Jamaican(ish) Chicken Curry & Roti
Updated: Apr 29
Kamala Harris has been the District Attorney of California, the first South Asian Senator of the US, and in her career, has advocated for healthcare reform, a pathway of citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and a ban on assault weapons.
Also, today, she is the first Asian, first African-American, and first female Vice President of the United States. In her honour, I’m making Jamaican-ish Chicken Curry.
“In order to make this recipe, I had to make a curry powder, and so I got rid of everything in my spice cabinet and have started anew.”
Vice-President Harris is a passionate cook, whose go-to is Marcella Hazan, and who relishes a roast chicken, a dosa and an exquisitely executed tuna melt. Harris’s father hails from British Jamaica, and her mother is from Tamil Nadu in India. What arguably distinguishes the Jamaica curry is the addition of allspice, called Pimento in Jamaica and in my local Indian store.
I say “ish” because I have never been to Jamaica, although I have eaten many Caribbean chicken curries. Like many of the other islands in the Caribbean, Jamaica has many influences, among them Indian, English, and Chinese.
In order to make this recipe, I had to make a curry powder, and so I got rid of everything in my spice cabinet and have started anew.
I use a lot more coriander (cilantro) – In the Caribbean, the herb of choice was culantro, a leafy green that resembled coriander, but was more punchy – and chicken thighs, where some recipes call for breast.
In Serious Eats, there is an addition for Worcestershire sauce and vinegar. I am not sure if this is authentic (readers please advise!) but I thought that it smoothed the sauce and brought a sharp sweetness. Also there are anchovies in Worcestershire.
I serve this with roti, the Indian flatbread, because this was the style I liked most in Trinidad and Suriname, and it is popular in Jamaica also. I bought mine by Safa Food from Asian Food on Mary Street. You can also make your own; Indian cuisine legend Madhur Jaffrey provides the basics in Saveur Magazine.
Jamaican(ish) Chicken Curry
(adapted with tweaks from Serious Eats)
For my Jamaican Spice Blend:
2 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp whole mustard seeds
2 tbsp star anise
3 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp whole allspice
1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
5 tbsp turmeric (ground)
For the curry:
4 tbsp of olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
A bunch of fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
1 tbsp ginger, grated
460g boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut in 2 inch cubes
1 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero pepper, deseeded and minced
8 new potatoes, thinly sliced
400ml can full-fat coconut milk
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Roti, to serve
For the spice blend, in a pan over medium heat, toast until fragrant all of the spice seeds and star anise. Add to a pestle and mortar (or coffee grinder) with the turmeric and grind together. Set aside.
In a skillet, over medium high heat, add olive oil and sauté the onion, garlic, coriander, and ginger, with a hefty pinch of salt.
Add the chicken, Scotch Bonnet (or Habanero pepper) and a heaping three tablespoons of Jamaican curry powder. Cook for 8-10 minutes until the chicken is golden brown.
Reduce heat to medium, add the potatoes and cook for another three minutes. Add the coconut milk and water. Let it come up to a boil and cover and simmer for 30 minutes until the chicken and potatoes are tender.
Add the Worcestershire sauce and white wine vinegar, and season to taste. Garnish lavishly with coriander and serve with hot sauce and roti.