stews, including beef, pork, chicken or goat, with legumes and vegetables added to create a rich and robust flavour.

10 Simple Steps to a Delicious Stew

Whether you're making a Trinidadian curry chicken, a Bajan beef stew or a Jamaican oxtail and beans, the cooking method is pretty much the same:

1. Chop boneless meats and vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Meats on the bone should be cut at the joints into manageable pieces. Season meat with salt and pepper.

2. Heat some oil in a large heavy pot (a good Dutch oven gives the best flavour), and brown the meat to seal in the natural juices and create an appealing outer colour and

texture. Remove poultry after it is browned and add it back to the stew after step 4 so that you don't dry it out; other meats can remain in the pot the entire cooking time.

3. Add onions, garlic and ginger (if using) to the pot and sauté for about a minute.

4. Add seasonings and cook for another minute.

5. Add chopped vegetables and stir to coat. Dry legumes that have soaked overnight can be added at this stage.

6. Add bouillon and enough water to cover all ingredients. Put the lid on and turn the heat to high to bring to a boil.

7. Once the stew is boiling, turn the heat down to low-medium, and let cook for 1 to 2 hours or until meat is tender. Check the stew every 30 minutes or so, and add additional

water if required. Canned legumes can be added about 20 minutes before the end of cooking.

8. Adjust seasoning to taste.

9. If the gravy has reduced to a nice thickness, you're ready to serve. If it still seems a bit watery, you can give it a little help. Turn the heat back up to bring the stew to a boil. In a small bowl, combine one tablespoon of cornstarch and a cup of cold water, stirring until completely dissolved. Once the stew is boiling, add the dissolved cornstarch, stir and return to a boil.

10. You should now have a thick and delicious stew that's ready to eat.

Common Combinations

The most common meats used in Caribbean stews are beef, chicken, pork and goat. It's better to buy tougher cuts of meat for stewing, which become tender during the stewing process. Softer cuts will disintegrate during the long cooking times.

Beef: Cubed and trimmed stewing beef can be purchased in most food stores. Look for stew meat with some marbling and connective tissue, as this will keep the meat tender and provide more flavour. Most stewing beef is from the round (rump), but the best flavour comes from the chuck (shoulder), which you can always buy and trim yourself. Beef stews tend to include carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and lots of thyme.

Oxtail: In Canada, cows are more plentiful than oxen, and so the oxtail that you buy is actually cow's tail. Worry not; these bovine kissing cousins have essentially the same flavour. Buy oxtail cut into small pieces from a West Indian shop or specialty butcher. Don't let the appearance scare you off, the meat has a wonderful flavour once you've stewed it down to tender; just be aware that this can take several hours. Made with lima beans, tomatoes, hot pepper and thyme, oxtail stew has a deliciously rich flavour.

Chicken: Chicken stews can be made using the whole chicken cut into parts at the joints, or using only breast meat, as you prefer. Using only white meat will require less cooking time. The most well-known Caribbean chicken dish is curry chicken, made with tomatoes, hot peppers and curry powder. Some people add carrots and potatoes to the stew, or potatoes can be boiled separately and served on the side. Brown stew chicken is seasoned with green onions, soy sauce and ketchup, with the addition of carrots, potatoes and tomatoes.

Pork: Several Caribbean dishes add a piece of salt pork or pig's tail during cooking to add a bit of extra flavour. Stew peas is one of the most common stews that uses pork for flavouring, which is made by cooking the pork together with red peas, hot peppers, garlic, thyme and water in a large pot for several hours. A pressure cooker will reduce the cooking time significantly. Dumplings are normally added towards the end.

Goat: Goat is really only ever served curried. You can purchase pre-cut goat's meat from a West Indian store, or de-boned from a specialty butcher. Curry goat turns out best when you let the meat marinate in a mixture of curry, garlic, tomatoes, onions, green onions and hot peppers for several hours before cooking. Reserve the seasoning while you brown the meat, and add it to the pot as you would for any other stew.

Rich in flavour, Caribbean stews are delicious stick-to-your-ribs fare that taste great anytime of year, especially on a cold autumn day. Best when they're nice and thick, stews are traditionally served with rice and peas, fried plantain, dumplings and greens. The next time you're feeling like you're in a food rut, try the taste of the islands with a traditional Caribbean stew.

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