I couldn’t get through planning our meal for Belize without humming “Belize Navidad” (to the tune of Feliz Navidad)… I think Tyler might be tired of hearing that song.
Once again, I had a lot options to choose from, since the cuisine of Belize is influenced by Caribbean, African, Spanish, Mexican, and Mayan cooking. I was very intrigued by the recado rojo spice/paste that is used in a delicious-looking chicken dish. I learned that it is traditionally served with rice and beans (not to be confused with beans and rice, which is not the same thing), and other common sides include johnnycakes or fried plantains. We went with the plantains, since I have always been curious to try this fruit that looks like a banana but apparently is not the same thing.
Recado Rojo (recipe)
I first made the recado rojo recipe, although I altered the recipe to suit our purposes. I scaled it to 1/3 of the original recipe, and rather than forming it into small disks and drying it, then later rehydrating it with orange juice or vinegar, I just mixed in some orange juice and vinegar to get a paste-like texture and used it right away. As always, I loved seeing and smelling the different spices come together. The most unique spice to this blend is annatto (also known as achiote). This was a new spice to us, and it is what gave the blend such a deep red-orange color. The dry spices were ground to a powder, then the salt and garlic were ground together, then it was all mixed together with some vinegar and orange juice.
Belizean stew chicken (recipe)
The chicken was something of an adventure. Due to some poor communication and misunderstandings, Tyler carved and skinned the whole chicken we purchased to pieces of boneless/skinless meat, which I have read is not the traditional way to make this. I remember reading several comments about how important it is to cook the chicken until the skin is dark to get the right flavor. Sooo… Tyler went back to the grocery store, bought a second whole chicken, I made another batch of the Recado Rojo sauce, and we doubled the recipe. The second time, the chicken was cut into serving sized pieces as recommended (AKA separated into legs, breast, wings, etc.). The recado rojo and salt, pepper, chili powder, and garlic powder were rubbed into the chicken and left to marinate for 20 minutes.
The oil and sugar were heated up in a pan until caramelized (we defined this as when they started to turn tan/light brown), then chicken was added in batches until browned. It was more blackened, but considering our track record with frying things, I’m not too surprised.
After removing the chicken, the peppers and onion were cooked in the same pan.
Then it was dumped back in a pot with water, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce and cooked for about an hour, until the chicken was done.
We made the unwise decision of leaving it in this pan, which was marginally large enough. The lid didn’t sit fully on the pan since the chicken was so tall, and it was continually oozing juices out onto the hot burner. Even as we kept removing liquid, it kept bubbling back up. Some of these juices are still burned onto our stove top, unfortunately. Lesson learned.
Belizean Rice and Beans (recipe)
This recipe was pretty similar to the Peas and Rice we made for the Bahamas, and I was optimistic that it would be more flavorful. We set out the dry kidney beans in a bowl of water overnight, and then we started boiling them an hour or so before we started the rest of dinner. We finally had an opportunity to use the kidney beans we grew in our garden a while back!
The biggest downfall to this recipe, in my opinion, is the sheer quantity of food it creates. You’d think we would have learned our lesson on this by now… nope. The metric/weight units of measurement threw us off. As it turns out, the 900 grams of rice this recipe calls for is a LOT. It used the full bag. Of course, we didn’t realize this until we were already committed with the cooked beans.
So the beans were boiling with garlic for a couple hours. The salt pork/cubed bacon was supposed to be in there during this time too, but we forgot about it until later when I took them off the heat because they were getting too mushy. So we added the salt pork and gave them another 30 minutes or so, during which they got even more mushy.
Next we drained the water, added the seasonings, coconut milk, and rice. I seriously questioned how 250 mL (1 can) of coconut milk was enough liquid for the ridiculous amount of rice that was going in the pot, but I trusted in the recipe. Big mistake. It cooked for a looong time, we kept adding water, but it was never enough. Once it was mostly soft and it was 9 PM, we said good riddance and called it done.
Fried Plantains (recipe)
Despite what the above two recipes may suggest, the plantains are where the real disaster began. I was on the first step of slicing the plantains into French fry shaped slices when the evening fell apart. The first couple plantains were very soft and easy to slice, even with a butter knife. The next plantain was a little less ripe, a little more firm, and a little less easy to slice with a butter knife. Let’s just say my thumb and I learned the danger of butter knives that night.
So while I sat at the counter cradling my wounded thumb, Tyler finished making the plantains. Other than the slicing part, they were pretty simple to make… they just had to be cooked in melted butter until they started turning brown, and then we sprinkled salt on them after removing them from the pan.
So much frustration! This meal was completely tainted by frustration over the chicken mix-up and boiling over, frustration over the rice not cooking, frustration over my sliced thumb, and frustration over not eating until 9:00 PM. I really wanted to like the food, but I was overwhelmed with the frustration and still a little bit in shock at how much damage a butter knife can inflict!
I loved the flavor of the Recado Rojo in the stew chicken, and I actually preferred the boneless, skinless pieces of chicken! This was probably influenced by the challenging of eating saucy, bone-in chicken pieces without one of your thumbs… Anyway, I think I would have really enjoyed this dish under better circumstances, and we might have to try it again sometime. The beans and rice had potential, but they ended up getting pretty burnt from not having enough liquid. Tyler still thought it was amazing, but I had a hard time getting past the burnt flavor. The less burnt bites did have a good coconut flavor. This is another one that is probably worthy of a redo. The plantains were also pretty good… I tried a piece of raw plantain moments before the butter knife incident, and it really did taste significantly different from a banana. I think the trick with frying plantains is to make sure they are VERY ripe (not just for safety reasons–the less ripe plantains were still pretty tough after being fried).
Our next country is Benin, and since I am behind on my blog posts, I will give you a sneak peak and say we used SEVEN habaneros for the Benin, and my throat was left burning from the heat both after dinner and after leftovers at lunch the next day!