A Tribute to the Mighty Scotch Bonnet, Part 4: Jamaican Curry

Several years ago I was invited to a Jamaican-themed cookout at a friend’s house. Jerk Chicken, cabbage, rum punch, and festivals plus a good football game… it sounded like my kind of party. Being that it was a pot-luck style get together, I volunteered to bring a pot of curry as my contribution. I had never attempted to make curry and so I did some research on the internet to find out where to start. I took inspiration from a few recipes I found and decided to make a vegetarian curry as there would be plenty of meat and this was supposed to be a side dish or what not. To make up for the lack of meat, I used pigeon peas as the protein and California mix to add texture. As strange as that may sound, it turned out great and was a big hit.

Over the years I took that basic recipe that I had thrown together and perfected it. I added chicken, modified the cooking process slightly, but made very few other changes. The recipe is just too perfect to mess with. As with my other recipes, it is not “authentic” Jamaican curry and it does not taste all that similar to what you will get if you order curry at a Jamaican restaurant (for one thing it will pretty much always be made with bone-in chicken or goat, a tradition I am happy to abandon). However, this curry is not quite like any other you will ever have either, and if I may brag, I think it is one of the best you will ever have. And I have been told this by many people, including a number of Jamaicans, for what it is worth.

In fact, to be honest, I have been hesitant to share this recipe, because I feel it is THAT good and have not found anything else like it on the internet. And when I show up at a pot luck or party with a pot of this it changes people’s lives and I am usually remembered from that day forward as “the guy with the curry”. But, alas, the world will be a better place if I share this recipe, so I am going to share it. And what better way to pay tribute to the Mighty Scotch Bonnet than to showcase it in one of the finest pots of curry on the planet?

As you will see from the pictures, I cook this OUTSIDE. If you have not made curry before there are a few things you should know. First, it smells. If you cook this on your stove your house will smell like curry for two or three days. I am not exaggerating,  it will literally be the first thing you smell when you walk in the door. Second, it will stain everything it touches a bizarre neon yellow (due to the turmeric in the curry powder). So don’t use any white dishes that you don’t want to discolor.

Jamaican Chicken Curry
8-9 boneless skinless chicken thighs, quartered or cut into chunks
3-4 medium onions, sliced
4-6 scotch bonnet peppers, minced
1 can pigeon peas (gandules)
3-4 medium potatoes – peeled, diced, and boiled until soft
1 bag frozen “California Mix” (broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots)
1 cup canola oil
1 cup JCS Jamaican Curry Powder (regular or extra hot)
3 cups water

My curry-cooking setup. Note the bricks and grate to keep the pan up off the flame and prevent burning.

Heat a large stock pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add a small amount of oil to prevent sticking. Add chicken and 1 tbsp curry powder. Brown chicken, stirring frequently. Remove chicken when almost – but not quite – cooked through.

Browning the chicken

Add canola oil and curry powder. Saute the curry powder in the oil until it thickens and darkens. Stir almost constantly to prevent burning. The curry powder/oil mixture will transform into a thick paste and start bubbling, and carmelization will turn it into a rich, dark, fragrant concoction. This step is critical to the flavor of the dish. If it is too thick or begins scorching to the bottom of the pot, add water or more oil to loosen it up.

It smells as good as it looks…

Add the onion and scotch bonnet peppers, and more oil if necessary. Saute until the onions are translucent.

The onions will be coated with the curry “paste”

Add the can of pigeon peas (including the liquid) and the California mix. Saute 1-2 minutes.

Add the water, potatoes, and chicken, stirring well.

If desired, add hot sauce or red pepper flakes to increase the heat. Scotch bonnets have a somewhat delayed heat that takes several seconds to register on your tongue and the walls of your mouth. I have found that Crystal sauce or red pepper flakes help “round out” the burning sensation as their effects are much more immediate and short-lived. At any rate, do not overdo it – this curry will be very hot as is.

Simmer for 30 minutes or more, adding water if it gets too thick, and stirring occasionally. Serve over or alongside rice and peas. I guarantee you will want to make this again. If it is not the best you have ever had, please, SEND ME YOUR RECIPE….


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