Hunting in Havana & A Quick Dinner Recipe

It was the first time we had been allowed to venture out in Havana to buy food for ourselves, but our Professor Humberto followed closely behind our gaggle of six, all armed with cameras, too many CUC’s to be from the area, and signs of recent sunburn.  We all slowly walked up the packed earth embankment to stalls covered with a roof of green metal, under which, were displayed all kinds of produce and fruits, almost all foreign to our eyes.  On the hunt for a hearty main dish after having been eating the restaurant food at the Montehabana for the past two weeks, I scanned diligently for the meat for sale, at this point, any kind of meat would have made me happy. But where was it?  We walked around the horseshoe path which led us to a bright green painted building.  We entered cautiously through the threshold, glanced around both in child-like delight and slight horror.  We had found it!  About a half dozen men wearing bright green uniforms, which had an eerie similarity to hospital scrubs, stepped towards the counter that separated us and held up what they were selling.  Mostly pork, some chicken, but definitely no beef.   I made my way around, trying to ignore the flies and other pests that hovered in the hot, humid space, where the smell of freshly butchered meats was stagnant.  “Oh no, my Mimi, (my wonderful, and extremely hygienic grandmother), would be appalled,” I thought to myself.  I threw my very American, over sensitized thoughts to the wind, and slowly stepped over to one of the eager young men in the green scrubs, and asked him for four bistecs de cerdo, threw them in my borrowed plastic bag, and triumphantly walked out.

Market in Havana, courtesy www.havanajournal.com
Market in Havana, courtesy http://www.havanajournal.com

Meat in Cuba is not that easy to come by.  Beef is pretty much out of the question, unless you are a tourist, and most Cubans default to either chicken or pork for the protein portion of their meal.  That day at the market, I bought bistecs de cerdo (whole post coming on those!), which would be wonderful with the following recipe as well, but below I used chicken breast cutlets.    I will preface this recipe by saying 1) chicken cutlets are not eaten widely in Cuba, unless you are eating Pollo a la Milanesa (Chicken Milanese); bone-in cuts are much more highly favored, both for flavor and low cost and 2) garlic and onion powder may be difficult to find down there, except by those with relatives in Miami who regularly bring them foodstuffs.  So with both of these caveats, why this recipe?  Firstly, the strong flavors are reminiscent of a traditional marinade that flavors many a meat dish on the island, secondly, this chicken is delicious, and possibly most importantly, last night, when the gods of dinner inspiration just didn’t come, this was easy, and in the words of my mother-in-law, a “10”.  Also, forgive my current lack of pictures, especially on this dish, since it was some of the most gorgeous chicken I had ever cooked.

Quick Dinner Coriander-Garlic Chicken

(Serves 6)

Notes: If you don’t want to buy chicken cutlets (isn’t it crazy how much more a “cutlet” is at the butcher?), just make your own by slicing boneless chicken breasts in half, no need to pound them out for this recipe.  The paprika really gives this a gorgeous color, so I wouldn’t skip it, for the sake of the taste and the looks.  Also, the salt I use is almost always Kosher, unless otherwise noted.

Ingredients:

-8 chicken cutlets

-1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder

-1 ½ teaspoons onion powder

-1/2 teaspoon coriander (culantro)

-1/2 teaspoon paprika (spicy, smoked, or regular is fine)

-1/2 teaspoon pepper

-1 ½ teaspoons salt

-juice of 2 limes

-1 tablespoon of Olive Oil for marinade

-2 tablespoons of Olive Oil for cooking

Implements:

-skillet for frying with cover (I happened to use non-stick for clean-up ease, but any good pan is fine)

-tongs for flipping

-utensil to stir chicken to coat with marinade

Steps:

  1. Place cutlets in large bowl, with enough room to stir around.
  2. Add all ingredients, except the oil for cooking, into a separate bowl and mix to form the marinade.
  3. Add the marinade to the chicken, stirring to coat evenly.
  4. Let chicken sit in marinade for at least 30 minutes, up to about 4 hours.
  5. Add oil to pan and heat pan over medium-high, until the oil is shimmering.
  6. Add first batch of chicken, about 2-3 cutlets at a time, depending on pan size. Let cook for about 5 minutes, or until dark golden brown on first side, then flip to second side, and cover pan. Cook for about another 5 minutes, or until second side is also a dark golden brown.
  7. Serve with rice, a side, and salad, and enjoy!
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