I have to admit – Before we moved to Virgin Gorda, I had no idea that it existed. When my husband, Dwight, called me to ask me if I would want to go, I had to look it up its whereabouts on the Internet before I could even make a decision.
Before coming here, I had no idea that a small island in the Caribbean could have so much beauty and soul. Later I learned, the beauty part comes naturally because of its location, being located right in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. But the soul part, I learned in the last 2 years of living here, comes from the people who live here.
The islanders, as they call themselves, of the many Caribbean Islands, rarely stay where they were born and/or grew up. They travel to other neighboring islands, mostly because of job opportunities. As they travel and settle down in their new islands, they bring their own customs, culture, and cuisine with them.
This past weekend, we had one of the biggest culinary festivals of the island, “Cultural Extravaganza”. Presented by one of the churches of Virgin Gorda, Cultural Extravaganza is considered to be the most popular culinary event of the year within the locals.
When we made it there around 7pm, I had no idea that Virgin Gorda is home to people from so many different islands like Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica, Nevis, Dominica, and Philippines, to name a few. Each island had a booth and was represented by its natives in their local outfits.
Dwight and I, literally, stopped by every single booth and tried as much food as we could possibly eat. It was interesting to see how they used similar ingredients to create such different dishes by simply using different techniques and spices.
Of all the booths we stopped by, I must say, I loved the curry chicken I got from the Guyana booth. I have had curry chicken so many times in my life before, but none of them tasted as good as this one. I could not help, but go there two more times to get more.
Dwight must have thought the same way; he said we should go find the chef and ask him the secret behind it. And we did. He was very nice to us and was genuinely happy to hear that we liked it very much.
He said that his secret is to cook the curry paste for a long time. When I asked him how long, he said between 20 to 30 minutes. As we thanked him for sharing his secret, I had one thing in my mind. I had to make my own curry chicken trying his method.
I came home and found one of the chicken curry recipes I used many times before. It is from one of my all time favorite cookbooks, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper.
The curry paste is fairly easy to make. To make the spice mixture, I used coriander, black pepper, cumin, and cinnamon. To make the paste, I mixed the spice mixture with half an onion, fresh ginger, jalapeno pepper, garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper. I pureed them all together in a food processor. I cooked the paste for almost 25 minutes (15 minutes longer than suggested in the original recipe) in medium heat, stirring constantly. Along the way, I realized that cooking the curry paste for such a long time allows all the spices to release their oils to help marinate, and somewhat, caramelize the end product. Here, I must say, it is very important that you never stop stirring it as it may easily burn, if not attended closely.
After adding the yogurt and chicken, it took less than half an hour for my curry chicken to be ready for us to eat. I served it with some white rice, but any of your favorite starches would go well with this dish.
The result was absolutely scrumptious, very similar to the one that we had at the Cultural Extravaganza Event. The best part of it was that it was even better the next day.
- To make the Curry Paste:
- 1 large onion, cut in half
- 6-8 garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press
- 1 3-inch fresh ginger, peeled
- 2 teaspoons Crossover spice (blend of ground coriander, cumin and freshly ground black pepper)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 14 oz. canned tomatoes
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
- ½ cup water
- To make the chicken:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups whole milk yogurt
- 2 pounds skinless chicken press, cut into bite sizes
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- ⅓ cup water
- 2 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- Place half of the onion, garlic, fresh ginger, Crossover spice, salt, cinnamon, tomatoes, jalapenos, and water in a food processor attached with the steel blade. Process until totally pureed. Set aside.
- Slice the other half of the onion thinly.
- Heat 1-tablespoon olive oil in a large flat bottom skillet. Add the thinly sliced onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted (4-5 minutes). Add the curry paste and cook in medium heat, stirring constantly, 20-25 minutes. (*For more on this, please read the blog post.) You will realize, in time, some of the juices will evaporate and a very curry-like smell will fill your kitchen.
- Add ⅔ cup of the yogurt into the skillet and cooking for another 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Yogurt will thicken as it cooks.
- Add the chicken, ⅓ cup of water, and the rest of the yogurt (should be 1⅓ cup) in the skillet. Give it to a stir and allow it to come to a simmer. Turn down the heat to medium-low and cook until the chicken is cooked through and tender, 10-15 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a large plate. Increase heat to medium high and allow it to cook until it thickens, 5-7 minutes. Keep a close eye on to make sure it doesn't burn. Stir in the chicken back in the skillet.
- Taste for seasoning and add more, if necessary. Serve over white rice. Sprinkle it with chopped parsley.