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.