Seasonal Flavors: Coconut Chicken

Cubanelle peppers

Olga came to the United States in the early 1970s from the Dominican Republic when she was thirteen. It was just after the civil war that ripped the country apart. If you’d like to read an incredible book about this and the people’s escape from the violence, check out Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. It’s not a pretty picture.

Olga and I are the same age. While I was enjoying junior high school, she was learning English and trying to fit in. She worked hard, completed her education and went on to raise three incredibly accomplished children who are living the proverbial American dream. Olga has held various jobs, one of which was running a restaurant. The woman can cook!

She’s made us curried goat, plantain, wonderful beef dishes and shrimp cooked in delicious concoctions. But my absolute favorite is her coconut chicken. And get this—Olga is a vegetarian. I think it’s particularly difficult to cook something you don’t particularly want to eat. But that’s just one more reason to admire Olga.

This recipe also represents my yearly plug to buy your chicken locally, with my favorite farm being that run by my son and daughter-in-law: The Free Union Grass Farm. Products including their fantastic chicken, are available at the Crozet Market, the Charlottesville City Market and at the Farm stand on Fridays. It’s also served at many local restaurants.

Olga’s Coconut Chicken

For the Sofrito (the marinade):

  • 6 plum tomatoes
  • 2 tomatillos
  • 4 heads of garlic, separated and peeled (yes, four heads)
  • 2 cubanelle peppers
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 10-15 green olives with pimento
  • 3 T oregano

Put it all into the blender and mix on high until completely mixed.  This is strong stuff, yet some people I know just put some in a bowl and pretend it’s gazpacho!

Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month.

For the chicken:

  • 1 chicken, cut into pieces; marinated in sofrito overnight
  • Olive oil for browning
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 T tomato paste

Heat the oil in a large skillet.  Turn it off and add the sugar.  Stir and allow to cool.

Next, reheat the skillet and brown the chicken.  Add the coconut milk and the tomato paste and cook gently for about 30 minutes till the chicken is thoroughly cooked.  The sauce will thicken and turn a beautiful orange. Serve with black beans and rice.


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