Friday, September 5, 2008


(I'm working on a couple book projects and have been busy, thus the lack of diligence in blogging. I found this Food Essay with recipe in my files and thought of sharing it.)

FRIED CHICKEN, Caribbean-Style
Recipe for Fried Chicken, Caribbean-Style
1 chicken, cut into parts
Oil, for frying
1 big lemon
Salt, pepper

Wash chicken parts and place in a bowl. Cut a big lemon and squeeze lemon juice on the chicken parts. Leave juice in bowl with chicken. Add salt and pepper. Cover and leave chicken in the mixture for at least an hour. Heat oil, and deep-fry the chicken until nicely brown. Pour liquid from bowl over the chicken. Serve hot.

I’ve discovered that cooking shows can be entertaining and this afternoon, before I start fixing supper, I catch my breath and sit in front of the T.V. As if seeking for inspiration, I click on the Food Channel. A heavy-set black woman talks about fixing fried chicken the way her mother fixed it. What’s so special about fried chicken? I think. I can go to KFC any time. I’ve even learned to heat up packaged Honey Garlic chicken wings from Costco — and fool guests into thinking I cooked them myself.

But right before I change the channel, the woman declares that her mother is from the Caribbean. Something about the word “Caribbean” makes me pause. Ah — fried chicken with a twist — something exotic and different.

I decide not to click her off and sit back instead.

She brings the round bowl with the chicken parts under the faucet and proceeds to wash the parts. “You haf to clean de chicken,” she says, with a charming lilting accent. She drains the bowl. “Afterwards squeeze lemon to get rid of all de bad smells, and bad tings.” She picks up a lovely fat yellow lemon from the counter, slices it in half, and squeezes the juice over the chicken parts. Her fingers deftly turn each chicken part over so the juice coats all the pieces. Lovingly, she pats the breasts, thighs, all the pieces.

She could be a priestess performing an important ritual. I’ve never thought of cooking in this way. I tend to throw chicken parts into a bowl and drown them with soy sauce, vinegar and spices — and I avoid touching slimy parts.

“Put some salt and pepper and lef it for a couple of hours,” she says.

The camera zooms in on the bowl with the chicken parts soaking in the lemon juice and getting deliciously speckled with black and white grains.

My mind drifts to a childhood memory when we were all eating chicken, six of us around the glass-topped rectangular table. Papa loved chicken, and Mama made it a point to fix chicken with care. This was before supermarkets were around, and my mother would personally go to the open market to pick out the chicken. The unlucky chicken had to be fat and lively. Back home in the dirty kitchen, the cook would unceremoniously whip out her machete, catch the chicken and place his neck on the chopping board, and with one stroke chop off its head. The headless chicken ran around for a few seconds, but eventually slumped down at the end of a bloody trail. The cook would dunk the chicken into a cauldron of boiling water, and proceed to yank out its feathers. The feathers were saved for stuffing for pillows. The chicken would then be cut up and cleaned. She cut the chicken into small parts so the parts soaked the sauce better. She also washed the chicken parts, but just with water. She drained these and placed them in a big pot.

At this point, my mother took over. She crushed garlic and rubbed the macerated garlic on the chicken parts. She poured some soy sauce and vinegar into the pot, added salt, pepper and bay leaves, and cooked this is in medium heat. Basically, she boiled down the liquid and then she added oil and fried the chicken parts, along with the delicious brown residue of the soy mixture.

Every time we had chicken my father would grow lighthearted. He was 13 years older than my mother, and he was a formal man. But while looking at the crispy brown chicken laying on Mama’s huge white platter, he would recall his older brother, Kuya, who loved chicken breast, and who marked these pieces (so to speak) by spitting on them. (As I’m writing this, I realize this sounds disgusting, but that was how Papa told it.)

After, he would crack a joke. It was in Tagalog because he came from Laguna, Philippines. “Ano and masarap sa manok?” — It was a question with two meanings: What part of the chicken is delicious? And what is delicious to the chicken? We four children who grew up in Cebu and whose Tagalog was limited, would only catch the simpler meaning of the question: What part of the chicken is delicious. And we would shout out — “The leg,” or “The breast,” of “The wing,” projecting our own favorites.

Then Papa would shake his head, and we would all quiet down, and suspense hung in the air. When we were absolutely still, he would say with some flare, “Maiz (corn)!” — and all six of us would laugh at the double-entendre, and we children repeated the joke for the rest of the day.

The woman from the Caribbean is back on the screen, and now she’s pouring oil onto a skillet, and she tenderly lifts each chicken part from the bowl and lays each one on the sizzling skillet. She browns the chicken and covers the pan so the middle portion of the chicken cooks. When she lifts the cover, I think she’s done with her Caribbean chicken — but no — she takes the leftover lemon juice and drizzles this over the chicken. The juice mixes in with the oil. Using a metal spatula, she scrapes the crumbly brown parts that cling to the skillet and which make my mouth water. In a short while, she lifts the fried chicken parts and places them on a platter. “Serve with rice and beans!” she declares.

Even when I resume my work, I still consider how this woman lovingly handled the chicken parts, as if she were blessing each part, as though conscious that the chicken had surrendered its life to become food. I tell myself I will have to do that.

Read also:
Cooking with Cecilia Brainard - Quiche
Cooking with Cecilia Brainard - Linguine with Clams
Cooking Lengua Estofada
Food Essay - Fried Chicken Caribbean-style
How I Learned to Make Leche Flan (or How I Met my Husband)
Cooking with Cecilia - Leche Flan (Vietnamese Style) 
Recipe of Balbacua Cebuana from Louie Nacorda 
Cooking with Cecilia - Chicken Soup for my Bad Cold
Cooking with Cecilia - Beef Bourguignon

(Photo shows Cecilia with her father and one sister. Cecilia is the one standing.)

tags: food, wine, cooking. Philippines, fried chicken

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