Barbados, Week 12: The American gets a Cooking Lesson

Upon being notified that I would be living on Halls this semester, a certain idea crept up in my mind:  I may actually have to learn how to cook for myself.  I had no idea what sort of eating venues UWI would have, and my mother was extremely excited that her generally helpless son would develop some valuable life skills.  However, you can take me out of America but it is not as easy to take the American out of me; no sooner had I arrived in Barbados in late January than I made it priority number one to find where I could buy ready-made food to consume.  Thus my diet consisted of chicken, rice, and salad at the school cafeteria, pizza from the local Esso gas station, and snacks or microwaveable goods from the Campus Mart.  Now this was no particular issue for me, for as I’ve previously mentioned, the cafeteria food is very tasty and Esso pizza is probably the best pizza on the island.  But I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of longing and jealousy as I would walk by one of the girls’ blocks, ham and cheese sub in hand, and smell some of the most delicious aromas to have ever hit my nostrils.

So one night, as I walked back to my block with a sizeable bag of KFC delivery under my arm, the RA on hall stopped me.  “Man how long have you been here?  You need to stop eating this fast food and start making some real Caribbean food.”  I secretly agreed, but decided it would be easier to come up with excuses such as “I would…but I have no time” (a blatant lie).  As it turns out my blockmate Nickoy is something of a master chef, and the RA quickly roped him into teaching me how to make a West Indian dish to “impress your parents when you get back!”.  Nickoy was skeptical I would actually follow through when I told him that I would buy the ingredients if he taught me how to make a simple Caribbean dish.  He was happily surprised when, on Monday, I walked through the door with a bag of chicken from the local supermarket, proclaiming that it was time to make a feast.  We would be making chicken stew, Caribbean style.

As Nickoy and I cut up the chicken breast and legs into manageable sizes, he told me how he had been cooking since he was fourteen years old.  Needless to say I could barely create a sandwich at that age, much less become a self sufficient cook.  As we went along it became apparent that, with cooking, practice does indeed make perfect, as Nickoy effortlessly skinned and diced up three potatoes in the time it took me to completely mangle one into small pieces.  However, it was really cool to see how such a delicious meal was created, and once mastered probably wouldn’t even take too much time to finish.

My blockmate Nickoy hard at work preparing the chicken.

Instead of meticulously describing how we went about making the chicken stew, I will include something of a recipe below in case anyone wants to learn how to do it themselves.  Bon Appetit.

– Chop up chicken breast and legs into thirds or quarters (about 6 pieces), wash in a bowl with water

– pour a handful of vinegar in the bowl, then wash again with water to remove the “rawness”

– cut up into fine segments and add onions (two), garlic (3 cloves), hot pepper (one), and a pinch of ginger to give it “attitude”

– thoroughly mix together by hand before covering, refrigerating, and let sit for three hours

– put olive oil in a sizable pot (enough to cover bottom), and turn oven on high

– chop up three potatoes into fine segments and mix in with the chicken, then add browning sauce (for coloring)

– wait until oil is steaming, then put chicken (with onions, etc) and potatoes into the pot, mix up with spoon

– keep oven on high for a few minutes before turning down to below medium until stew sauce is boiling

– add pepper or other ingredients as necessary by periodically tasting the stew sauce

– after stew sauce is boiling, turn oven on high again for a few minutes and then let sit for a few minutes

The finished product – delicious.

I wrote this recipe from memory shortly after completing the chicken stew, so chances are I may have left out a few steps here and there, but if you follow the recipe I’m sure you’ll have a delicious chicken stew dinner nonetheless.  Nickoy and I made a pretty big pot of chicken stew and rice, so we decided to share some with our fellow blockmate Richie.  Per usual, my eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I ended up eating myself into a near food coma.  Somehow food tastes better when you’ve helped to make it with your own hands, and so it was with the chicken stew.  And gentleman, FYI, telling girls you’re making dinner/can cook at all makes them swoon pretty hard.  So if you don’t consider it a manly undertaking and refuse to learn, just know that Nickoy and I will probably be entertaining your girl this weekend.

Richie, Nickoy and Jevaughn digging in.

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