Caribbean Brown Stew Chicken

Brown stew chicken is a common Caribbean dish, yet I don’t see it too often on restaurant menus in Peckham. Well, not compared to jerk anyway. The stew takes its name from the colour of the sauce, which is made by caramelising the marinated chicken in brown sugar before adding the reserved marinade. This caramel flavour is essential to make a good brown stew and it’s important to spend time ensuring the chicken is properly sticky and golden before moving on. The sauce is then cooked down to an intense gravy; it’s sweet and damn spicy, depending of course on how liberal your hand is with the fierce yet fruity scotch bonnet pepper.

It’s a proper carnival of Caribbean flavours, with depth from the caramelised sugar and soy, plus fragrance from the thyme, ginger, spring onions and  lime. The smell carries like nothing else and will make your neighbours insane with jealousy. This is proper winter comfort food, Peckham style.

Brown Stew Chicken (serves 2-3, depending on how many chicken thighs you fancy)

1kg bone-in chicken thighs (about 6), skin removed
Juice of 1  lime
4 spring onions, finely shredded, plus one extra to garnish
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 regular onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
4 sprigs thyme
1 thumb sized piece ginger, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
Half a tin chopped tomatoes (I used the cherry ones)
Water to just cover the chicken pieces

Place the chicken pieces in a dish and add all the ingredients except the sugar, chopped tomatoes and water. Mix well and leave to marinate for an hour or overnight if possible.

When you’re ready to cook the chicken, remove them from the marinade, reserving the marinade to add to the stew. Pat the chicken dry with kitchen paper. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a high-sided pan and add the sugar. When it begins to turn dark brown and caramelised, add the chicken pieces, taking care because it will splatter a lot. Fry them until you have nice caramelised bits on both sides, then remove from the pan and set to one side.

Add the reserved marinade to the pot and fry for a few minutes to soften. Add the chicken pieces back plus the tinned tomatoes and just enough water to cover the meat. Season, then simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce is thickened and the chicken cooked through. Serve with rice and peas, or plain rice, garnished with the a little chopped spring onion.

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83 thoughts on “Caribbean Brown Stew Chicken

  1. I cooked stew mutton over the weekend. My dads a Trini, and I have a copy of the book Multi-Cultural Cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago by the Naparima Girls High School. My brother brought back a copy for me the last time he was in Trinidad.
    In the book they suggest using a bottle of beer instead of water, which I did (Though I`m sure my family just used water normally). I also never stick religiously to any recipe, but it came out very well.
    In my family we always ate this dish with rice and Dal. So I cooked up a pot of that too.

  2. This is the most sensible recipe I have found so far for Brown Stew chicken. I have one question, though, and one comment. And I apologize in advance for the ignorance of the question (lol) what do you mean by “half a tin of chopped tomatoes (I used the cherry ones)?” I must confess, I’m confused. Do you mean a can of chopped tomatoes (yes, I’m American)? If so, what size can? Or is “tin” a measurement I’m unfamiliar with?

    And for those who are leery of spice, I’ve heard of another way to use Scotch bonnets. I found a recipe for Jamaican Curry Chicken whereby you add one whole scotch bonnet to the pot for the last five minutes of cooking. You do not chop it, you just add it to the pot. Then remove and serve your dish. I find when I do it that way, it gives off a heat that is just right. Not too much, not too little.

  3. I don’t live to far from Peckham (Walworth) and Stew chicken is my favourite main course, its a great dish thats cooked by most English speaking Caribbean islands including St lucia, Trinidad, Grenada etc.

  4. Looks delicious! O_o
    Although maybe a bit too many ingredients for me. Would this still work without the brown sugar? I hardly ever user sugar for anything.
    Thanks for the awesomeness :)

  5. I searched for a stew for my newly aquired scotts bonnet chillis and found this recipe. Now Im at the last stage of preparing it. Sneak tasting tells me its already delicious, and my lips burn slightly. Wonderful fresh and hot tastes.

  6. Its looks amazing and now has made me very hungry :)n

    Brown stew chicken has to be one of my favourite dishes. The best thing about it is that you can totally mix it up and add more spice or carlic, depending on your tastes. Next time, try keeping the seeds in and marinating the chicken overnight, that will literally knock your socks off.

  7. Every hard food shop sells brown stew chicken!! From I’ve seen anyway! It’s macaroni pie that’s hard come by! U live in Peckham? It takes longer than 20mins to cook down a pot of chicken… It gotta be falling off the bone.. You know you suck the flavour off the bones too by time it’s cooked

    Nice blog tho

  8. Wow, I just love your blog and am developing a taste for jerk pork after visiting the Caribbean place at Peckham Rye on your recommendation (I’m a local too…) I’ll try this on the weekend, my first Caribbean recipe. :) Thank-you!

    1. Hi Amber. When did you visit? It’s sadly gone very much downhill recently.

      Really pleased you enjoy the blog! Thanks for your comment. Good luck with the recipe and let me know how you get on!

  9. Thanks Helen, I definitely didn’t do it long enough……I can improve next time. Few friends had left overs the next day and they all want the recipe so i’ll be passing on the love. xx

  10. Had this for dinner tonight it was seriously amazing, the balance of flavours and the fruitiness off the scotch bonnet was delish. Really glad I decided to use 1 instead of 2 though (you like it seriously hot lady!!!) I’m 7mths pregnant so didn’t want to shock the little one out of there early. Didn’t caramelise my sugar for long enough though so I didn’t get the deep brown colour, how long does this take? was just a bit worried I might burn it. Thanks again for another great recipe absolutely luv your style of food, comforting, satisfying and totally yummy, I’ve never been disappointed. xxxx

    1. Aww thanks Rosie! Really pleased you liked it. Hmm I think I remember it taking about 15 minutes or so to caramelise the sugar. You want it basically on the verge of burning but obviously you want to stop before you get to that point! Here’s a recipe with a good picture to help you out http://caribbeanpot.com/tasty-trinidad-style-stew-chicken-recipe/

      As for the chillies, I think actually meant to say one! oops! I bet some people have had their heads blown off…

  11. Can’t wait to make this! I always love your recipes, but never seem to all of the ingredients…this one looks easier to achieve!

    Btw, love the idea of your sandwich review blog!

    Isabel

  12. I made this last night; it was definitely a success, I cooked more than the recipe as I planned to take some into work for lunch today; alas it all got polished off last night.

    Cheers
    Andrew

  13. Looks fantastic; I’ve done two of your Caribbean recipes thus far; the jerk (many times now) and the oxtail with guiness; both have been superb.

    I shall be marinating tonight and cooking this tomorrow!!

    I have eaten this a couple of times at weddings I have been too but have never cooked it, look forward to trying it!!!

    Keep up the excellent work!!!

  14. Oh this looks lovely – and perfect for these cold days! I think this might be Sunday dinner this week
    I have been meaning to make pepperpot for some time but every time I think about it I make jerk again (it’s just so good!) – I must get round to making it though.

    1. I know how you feel Anne. Now is probably a good time to tackle pepperpot though because it’s freezing outside and jerk is more of a summer thing. Hard to resist though! No doubt about that.

  15. @MattB and Helen
    Thanks for mentioning Cynthia Nelson – I’ve just checked out her blog she has some great recipes. I’m just off to make Pumpkin pudding with vanilla-ginger caramel sauce.

    I just got some cassareep so I’ll also be trying out some Pepperpot.

  16. Thanks for this, it’s one of the few dishes my partner’s (Bajan) mum used to cook us regularly before she passed away a couple of years ago and I never got the recipe from her, much to my regret. I’m glad I’ll now be able to have a go at it!

  17. Had this for lunch today and it was delicious!

    I used just 1 regular chili (made a half portion) and it still packed quite a bit of punch (maybe the marinating time + ginger intensifies the heat?)

    I also added the zest of the lime, plus juice of half an orange to make up for the lost scotch bonnet fruitiness, and just because I love citrus in these sort of dishes in general.

    Thanks!

  18. @ Helen – don’t! I can you get a copy here for next to nothing. I have a friend coming to visit in early March and I can get him to bring back to the UK and stick it in the post.

    I didn’t know Cynthia had a blog so cheers; I will check it out!

  19. @inigo – yeah, of course you’re right about it being all over the region. I think I was just trying to suggest that there’s a lot more to Caribbean food than what much of Britain thinks there is (ie: Jerk).

    On the Naparima book, I’m glad you suggested that. That’s the bible of Trinidadian cooking. Everyone here owns it. It’s quite funny, if I (as a Brit living here) cook anything for Trini friends which even slightly deviates from the recipe laid down in that book they go absolutely bananas!

    Another nice book which was recently published by Ian Randle is Cynthia Nelson’s ‘Tastes Like Home’. There’s a good recipe for pepperpot in there, with lots of tempting pictures.

    And… another Trini dish that I would recommend is ‘geera pork’. When done well it’s fantastic. Really spicy cumin notes.

    1. Fantastic. I am loving this conversation! I looked up the Naparima book and unfortunately it’s really expensive to buy from the UK, people obviously know that it’s hard to track down and are taking advantage by charging extortionate prices. I may just have to cough up! I am a fan of Cynthia’s blog and I keep meaning to buy her book so thanks for reminding me.

  20. so delicious, Helen. as a Pakistani, i should feel ashamed that i cannot take too much chili- the Scotch bonnet packs a real punch and burns my mouth. i would still love to try your dish bec all the flavours are balanced. chili with a bit of brown sugar must taste so good. the photo, as always, is beautiful.

    speaking of chilis, i just saw this fermented chili recipe on Sunflower’s blog and thought of you – i am sure you’ll enjoy it. http://sunflower-recipes.blogspot.com/2010/12/pickled-fermented-chopped-chilli.html

    x s

    1. Thanks so much Shayma. If the amount of chilli is not for you, may I suggest just using half a scotch bonnet? (and always, always de-seed). Perhaps that might be worth a try? If not, well, never mind! Thanks for your kind comment as always and also the link, I do read (and LOVE) Sunflower’s blog x

  21. @MattB
    It’s not just a Trinidadian dish. I grew up in Grenada, Barbados and Antigua they all do a version of brown stew chicken. For a more Trini/Lesser Antillies taste the chicken would be marinaded in green seasoning before cooking.

    @ Helen – I love your blog – keep up the good work. If you can get your hands on a copy of The Multi-Cultural Cusine of Trinidad and Tobago by the Naparima Girls High School it’s well worth having and a good intro to non-Jamaican, Caribbean cooking.

    1. Fantastic! Thanks for the tip off; I’ll try to track down a copy. I did see a few recipes with green seasoning but I wasn’t sure where that came from. I’m really glad you’re enjoying the blog too.

  22. I cooked this last night. Thanks for another great recipe Helen. It was so simple to make and quick enough for a work night but oh so tasty. The scotch bonnets I used were killer and I nearly couldn’t finish my bowl full (you see I said nearly) and I had a chilli-juice meets eye incident (I never learn) but it was well worth it to discover such a tasty dish. Thanks again Helen.

  23. It’s okay to substitute a different chilli; although the Scotch Bonnet is standard in much Caribbean cooking (for the distinctive flavour as much as the heat) Trinidadians also use what they call pimento peppers (but I’m not convinced are what Brits would understand as pimentos – http://www.flickr.com/photos/wizzythestick/4317923396/) as much as Scotch Bonnets and they are much more mild.

    Chinese ingredients are quite a staple in the region too… People outside always think everyone in the Caribbean is African/black, but many of the larger islands (and especially Trinidad) have significant populations of Indians, Chinese, Syrians and, obviously, whites who have all been here for generations…

  24. I never thought to see soy sauce, spring onions, chilli and ginger altogether in a recipe that isn’t chinese! and carribean at that! will be giving this a try as I have al the ingredients and the temperature is making me crave stew of all sorts.

  25. “Well, personally I love the fruitiness but if you can’t get one, sub in regular chilli.”

    Cool – it’s not a question of availability, more, er, tummy-based…

  26. This looks very tasty – i really like the use of sugar to caramelise the chicken and give a deep colour. I don;t know a great deal about Caribbean food and this is a bit of an eye opener with that soy, chilli and sugar. It almost reads like something from SE Asia (except for the thyme of course ;) )

  27. Hooray for real Caribbean food!

    I reckon you rarely see this in Peckham because it’s not really a Jamaican dish (and much of London seems to see Caribbean food as synonymous with Jerk and Jamaica). Stew chicken is really a Trinidadian dish. It’s not usually that spicy either; it’s served out here with pepper on the side so that people can make it as spicy as they like.

    (There’s some complicated cultural reasons for this too: in Trinidad this is considered a ‘Creole’ dish – meaning it’s from the Afro-Trinidadian repertoire – rather than the Indo-Trinidadian, the latter tending to be food which is more spicy and curried).

    Helen, see if you can also get a recipe for pepperpot; this is a Guyanese dish which is kind of similar to a Trinidadian stew, but even tastier I reckon. This is partly because in Guyana they have much better quality meat (which is often wild meat) than much of the rest of the region.

  28. This looks amazing. It reminds me of my aunt’s stew chicken that she cooks for me when I visit her in Trinidad. Have never tried making it myself but will definitely try making this – will serve it to my mum and see what she thinks! Great post.

  29. Wow, that looks fantastic. There’s some serious umami in there!

    One thing, I might try sticking in a bit of freshly-ground allspice in there. I use it when I make oxtail stew, and it plays really well with the ginger.

    1. -5! Man alive it’s cold up there! It’s pretty cold down here too I must admit. Probably balmy for you Northerners I should imagine. Anyway, thanks! Glad you like the look of it.

    1. Hmmmm that might be a bit weird with all the Caribbean flavours going on and would totally fling it off in a different direction. The heat is quite important and chipotles don’t have the same heat or fragrance…more smokiness. BUT, if you want to experiment, don’t let me stop you!

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