From Nonna's Kitchen: Nikki's Haitian Cashew Chicken

Nikki and her grandson, Theodore.

Nikki and her grandson, Theodore.

A major benefit of my Heirloom Kitchen is exploring dishes I have never had the pleasure of tasting before.  In addition, as there are many places in the world I have not been able to visit, having the privilege of taking a ‘virtual’ trip to these beautiful countries by stepping into an immigrant kitchen has become a special part of each of my cooking sessions.  Food and the memories created while eating can truly transport you to the your past, a special time in your life or even to another place.

So recently, a quick road trip to Brooklyn landed me in beautiful Haiti with my culinary guide Nikki.  Nikki came to the U.S. in the mid 1980s to explore New York City, the art world, French literature and a new exciting life. 

She eventually settled in Brooklyn with her son and has called it home ever since.  Her apartment is beautifully decorated with colorful Haitian art, relics and pictures of her adorable grandsons and family that remind her of her homeland.  While we cooked, she played Haitian music so that when I closed my eyes; the smells and sounds truly transported me.  We spoke about her life in Haiti, her family and favorite dishes her mother and grandmother cooked for her as a child.

Nikki made sure to teach me dishes that truly represented Haitian cuisine.  We made a rice with a very special mushroom, djon djon that only grow in Haiti.  In addition, we made Cashew Chicken, a well known Haitian dish.  This one pot wonder comes together easily and includes cashews, the most popular nut in Haiti.  Cashews can be found in many Haitian dishes.  Reason being, cashews are farmed in Cap-Haitian, located on the northern coast of Haiti.  Cashew chicken is considered a signature, regional dish eaten all over Haiti. 

Another important component to this dish is sour oranges, also used in many Haitian dishes for marinating and saucing purposes.  However, as they are not easy to source here in the U.S., Nikki, quite cleverly, combines limes with orange juice to closely mimic the flavor.  As Nikki and I spoke about home cooking and how the best meals are simple and have few ingredients, she shared a proverb she learned from her mother, “It’s the hand that cooks the dish.”  I love this expression as it truly summarizes the simple immigrant dishes I am learning with wonderful women like Nikki.

Finally, Haitians do enjoy eating food with a spicy kick.  Scotch bonnets are the pepper of choice and they can be very hot.  Nikki usually puts one in the pot and says she never knows how spicy it will be.  If it’s a bit on the mild side, they will even add a bit of hot sauce to give it the right level of heat.  Removing the seeds will downplay the spice, so I’ll leave that up to you.

Hence, if you have ever been curious about visiting Haiti, make this simple, delicious dish then close your eyes and I promise, you’re already half way there!

Nikki's Haitian Cashew Chicken

Serves 4 to 6

Marinade:

4 limes, juiced
1 orange, juiced
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1 white onion, sliced thin
1 tablespoon stone ground mustard
3 to 4 whole cloves
2 sprigs parsley
2 extra virgin olive oil
1 scotch bonnet pepper, chopped, seeds removed, optional

Chicken and Vegetables:

2 pounds whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, chopped into small dice
2 plum tomatoes, chopped into small dice
1 red pepper, chopped into small dice
1 carrot, chopped into small dice
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 scallions, white and green part chopped thin
1  cup raw cashews

Rinse all chicken pieces in hot water. Then, rinse the chicken again in the juice of 1 to 2 of the limes. Place all the chicken in a large glass baking dish.

Pour the rest of the lime juice and the orange juice over the chicken. Add the mustard and salt and massage over all the chicken pieces.

Add onion, garlic, scotch bonnet, (chopped with/without seeds if you like a really hot) or whole if you like less heat. Sprinkle in cloves and parsley.

Cover and marinate overnight.

The next day, heat olive oil to medium heat in a dutch oven and add chicken pieces, a few at a time after brushing off any marinade ingredients. Brown on all sides and remove to a side plate. Drain all but a teaspoon of the oil.

Add onion, plum tomatoes, red pepper, and carrot to the oil and begin to mix to soften the vegetables but not browning. Add tomato paste mixed with 1/4 cup hot water. Mix to combine.

Add thyme, salt, scallions and all the marinade to the pot. Lower heat and allow to simmer.

In a small pot, add raw cashews and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and allow to boil until only approximately 1/4 of the water remains. About 5 to 7 minutes.

Add chicken back to the pot. Pour cashews and water in. If needed, add enough water to barely cover the chicken. This will create your sauce and Haitians love lots of sauce to pour on their rice!

Cover and allow to simmer for 40 to 45 minutes.

Serve with white, long grain rice to sop up the spicy sauce

Buon Appetito!

Haitian Cashew Chicken, Step by Step

Haitian Cashew Chicken, Step by Step