Three decades ago, Kerene Spence cooked for a bed and breakfast inn here on Islesboro which, while it served dinner to its guests, never put her wonderful curried chicken, cooked Jamaican style, on the menu. She prepared that only for the owner’s visiting family members and staff because her traditional version called for keeping the bones in the small chunks of chicken that she tossed together with Jamaican-style curry spices.
The idea was to put the chicken in your mouth and chew the meat off, and if you wanted, even to crunch up the smaller, softer bones and swallow them!
I had the great good luck to work alongside her for a couple of summers, and I learned a lot, but never learned to enjoy bone-eating. The curried chicken meat, though, was wonderful, and I came to relish the allspice, nutmeg, and paprika that she added to the usual curry powder ingredients of turmeric, cumin, coriander, mustard powder, and ginger. I would watch her open jar after jar and sprinkle varying amounts over the chicken pieces, some sparingly, some liberally; she operated completely by experience and eye.
In the mood for a curried dish, I recalled Kerene this week, and went hunting for a Jamaican-style curried chicken recipe. I don’t recall precisely, but it might have been that Kerene brought her favorite curry powder with her, and then added other spices. Or she may have curried the chicken with a variety of spices she always had the kitchen stocked with. In any event, this website listed spices I recall being on hand, and so I mixed up a batch to use. It tasted right and I offer a somewhat reduced recipe below so you will have enough curry powder for one meal’s worth of chicken.
Alternatively, use a curry powder mix and add a dash of allspice, and a little more turmeric and paprika.
Make sure you use leg and thigh meat as well as breast meat. You certainly can make the curried chicken with boneless meat if you wish, but seriously consider cooking it with bone still in the joints and removing them in the kitchen before serving. Bones add so much flavor.
You can cook this in a slow oven for a couple of hours, or use a slow-cooker. Instant-pot users will want to adapt this recipe to their pot.
Kerene added onion and garlic but I tossed in some red and green bell pepper and a couple of plum tomatoes as well. If you like capsicum heat, by all means consider adding any hot peppers you like. It’s good on rice, and you can serve chutney alongside, if you want.
I lost track of Kerene when the bed and breakfast inn was sold, over twenty-five years ago now, and she stopped coming here to work summers, staying in Jamaica full time. Eating the curried chicken, though, was a little like a visit with my old friend.
Jamaican-Style Curried Chicken
1 ½ tablespoons turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon mustard powder
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
¼ teaspoon paprika
Put into a bowl and whisk together. Set aside.
1 bone-in chicken, quartered, then chopped again
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ green pepper, chopped
½ red pepper chopped
2-3 small plum tomatoes, chopped
Juice of one lime
1 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper
Parsley or cilantro, optional
Heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cover the bottom of a heavy pot with oil, and add the chicken pieces to brown a little on both sides. Remove to a large bowl.
Put the onion, garlic, and peppers in the pot and cook until the vegetables are just softened, and distribute them and the chopped tomatoes over the chicken.
Sprinkle the curry powder over the chicken and vegetables.
Add the lime juice and broth and toss together.
Put the chicken and vegetable mix into a nine-by-thirteen baking dish. Cover the baking dish with a lid or cover with foil.
Bake for 2 hours, then remove the lid and bake for a half hour to reduce the liquid. Remove from the oven.
If desired, remove the bones.
If desired, reduce the liquid further in a pan or thicken slightly with flour or cornstarch and pour back over the meat and vegetables.
Sample and add salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro.