Suzanne Barr recalls her mother’s first lesson in the kitchen was about making tea. Later in life, when her mother was sick with cancer, Barr says that comforting ritual inspired her to learn to cook her mother’s favorite dishes. Barr says after her mother passed away, she retreated to an ashram where she reevaluated her life and career path. At 30, she became a chef and eventually opened two restaurants in Toronto.
Barr shares the chances she took and the career she built in “My Ackee Tree: A Chef's Memoir of Finding Home in the Kitchen.”
100K Curry Chicken
Where’s the vinegar? I’m in the poultry demo at the Natural Gourmet Institute, and I’m looking for the vinegar. The instructor is just patting the chicken dry and then nothing, no washing. What is this? Reports say that washing your chicken can cause bacteria to spread to kitchen surfaces and utensils. That will never stop Black folks from doing what feels right. In my childhood kitchen in Plantation, my mum would douse the chicken in vinegar for each and every dish. Roast chicken. Chicken in a bag. Curry chicken. My mum used store-bought curry spice for her curry chicken. I wanted to create my own spice blend and put my own stamp on this dish. It seemed to work! This is the dish that my angel investor fell in love with, and with his gift, Johnnie and I were able to open Saturday Dinette.
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) coriander seeds
- 1tablespoon (15 mL) cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoons (10 mL) whole allspice
- 2 teaspoons (10 mL) yellow mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoons (10 mL) fenugreek seeds
- 1½ teaspoons (7 mL) black peppercorns
- 1 whole dried clove
- 2½ tablespoons (37 mL) turmeric
- 2 teaspoons (10 mL) ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon (2 mL) cayenne pepper
- 3 pounds (1.35 kg) chicken quarters
- ½ cup (125 mL) curry spice mix
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 teaspoons (10 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) canola oil
- 3 cups (750 mL) chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 whole Scotch bonnet pepper, any colour
- 4 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 cups (500 mL) canned coconut milk
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cups (500 mL) steamed white basmati rice, to serve
- 1 cup (250 mL) toasted cashews
- ½ cup (125 mL) toasted unsweetened coconut flakes Fresh cilantro leaves and stems
- Mango chutney
Make the Curry Spice Mix In a medium dry skillet over high heat, toast the coriander, cumin, allspice, mustard, fenugreek, peppercorns, and clove for 2 to 4 minutes, until fragrant. Remove from the heat and let cool for 2 minutes. Transfer the spice mix to a spice grinder, mortar and pestle, or to a high-speed blender. Grind to a powder. Transfer the powder to a small bowl. Add the turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cayenne. Stir to combine. Set aside.
Make the Curry Chicken Trim off any excess fat from the chicken. Cut each chicken quarter into 3 equal pieces and place them in a large bowl. (Using a serrated knife can be helpful for this, particularly on the skin.) Add the curry spice mix, garlic, onion, olive oil, and salt. Use your hands to massage the mixture into the chicken pieces until they are evenly coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place the chicken in the fridge to marinate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Remove the chicken from the fridge. Place the canola oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add enough of the chicken (and the onions and garlic) to cover the bottom of the pot. Cook until the chicken is browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a clean bowl. Repeat until all of the chicken has been browned.
In the same saucepan you used to brown the chicken, add the chicken stock, bay leaves, Scotch bonnet, and chicken pieces. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer, uncovered, for at least 35 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked and beginning to fall off the bone.
While the curry is simmering, place the potatoes in a medium stock pot. Fill the pot with water to cover the potatoes by at least 2 inches. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes, until tender. Drain.
Add the coconut milk to the saucepan with the chicken and stir to combine. Let simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Add the potatoes. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Toast the Cashews Preheat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cashews and give the skillet a shake to ensure they’re arranged in a single layer. Toast for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the nuts are golden brown and fragrant. Immediately transfer the nuts to a medium bowl to cool.
Just before serving, remove the bay leaves and the Scotch bonnet from the curry chicken and discard. To serve, place ½ cup (125 mL) steamed rice in each bowl. Ladle the curry overtop. Garnish each serving with some toasted cashews, toasted coconut, fresh cilantro, and mango chutney, if desired.
Excerpted from “My Ackee Tree” by Suzanne Barr and Suzanne Hancock. Copyright © 2022 Suzann Barr and Suzanne Hancock. Published by Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.