Caribbean Brown Stew Chicken

February 1, 2012


Brown Stew Chicken

Brown stew chicken is a common Caribbean dish, yet I don’t see it too often on restaurant menus around here. Well, not compared to jerk anyway. The stew takes its name from the colour of the sauce, which is made by caramelising the marinated chicken in brown sugar before adding the reserved marinade. This caramel flavour is essential to make a good brown stew and it’s important to spend time ensuring the chicken is properly sticky and golden before moving on. The sauce is then cooked down to an intense gravy; it’s sweet and damn spicy, depending of course on how liberal your hand is with the fierce yet fruity scotch bonnet pepper.

It’s a proper carnival of Caribbean flavours, with depth from the caramelised sugar and soy, plus fragrance from the thyme, ginger, spring onions and  lime. The smell carries like nothing else and will make your neighbours insane with jealousy. This is proper winter comfort food, Peckham style.

Brown Stew Chicken
(serves 2-3, depending on how many chicken thighs you fancy)

1kg bone-in chicken thighs (about 6), skin removed
Juice of 1  lime
4 spring onions, finely shredded, plus one extra to garnish
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 regular onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
4 sprigs thyme
1 thumb sized piece ginger, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
Half a tin chopped tomatoes (I used the cherry ones)
Water to just cover the chicken pieces

Place the chicken pieces in a dish and add all the ingredients except the sugar, chopped tomatoes and water. Mix well and leave to marinate for an hour or overnight if possible.

When you’re ready to cook the chicken, remove them from the marinade, reserving the marinade to add to the stew. Pat the chicken dry with kitchen paper. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a high-sided pan and add the sugar. When it begins to turn dark brown and caramelised, add the chicken pieces, taking care because it will splatter a lot. Fry them until you have nice caramelised bits on both sides, then remove from the pan and set to one side.

Add the reserved marinade to the pot and fry for a few minutes to soften. Add the chicken pieces back plus the tinned tomatoes and just enough water to cover the meat. Season, then simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce is thickened and the chicken cooked through. Serve with rice and peas, or plain rice, garnished with a little chopped spring onion.

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    Reply Gary @ The Greedy Fork February 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    I thought that was beef when I first saw the picture. Oops.

    Do you think a chipotle chilli would work in this?

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      Reply Helen February 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      Hmmmm that might be a bit weird with all the Caribbean flavours going on and would totally fling it off in a different direction. The heat is quite important and chipotles don’t have the same heat or fragrance…more smokiness. BUT, if you want to experiment, don’t let me stop you!

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    Reply Wendy February 1, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    -5 oC here tonight. Fancying some Carribean comfort food right now. Shall be trying this soon.

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      Reply Helen February 1, 2012 at 9:40 pm

      -5! Man alive it’s cold up there! It’s pretty cold down here too I must admit. Probably balmy for you Northerners I should imagine. Anyway, thanks! Glad you like the look of it.

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    Reply Gary @ The Greedy Fork February 1, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Maybe you’re right about the chipoltes. I do love their smokiness though. Might save them for a con carne.

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      Reply Helen February 1, 2012 at 9:48 pm

      Me too, I absolutely adore them and I totally agree, it’s tempting to put them in everything! In chilli though – PERFECT!

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    Reply Sarah February 1, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Wow, that looks fantastic. There’s some serious umami in there!

    One thing, I might try sticking in a bit of freshly-ground allspice in there. I use it when I make oxtail stew, and it plays really well with the ginger.

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      Reply Helen February 2, 2012 at 7:55 am

      Hi Sarah, as do I (

      I would be careful about adding allspice to this recipe however, as it will really fling it off in the direction of jerk. All the other ingredients are there you see and it could end up tasting like jerk in sauce. The lack of allspice is quite an important distinction I think. That said, no harm in trying! It will of course still taste lovely 🙂

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    Reply jess February 2, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Gonna snow this weekend innit. Totally making this to warm me ‘ands and me ‘art (etc)

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen February 2, 2012 at 11:26 am

      Ha ha! Ace. Well, it’s just the ticket and no mistakin’ SNOW! Weeeeee!

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    Reply Sharon February 2, 2012 at 11:24 am

    This looks amazing. It reminds me of my aunt’s stew chicken that she cooks for me when I visit her in Trinidad. Have never tried making it myself but will definitely try making this – will serve it to my mum and see what she thinks! Great post.

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      Reply Helen February 2, 2012 at 11:27 am

      Oooh! *bites nails nervously* I hope she likes it!

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    Reply MattB February 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    Hooray for real Caribbean food!

    I reckon you rarely see this in Peckham because it’s not really a Jamaican dish (and much of London seems to see Caribbean food as synonymous with Jerk and Jamaica). Stew chicken is really a Trinidadian dish. It’s not usually that spicy either; it’s served out here with pepper on the side so that people can make it as spicy as they like.

    (There’s some complicated cultural reasons for this too: in Trinidad this is considered a ‘Creole’ dish – meaning it’s from the Afro-Trinidadian repertoire – rather than the Indo-Trinidadian, the latter tending to be food which is more spicy and curried).

    Helen, see if you can also get a recipe for pepperpot; this is a Guyanese dish which is kind of similar to a Trinidadian stew, but even tastier I reckon. This is partly because in Guyana they have much better quality meat (which is often wild meat) than much of the rest of the region.

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      Reply Helen February 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      What a fantastic comment! Thanks do much for the info. I’ll definitely tackle pepper pot next.

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      Reply Nobby December 28, 2016 at 11:47 pm

      Hi Matt,really appreciate your tips on Trini cooking,as I study Trini culture.
      I am a Calylsdo singer from the country of Wales and have visited Trini twice.
      My cooking has been tasted by pan master Boogsie Sharp and Trinidad Rio among others. and I enjoy practicing authenticity in my cooking as well as my singing!
      Regards, Lord ‘Elpus.

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    Reply Catherine February 2, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Tooootally need this in my belly right now as freezing my arse off! Cooking this tonight for sure. Thanks! x

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      Reply Helen February 2, 2012 at 2:07 pm

      Fantastic, let me know how you get on!

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    Reply zuko February 2, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    This looks amazing, but do you think I could get away with subbing the scotch bonnets for a normal red chili – or do I need the fruityness?

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      Reply Helen February 2, 2012 at 2:07 pm

      Well, personally I love the fruitiness but if you can’t get one, sub in regular chilli.

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    Reply Alice February 2, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Gosh, that looks and sounds delicious. I can’t wait to have a go at that, and all of the ingredients are easy to find as well. Many thanks.

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      Reply Helen February 2, 2012 at 2:07 pm

      Cheers, hope you like it!

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    Reply The Grubworm February 2, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    This looks very tasty – i really like the use of sugar to caramelise the chicken and give a deep colour. I don;t know a great deal about Caribbean food and this is a bit of an eye opener with that soy, chilli and sugar. It almost reads like something from SE Asia (except for the thyme of course 😉 )

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      Reply Helen February 2, 2012 at 2:09 pm

      Yeah, all the classics in there! Often people use soy in their jerk recipes too, although I don’t.

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    Reply zuko February 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    “Well, personally I love the fruitiness but if you can’t get one, sub in regular chilli.”

    Cool – it’s not a question of availability, more, er, tummy-based…

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      Reply Helen February 2, 2012 at 2:24 pm

      Ah, I hear you! In that case, go for it with the regular chilli 🙂

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    Reply Shu Han February 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I never thought to see soy sauce, spring onions, chilli and ginger altogether in a recipe that isn’t chinese! and carribean at that! will be giving this a try as I have al the ingredients and the temperature is making me crave stew of all sorts.

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      Reply Helen February 2, 2012 at 2:56 pm

      Ta-da! Soy quite common in Caribbean recipes.

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    Reply MattB February 2, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    It’s okay to substitute a different chilli; although the Scotch Bonnet is standard in much Caribbean cooking (for the distinctive flavour as much as the heat) Trinidadians also use what they call pimento peppers (but I’m not convinced are what Brits would understand as pimentos – as much as Scotch Bonnets and they are much more mild.

    Chinese ingredients are quite a staple in the region too… People outside always think everyone in the Caribbean is African/black, but many of the larger islands (and especially Trinidad) have significant populations of Indians, Chinese, Syrians and, obviously, whites who have all been here for generations…

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    Reply Lizzie February 2, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    I’ve often wondered what brown stew chicken is but as I always zone straight in for jerk I’ve never found out. It looks delicious; definitely one to try.

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      Reply Helen February 3, 2012 at 8:41 am

      To be fair, it doesn’t sound particularly appetising either!

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    Reply Leigh February 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    I cooked this last night. Thanks for another great recipe Helen. It was so simple to make and quick enough for a work night but oh so tasty. The scotch bonnets I used were killer and I nearly couldn’t finish my bowl full (you see I said nearly) and I had a chilli-juice meets eye incident (I never learn) but it was well worth it to discover such a tasty dish. Thanks again Helen.

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      Reply Helen February 3, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Brilliant! I’m so, so pleased you enjoyed it. Those chillies can be very tricksy, can’t they? Sometimes you just get mega-hot ones.

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    Reply inigo February 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    It’s not just a Trinidadian dish. I grew up in Grenada, Barbados and Antigua they all do a version of brown stew chicken. For a more Trini/Lesser Antillies taste the chicken would be marinaded in green seasoning before cooking.

    @ Helen – I love your blog – keep up the good work. If you can get your hands on a copy of The Multi-Cultural Cusine of Trinidad and Tobago by the Naparima Girls High School it’s well worth having and a good intro to non-Jamaican, Caribbean cooking.

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      Reply Helen February 3, 2012 at 8:39 pm

      Fantastic! Thanks for the tip off; I’ll try to track down a copy. I did see a few recipes with green seasoning but I wasn’t sure where that came from. I’m really glad you’re enjoying the blog too.

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    Reply s February 3, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    so delicious, Helen. as a Pakistani, i should feel ashamed that i cannot take too much chili- the Scotch bonnet packs a real punch and burns my mouth. i would still love to try your dish bec all the flavours are balanced. chili with a bit of brown sugar must taste so good. the photo, as always, is beautiful.

    speaking of chilis, i just saw this fermented chili recipe on Sunflower’s blog and thought of you – i am sure you’ll enjoy it.

    x s

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      Reply Helen February 3, 2012 at 9:35 pm

      Thanks so much Shayma. If the amount of chilli is not for you, may I suggest just using half a scotch bonnet? (and always, always de-seed). Perhaps that might be worth a try? If not, well, never mind! Thanks for your kind comment as always and also the link, I do read (and LOVE) Sunflower’s blog x

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    Reply MattB February 4, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    @inigo – yeah, of course you’re right about it being all over the region. I think I was just trying to suggest that there’s a lot more to Caribbean food than what much of Britain thinks there is (ie: Jerk).

    On the Naparima book, I’m glad you suggested that. That’s the bible of Trinidadian cooking. Everyone here owns it. It’s quite funny, if I (as a Brit living here) cook anything for Trini friends which even slightly deviates from the recipe laid down in that book they go absolutely bananas!

    Another nice book which was recently published by Ian Randle is Cynthia Nelson’s ‘Tastes Like Home’. There’s a good recipe for pepperpot in there, with lots of tempting pictures.

    And… another Trini dish that I would recommend is ‘geera pork’. When done well it’s fantastic. Really spicy cumin notes.

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      Reply Helen February 4, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      Fantastic. I am loving this conversation! I looked up the Naparima book and unfortunately it’s really expensive to buy from the UK, people obviously know that it’s hard to track down and are taking advantage by charging extortionate prices. I may just have to cough up! I am a fan of Cynthia’s blog and I keep meaning to buy her book so thanks for reminding me.

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    Reply Helen February 4, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    p.s am going to start researching geera pork immediately!

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    Reply MattB February 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    @ Helen – don’t! I can you get a copy here for next to nothing. I have a friend coming to visit in early March and I can get him to bring back to the UK and stick it in the post.

    I didn’t know Cynthia had a blog so cheers; I will check it out!

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      Reply Helen February 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm

      That is just so kind of you – thank you!! I am incredibly excited!

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    Reply zuko February 5, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Had this for lunch today and it was delicious!

    I used just 1 regular chili (made a half portion) and it still packed quite a bit of punch (maybe the marinating time + ginger intensifies the heat?)

    I also added the zest of the lime, plus juice of half an orange to make up for the lost scotch bonnet fruitiness, and just because I love citrus in these sort of dishes in general.


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      Reply Helen February 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm

      Hey Zuko, sounds great! Really glad you liked it. I dunno what happened with you chilli – sometimes they’re just hotter than other times. You never know!

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    Reply Deptford Dame February 5, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    Thanks for this, it’s one of the few dishes my partner’s (Bajan) mum used to cook us regularly before she passed away a couple of years ago and I never got the recipe from her, much to my regret. I’m glad I’ll now be able to have a go at it!

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      Reply Helen February 6, 2012 at 8:06 am

      I hope you enjoy it! I can’t make any claims to its authenticity but perhaps if you make it you could let me know how it compares?

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    Reply inigo February 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

    @MattB and Helen
    Thanks for mentioning Cynthia Nelson – I’ve just checked out her blog she has some great recipes. I’m just off to make Pumpkin pudding with vanilla-ginger caramel sauce.

    I just got some cassareep so I’ll also be trying out some Pepperpot.

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      Reply Helen February 6, 2012 at 11:32 am

      I wonder if I can get cassareep in Peckham? Probably!

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    Reply inigo February 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I bought my cassareep from

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      Reply Helen February 6, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      Great, cheers!

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    Reply Anne February 6, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    Oh this looks lovely – and perfect for these cold days! I think this might be Sunday dinner this week
    I have been meaning to make pepperpot for some time but every time I think about it I make jerk again (it’s just so good!) – I must get round to making it though.

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      Reply Helen February 7, 2012 at 8:03 am

      I know how you feel Anne. Now is probably a good time to tackle pepperpot though because it’s freezing outside and jerk is more of a summer thing. Hard to resist though! No doubt about that.

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    Reply Andrew Copley February 7, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Looks fantastic; I’ve done two of your Caribbean recipes thus far; the jerk (many times now) and the oxtail with guiness; both have been superb.

    I shall be marinating tonight and cooking this tomorrow!!

    I have eaten this a couple of times at weddings I have been too but have never cooked it, look forward to trying it!!!

    Keep up the excellent work!!!

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      Reply Helen February 7, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      Awww thanks so much for letting me know you’re enjoying the recipes. I hope you liked this one just as much!

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    Reply Tony Rose February 7, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    This sounds fantastic, chicken is my favourite meat I’ll drop you a comment when I’ve tried it I’m sure it’s gonna be good.

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      Reply Helen February 7, 2012 at 8:49 pm

      Yikes, I hope you like it. I await the verdict!

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    Reply Andrew Copley February 9, 2012 at 9:20 am

    I made this last night; it was definitely a success, I cooked more than the recipe as I planned to take some into work for lunch today; alas it all got polished off last night.


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      Reply Helen February 9, 2012 at 10:53 am

      Ace! That pleases me greatly.

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    Reply Isabel February 10, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Can’t wait to make this! I always love your recipes, but never seem to all of the ingredients…this one looks easier to achieve!

    Btw, love the idea of your sandwich review blog!


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      Reply Helen February 10, 2012 at 9:54 am

      Thanks Isabel! I hope you like the recipe – let me know how you get on.

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    Reply Rosie February 23, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Had this for dinner tonight it was seriously amazing, the balance of flavours and the fruitiness off the scotch bonnet was delish. Really glad I decided to use 1 instead of 2 though (you like it seriously hot lady!!!) I’m 7mths pregnant so didn’t want to shock the little one out of there early. Didn’t caramelise my sugar for long enough though so I didn’t get the deep brown colour, how long does this take? was just a bit worried I might burn it. Thanks again for another great recipe absolutely luv your style of food, comforting, satisfying and totally yummy, I’ve never been disappointed. xxxx

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      Reply Helen February 24, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      Aww thanks Rosie! Really pleased you liked it. Hmm I think I remember it taking about 15 minutes or so to caramelise the sugar. You want it basically on the verge of burning but obviously you want to stop before you get to that point! Here’s a recipe with a good picture to help you out

      As for the chillies, I think actually meant to say one! oops! I bet some people have had their heads blown off…

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    Reply Rosie February 27, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Thanks Helen, I definitely didn’t do it long enough……I can improve next time. Few friends had left overs the next day and they all want the recipe so i’ll be passing on the love. xx

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      Reply Helen February 27, 2012 at 1:11 pm

      No problemo!

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    Reply Amber February 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Wow, I just love your blog and am developing a taste for jerk pork after visiting the Caribbean place at Peckham Rye on your recommendation (I’m a local too…) I’ll try this on the weekend, my first Caribbean recipe. 🙂 Thank-you!

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      Reply Helen February 29, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Hi Amber. When did you visit? It’s sadly gone very much downhill recently.

      Really pleased you enjoy the blog! Thanks for your comment. Good luck with the recipe and let me know how you get on!

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    Reply Thursday December 23, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Every hard food shop sells brown stew chicken!! From I’ve seen anyway! It’s macaroni pie that’s hard come by! U live in Peckham? It takes longer than 20mins to cook down a pot of chicken… It gotta be falling off the bone.. You know you suck the flavour off the bones too by time it’s cooked

    Nice blog tho

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    Reply Nia February 12, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    My boyfriend loves Caribbean food, and I’m going to attempt to make him this and rice and peas! :3
    Thanks for the detailed recipe.

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      Reply Helen February 14, 2013 at 8:22 pm

      Brilliant, let me know what you think!

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    Reply Lady Pikkler March 9, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Its looks amazing and now has made me very hungry :)n

    Brown stew chicken has to be one of my favourite dishes. The best thing about it is that you can totally mix it up and add more spice or carlic, depending on your tastes. Next time, try keeping the seeds in and marinating the chicken overnight, that will literally knock your socks off.

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      Reply Helen March 10, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      Amazing, thanks for the tip!

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    Reply Eigil March 23, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    I searched for a stew for my newly aquired scotts bonnet chillis and found this recipe. Now Im at the last stage of preparing it. Sneak tasting tells me its already delicious, and my lips burn slightly. Wonderful fresh and hot tastes.

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      Reply Helen March 26, 2013 at 9:34 am

      Excellent! Glad you like it.

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    Reply Luis March 23, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Looks delicious! O_o
    Although maybe a bit too many ingredients for me. Would this still work without the brown sugar? I hardly ever user sugar for anything.
    Thanks for the awesomeness 🙂

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      Reply Helen March 26, 2013 at 9:34 am

      I’m afraid the brown sugar is kind of the point about the whole dish. The caramelisation of the chicken is what gives it the flavour

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    Reply Pierre May 24, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    I don’t live to far from Peckham (Walworth) and Stew chicken is my favourite main course, its a great dish thats cooked by most English speaking Caribbean islands including St lucia, Trinidad, Grenada etc.

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    Reply sophie November 28, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Lovely food but what can i do if its too spicy?

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      Reply Helen November 29, 2013 at 8:32 am

      Reduce the chilli? Or you mean after you’ve cooked it?

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    Reply Debra December 24, 2013 at 2:48 am

    This is the most sensible recipe I have found so far for Brown Stew chicken. I have one question, though, and one comment. And I apologize in advance for the ignorance of the question (lol) what do you mean by “half a tin of chopped tomatoes (I used the cherry ones)?” I must confess, I’m confused. Do you mean a can of chopped tomatoes (yes, I’m American)? If so, what size can? Or is “tin” a measurement I’m unfamiliar with?

    And for those who are leery of spice, I’ve heard of another way to use Scotch bonnets. I found a recipe for Jamaican Curry Chicken whereby you add one whole scotch bonnet to the pot for the last five minutes of cooking. You do not chop it, you just add it to the pot. Then remove and serve your dish. I find when I do it that way, it gives off a heat that is just right. Not too much, not too little.

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      Reply Helen December 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      Hi, yeah I mean half a can. So half a 400g can which i think is the average size. We call them tinned tomatoes. Same thing.

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    Reply Sanjay Jagmohan January 19, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    My parents are Guyanese, so I’m used to different stews but I’m going to try this today because I have the things lying around 🙂

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      Reply Helen January 19, 2014 at 6:43 pm

      Let me know what you think!

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    Reply Rob March 29, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Took me back when my dad used to make this. Food for the soul!

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    Reply Sebastian Sookermany May 6, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I cooked stew mutton over the weekend. My dads a Trini, and I have a copy of the book Multi-Cultural Cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago by the Naparima Girls High School. My brother brought back a copy for me the last time he was in Trinidad.
    In the book they suggest using a bottle of beer instead of water, which I did (Though I`m sure my family just used water normally). I also never stick religiously to any recipe, but it came out very well.
    In my family we always ate this dish with rice and Dal. So I cooked up a pot of that too.

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      Reply Helen May 6, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      Ah, I have that book! A reader kindly sent it to me. Brilliant fun.

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    Reply Josh January 5, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Hi, sounds like a great recipe and I am mid-way through prepping it… just wondered what you do with the thyme? chop it and mix in or just put the sprigs in with the marinade and remove later? (complete kook when it comes to cooking..

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      Reply Helen January 5, 2015 at 11:05 am

      Hi Josh, sorry it’s not very clear in the recipe. Just strip the leaves off the thyme – dpn’t worry about it too much, just do your best. Remove any twiggy bits later.

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        Reply Josh January 5, 2015 at 12:25 pm

        It’s probably that I am clueless (learning) thanks for the prompt reply. Had just put the whole stalks in the bowl having bashed the leaves with a knife..Very much looking forward to trying it later.
        Thanks again!

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    Reply Anitra Joseph July 17, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Love bajan stew especially when my bajan family cook all my bajan dishes when I reach St Michael’s.

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    Reply Ann-Marie October 18, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    Am a Bajan living in Canada. Growing up, had this on Sundays at Granny’s. Have never tried making it before, but your recipe looks like what I remember. Didn’t have a scotch bonnet pepper so put in a little Bajan hot sauce.
    Don’t know if you are familiar with this blog, but lots of traditional recipes here.

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    Reply Audrey December 6, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    I am an American born Jamaican living in New York. This stew chicken recipe is delicious! It taste just like the stew chicken I buy at Jamaican restaurants. Thank you for providing a clear and easy to follow recipe.

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      Reply Helen December 8, 2015 at 7:42 pm

      Brilliant! Thanks for letting me know Audrey.

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    Reply Stephanie B May 6, 2016 at 12:09 am

    I’ve made this four times already within 3 months— Damn good job!!! Very impressive. ????????

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    Reply Maise September 15, 2017 at 9:42 am

    I have a bet on with my Carribean boyfriend that he makes better stewed chicken, so I’m going to use this recipe and blow him out of the water.

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    Reply Elaine Bradley November 19, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    Recipe looks delicious. After I cook it, can this meal be frozen? I like to meal plan and I will cook food several days in advance.

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