A hearty, soul-warming dish from street food trader Soul Food
Brown food gets a bad rap—unfairly, in our opinion. It might not look great on Instagram, granted, but brown foods are some of the tastiest, and definitely the most comforting—stews being the number one case in point. In weather that refuses to warm up (to an acceptable spring temperature, at least), what you really need is a steaming bowl of brown comfort—something richly spiced and delicious. Something like brown stew chicken, from Soul Food. “It’s a taste explosion,” describes owner and chef Patrick Williams. “It’s amazing—though I would say that,” he laughs.
A quick rundown of the marinade ingredients (all sourced from the Market of course, along with the rest of the ingredients) would suggest his bias is justified—“pimento seeds, ginger, garlic, turmeric”—and is confirmed with a bite.
The chicken thigh meat is deliciously tender, marinated in this heady blend for at least 48 hours, before being fried off in a pan until nicely browned “hence the name”. Then come the veggies (onions and red and green pepper) cooked down until soft sweet and translucent, before ginger, garlic, turmeric and soy sauce are added.
“We make chicken stock on the stall as well, so we use half chicken stock, half water, pour that in along with the chicken and veg, and leave it on to simmer. Then we drop a whole scotch bonnet in”—which is not, contrary to our initial assumption, a cue for eye-watering heat. “It’s cooked whole, we make sure it doesn’t break, and leave it in until a little spice comes through—but it’s there as a flavouring, not as raw heat,” Patrick insists. “You will get peppery notes, but fresh ginger and garlic are the flavours that really come through, everything else is background. They’re big flavours, but they marry together well. When it all comes together, it’s just delicious.”
It’s a dish Patrick grew up with. “Each island will have a variation, but I come from Jamaica, hence the pimento seeds and scotch bonnet,” he explains. “Some do make it spicy, but I don’t like it like that—I prefer it nicely seasoned. Spiced, but not spicy.” It’s based on one of his mother’s recipes, “but with my training I’ve taken it somewhere else. Mine’s good!”
Served with plain rice or, for an extra carby fix, a mountain of pelau (“a Trini rice dish of sweet potatoes, butternut squash, coriander and spring onion”), a crisp salad and doused in chilli sauce, it’s a dish that “gives you a bit of everything”; a dish that, true to the stall’s namesake, is good for the soul.