Tastes Like Home

Chickens, plucked and roasted. (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Hi Everyone, For years I have missed eating chicken curry they way I wanted to, the way I had grown to love it. Sure I’ve cooked and eaten chicken curry here in Barbados, but I could never purchase the chicken the way I wanted it, live, free range and then plucked and fire roasted prior to prepping for cooking. I wanted to cook a chicken that had never felt the coolness of the inside of a refrigerator.

Chicken Curry (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
Chicken Curry (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

My first encounter with chicken being prepped this way for a curry was as a child whilst visiting my maternal uncle and his family in the country. They raised their own poultry – chickens, ducks and later on, turkeys. When we would visit during the August holidays, it was always such a thrill to run around the yard chasing the chickens in particular, filling their feed troughs and watching them gather to eat. My uncle had both the regular chickens and those they referred to as Creole fowls. Creole fowls’ feathers were of different colours, they were the ones that crowed in the mornings, and I learnt that their meat is tougher than the regular white fowls which they referred to as meat birds.

Whenever chicken curry was on the menu, my uncle would instruct one of my cousins to catch one of the chickens or he would do so himself. We’d eagerly follow my uncle to see what was going to happen next but he’d shoo us away. He’d go off to the corner of the yard where there was a pipe and buckets of water. We’d strain our eyes from a distance to see what was happening but his back blocked our view. In no time, he’d return with the chicken in the bucket, the feet pointing upwards. I’d watch as my aunt would pour boiling water into the bucket, flip the chicken around to get the feet into the boiling water, and very quickly start to remove the feathers from the chicken. When she was done, the feather-free, clean-skinned chicken would then be held over the open fire flames of the stove. The flames would lick the chicken all over as my aunt deftly turned the chicken all around. As the oil from the skin dripped, sometimes the flames would flare up a little and we (my siblings and cousins) would squeal with laughter. What is it about children and fire eh? When the chicken was done roasting, there was some charring of the skin. Then there’d be this smoky, fire-roasted aroma that I found made me feel ravenous.

Chickens, plucked and roasted. (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
Chickens, plucked and roasted. (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

The chicken was then gutted and cut into pieces. The masala was ground as well as garlic, onions, hot pepper, and some fresh herbs and the curry paste made. Into the heated oil went the curry paste, the aroma that filled the kitchen would make you faint with pleasure. The chicken was then added to the sautéed paste and left to ‘bounjay’ (fry with the paste). Water would be added to cook the curry and create an extremely flavourful sauce or gravy.

When the meal was served we got the freedom to take our plates and sit on the steps to eat. We’d sit facing inward; on one stair and using the stair immediately above as the table, our feet dangling. I tell you, this was such freedom and a departure from eating at home where you had to eat at the table – mommy always insisted on a knife and fork and shaking your feet while at the table was a no-no. I’d eat my dhal and rice and chicken curry and marvel at how different the curry tasted. Yes, my mom’s and aunt Betty’s chicken curry were great but this chicken curry that I’d eat at my uncle’s was different. There was an added layer of flavour and I later realised it was from the fire-roasting. The smokiness had subtly made its way into the curry with the charred skin.

I’d return from my holidays and implore my mom for us to “do the chicken” like my uncle and aunt would do. All I’d get in return was a laugh. “That’s too much work,” my mom would say, “I’d have to kill the chicken, pluck it, roast it, gut it and then have to clean the stove and then cook the chicken. I’d rather buy the chicken freshly plucked and gutted and then cook it.” When mommy put it that way, it did seem like a lot of work. I guess that because I was a kid and always only an onlooker when my uncle and aunt did it I did not realise how much work it was. I settled then for only having this special chicken curry whenever I’d visit my uncle’s home in the country.

Fast forward to years later as an adult, with the aid of my sister, Pat, (gosh I always rope her into my ventures and she’s such a good sport) we went to the market, bought a live chicken, came home, killed, plucked, roasted, gutted, and cooked the chicken curry. It was exhilarating and exhausting but totally worth it. Together we agreed that this was too much work to do weekly so luckily for us we found a poultry vendor that lived not far from the market who would do everything but roast the chicken for us. So each week, we’d go home armed with a fresh chicken, fire roast it, and prepare it for a curry.

You can imagine then, my longing for such a chicken curry after having moved to Barbados. Sure I’d buy my commercially produced chicken and cook curry but it was never the same. That was until last week. Gillian, a Guyanese friend of mine living here, has decided to raise her own chickens as she too longs for that absolutely-no refrigerator-free range-freshness. Last weekend, she killed, plucked and gutted while I roasted, cut-up and cooked the curry. Sitting across from Gillian at the table, I felt as if I was back in the country at my uncle’s; I wanted to dangle my feet. We ate in silence, each lost in our own memories of home. We’d watch one another, smile and continue eating. Thanks to Gillian, I now can have the curry chicken I love anytime. Well, at least I’d have to give her a couple of days notice.

On a trip to Guyana in 2006 I noticed that at Mon Repos market, after selecting the chicken you’d like to have, you can have it plucked, roasted and gutted right there; they’d even cut it up for you if you so desired. Talk about convenience, now all you have to do is go home and cook. I noticed that ducks are being sold this way too.

I have to call Gillian; all this writing about chicken curry makes me want some.



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