As a foodie, doing my usual research on the best places to eat and following the advice of some friends there, we ventured downtown into the heart of the city. The dimly lit streets were buzzing with Cuban music, and the smell of authentic Cuban food was everywhere.
This is one of the recipes I learned while eating in one of the oldest restaurants from the owner and chef who had been cooking there since she was a little girl and, at the time of my visit, was in her late 60s.
While this is a simple dish, the flavors are complex and satisfying. Traditionally, they serve it with fried plantains, a relative of the banana that is not as sweet and is used to balance the spices of Cuban cuisine.
Simply peel the plantain as you would a banana and cut it in half and then into fourths. Cook on low heat in a little oil. Remove and add salt…simply delicious.
The method of cooking for this dish uses braising. Braising is a fancy French term for searing food first, then adding liquid to half way cover, reducing the heat and cooking, lid on, until the dish is complete. This method not only breaks down tougher cuts of meat or more fibrous vegetables, but it also intensifies the flavors.
What you’ll need:
• 8-10 chicken thighs with the bone in and skin removed.
• 2 15-ounces cans of black beans.
• 2 14.5 cans of diced tomatoes.
• 1 medium white onion, roughly chopped.
• ¼ cup olive oil.
• 1 tsp. salt.
• 1 tsp. pepper.
• 1 tsp. ground cumin.
• ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped.
• juice of one medium lime.
• juice of one small-to-medium orange.
In a skillet on medium high, add olive oil. Once it comes to temperature, add chicken thighs skin side up and brown for five minutes, turn and repeat. Turn once again and reduce heat to simmer. Add onion and let cook until they start to become translucent. Add tomatoes and beans, along with all the juice from each can, as this will become your braising liquid base.
Evenly add spices, orange and lime juice, cover and simmer for one hour. Check periodically to make sure the liquid does not get too low. If this happens, add enough water or chicken stock to bring the level back up.
After an hour, taste and adjust any spices. Allow to cook for 30-45 minutes more.
Remove chicken and take the meat from the bone, rough chop and set aside. By now, the tomatoes, onions and beans are tender and full of flavor.
Spoon out onto a plate or in a bowl and top with chicken. Add a good pinch of cilantro and enjoy.
I can’t help but smile when cooking this dish as my kitchen fills up with those same smells from my trip that summer.
Cooking since he could pull a chair up to the stove at 5 years old, Joey Morasse, of Lebanon, is the owner and operator of JoJo’s Barbecue and Catering. He is also a personal chef and offers in-home cooking classes.