Seriously, who hasn’t heard of Jamaican Jerk Chicken? Jamaica is famous for its jerk cuisine. But, believe it or don’t, there is an even more prevalent way of preparing chicken in Jamaica. Sure, this way of preparation may not be as celebrated as jerk chicken, but on any given Sunday, you will find the overwhelming majority of Jamaican homes preparing Brown-Stew Chicken with Rice and Peas. The Rice and Peas, dahlings, we’ll have to talk about later because today we celebrate all things Brown-Stew. Well, not all things. One, very specific thing  – really. But I’ll get to that.

What exactly is Brown-Stewing? Why, I’m glad you asked. Brown-Stewing is a combination cooking method of dry and moist-heat cooking that results in a thick, rich pan sauce and tender protein or vegetable. The protein or vegetable is browned in little or no oil first  – the dry-heat cooking, then cooked in liquid, typically stock or water – moist-heat cooking –  to finish. The finished product has a deep, rich color and flavor from the caramelization from the browning. It also retains its shape well and is juicy and tender from being cooked in the liquid. This cooking method is commonly referred to as braising.

But what if you are avoiding meat? What about that significant portion of the Jamaican population who prefer to makeItal food? (For those of you not in the know, the concept of Ital food is expressed among the Rastafarians, as a manner of eating that enhances and promotes Livity – or long, healthy life. It is the belief that the food one consumes should nourish his body without causing harm. This means that chemically modified preservatives and artificial additives are avoided. It is through the practice of that belief that many Rastafarians, as a rule, shun meat and animal products on a whole, as the act of eating “dead flesh” is incongruous with Livity elevation.) Are you then bound to a life void of brown-stew?

bob

Bob Marley – World Renowned Jamaican Reggae Artist

For shame! Such a life is scarcely worth living, I say. Enter the work-around. Well, it’s not so much a work-around as it is a thorough examination of brown-stew. What comes to mind when we talk of brown-stew? Is it the meat, i.e. the chicken, we think about?  Or do our minds conjur up spicy, earthy flavors; smooth, rich sauces; and vibrant colors? For me, the latter rings true. I believe there are specific spices and techniques – independent of what the protein may or may not be – that make Brown-Stew what it is.

When you think of Brown-Stew, immediately one thinks about the earthy, inimitable spiciness of crushed pimento berries/seeds. Berries from the pimento tree are commonly referred to as “allspice berries” as they are said to combine the taste and aroma of many other spices such as pepper, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. You’d be happy to know that pimento seeds are the secret ingredient to jerk sauce/paste. I know, you’re welcome. They are tiny, deep brown-black balls that, when crushed, give up a pungent earthiness. With these bad boys, a little goes quite far. They can be crushed under the flat blade of a knife, but I usually pulverize them in my mortar and pestle. It is worth knowing that the aroma and flavor lingers for a very long time, so one should only use either the type of mortar and pestle that washes well (like ceramic) or one dedicated to spices only.

pimento-seeds-whole

Pimento Seeds – Whole

pimento-seeds-crushed

Pimento Seeds – Crushed

 

 

 

 

 

You also cannot escape the deep, rich, brown color of Brown-Stew. Certainly browning the meat prior to cooking goes a long way to deepen the color but any Jamaican worth his weight knows that the true secret to the dark mysteries of the brown-stew is Browning. No, not the fair-skinned empress around the corner. Seriously, if that came to your mind, I hereby rescind your cooking card. Tek a seat.

What I mean is that thick, dark stuff that slowly oozes from a bottle that almost magically darkens anything it touches with a single drop. Browning, with her mysteries stripped away, is simply burnt brown sugar and water. This rich caramel adds a depth of flavor to and certainly darkens food. Most Jamaicans and Jamericans (please don’t hate me, seriously it’s not a blasphemous term, I swear) will reach for a bottle of Browning. It’s readily accessible on the shelves in Jamaica and in places abroad where there is a good concentration of Jamaicans. Suffice to say, where I live is neither of these places. I would be hard-pressed to find a bottle of Browning at my local grocer’s. So, in turn, I’ve learned to make my own. It’s quite easy, really. If you can’t find Browning where you live, send me an email and I’ll tell you how. I can always be reached at askjenn@dajeneats.com. (If that’s what it takes to get emails from you, I’ll take it. I’m easy.)

browning-drizzled

                                                                   Browning Drizzled on Cauliflower

browning-mixed-in

                                                     Browning Massaged Into Cauliflower

So, what if we were to combine true-to-flavor spices with tried-and-true techniques without meat? Would we be able to create a dish worthy of being called Jamaican Brown-Stew? Why, yes! Yes, we could. By “could” I mean “did”, and by “we” I mean “me”. Or “I”. Whatever.  Yes, I did.

I needed something to replace the chicken. Something that would absorb the flavors of the spices and seasonings well, that would also retain its shape. I found the ideal replacement in cauliflower. Its white color and relatively bland taste made it the perfect canvas. It would soak up the flavors and colors easily.

Let’s face it: the fat from the protein, when heated, adds an earthiness and umami to the dish that cauliflower just would not do. What’s a girl to do? Improvise! Necessity is the mother of invention, no? And what a mother she is. I’ve found that red wine and tomato paste will lend a dish the richness of the protein. Together, you can achieve the earthiness of the meat without actually using meat. I are genius!

cauliflower-cut-to-get-flat-surface

      Be sure to cut your cauliflower florets flat to maximize cooking surface.

Now we have the proper seasonings to get the taste of Brown-Stew, the right ingredients to get the color and our secret additions to mimic the umami of protein. Finally, let’s get cooking.

m10a7689

Print Recipe
Brown Stew Cauliflower
A fresh look at the Jamaican classic, Brown-Stew using cauliflower instead of the traditional chicken. Vegan-friendly and delicious.
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Jamaican
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Passive Time 4 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Seasoning:
  • 1 medium cauliflower about 1 1/2 lbs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground pimento berries/seeds allspice
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup onion diced
  • 2 tbsp carrots diced
  • 2 tbsp green bell pepper diced
  • 1 clove garlic finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp scotch bonnet or habanero pepper chopped
  • 1 tbsp chopped thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp Browning
Cooking:
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • Vegetable stock or water
  • 2 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp non-dairy butter e.g. Earth Balance
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Jamaican
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Passive Time 4 hours
Servings
Ingredients
Seasoning:
  • 1 medium cauliflower about 1 1/2 lbs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground pimento berries/seeds allspice
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup onion diced
  • 2 tbsp carrots diced
  • 2 tbsp green bell pepper diced
  • 1 clove garlic finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp scotch bonnet or habanero pepper chopped
  • 1 tbsp chopped thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp Browning
Cooking:
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • Vegetable stock or water
  • 2 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp non-dairy butter e.g. Earth Balance
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Instructions
Season cauliflower:
  1. Cut cauliflower into flat steaks (see pictures above). Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper, pimento seeds, and smoked paprika. Gently toss to distribute.
  2. Add onion, carrots, bell pepper, garlic, scotch bonnet or habanero pepper and thyme. Again, gently toss to distribute.
  3. Drizzle Browning to mixture, and with wet fingers, combine until cauliflower is darkened. (Be sure to wash hands thoroughly as the pepper is spicy and can burn skin.)
  4. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably over-night.
Brown cauliflower:
  1. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Then add olive oil. Allow oil to heat for 30 seconds.
  2. Separate the cauliflower for the rest of the ingredients. Add cauliflower steaks to hot pan in single layer, making sure to not overcrowd the pan, so that the cauliflower will properly brown. You may have to do it in multiple batches depending on the size of your pan. Allow the cauliflower to brown on one side before turning (3 - 5 minutes). Turn, and repeat on the other side. You may also have to stand the pieces on their heads to ensure the florets also brown.
  3. Remove cauliflower from pan and transfer to a clean plate.
Sauté Seasoning and Stewing:
  1. Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining seasonings (onions, pepper, thyme, etc) to pan. Sauté, stirring often until onions are soft (4-5 minutes). Season with pinch of salt and black pepper.
  2. Add tomato paste. Stir to combine and allow to cook for 1 minute. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper.
  3. Deglaze pan by adding red wine to hot pan and scraping the pan around to release all bits stuck to the pan. (This stuck bits are called suc.) Cook for another minute.
  4. Raise heat to medium-high, then add the cauliflower back to the pan. Add ketchup and bay leaf.
  5. Add enough vegetable stock or water to come up to the sides of the cauliflower without completely covering (1 - 2 cups). Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  6. Cook uncovered for 10-15 minutes until cauliflower is fork-tender. (This is where you can easily stick a fork through the cauliflower, but the cauliflower remains on the fork when suspended, rather than quickly sliding off.)
Finishing Up:
  1. ​By now the liquid should have been reduced to a thick sauce. If not, raise heat and allow to reduce for another 3-5 minutes until thickened. Turn off heat, but allow pan to remain on the hot surface. Add butter and allow to dissolve. Gently stir to combine. Serve hot.
Recipe Notes

**Wine Pairing Suggestion:

  • - Merlot
  • - Pinot Noir
  • - Shiraz
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