I spent some part of my childhood living in Puerto Rico, in a small town near Ponce. I was the only Chinese kid in my kindergarten class, and my aunt and uncle ran the only Chinese restaurant in town. It was usually flooded with customers (especially on pay day), possibly because the place also doubled as an ice cream parlor. In addition to healthy portions of tamarindo ice cream, there were huge platters of things like seafood fried rice with plantains and sweet and sour pork with fresh pineapples. It was considered Chinese by the local Puerto Ricans. My 5-year-old self, having recently moved from Guangzhou, thought it was Western food.
(Even though my little town lacked Chinese food, cities certainly had their fair share, as I learned after many weekends of eating at dim sum spots in San Juan and Ponce. It's like going from rural Kansas to San Francisco.)
Many, many years later, having eaten my fair share of sweet and sour pork and lemon chicken in the US, I can reason that although these hybrid Chinese dishes aren't very traditional, they are nonetheless part of Chinese diaspora culture. The Chinese started migrating the Caribbean since the early 1800s (more history here.) The more people who arrive and stay, the more begin to open restaurants. The more restaurants open, the more the foods, stir-fry techniques, and flavorings like ginger with soy sauce spread.
I'll go more into the hybrid food my own family made in some later posts. For now, here's a recipe for chicharrones de pollo, Puerto-Rican style, I modified from Recipezaar. Chicharrones in Latin America are usually pork rind cracklings, but in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic chicken is also popular. Have you ever had fried chicken bits marinated in rum, soy sauce, lemon juice, and ginger? They're quite incredible, especially if you marinate them overnight; post-frying, the rum juices almost burst out of the chicken when you bite through the batter shell.
I made an additional paprika onion side to go with the chicken cracklings. Since Dominican-style chicharrones usually have a paprika-laced batter, I sprinkled the sweated onions with some sweet paprika Jacob brought back from Hungary last month. I didn't dice my onion up very finely, so it was a side to be eaten with the chicken. I imagine that if you chopped it up to bits, or used shallots, the result can almost be a dip. And of course, the chicharrones are perfectly fine on their own.
And since these are almost guaranteed crowd pleasers, I'm serving them up at a party this coming weekend.
Chicharrones de Pollo with Paprika Onions
- 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup rum
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 piece ginger, roughly chopped
- 3 large red onion, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chopped Mint or cilantro for garnish (optional)
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying
- Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. Mix together the soy sauce, rum, lemon juice, half of the minced garlic, and ginger in a bowl. Marinate the chicken in the mixture for at least 5 hours, preferably overnight.
- Prepare the onions before frying the chicken: In a wok or pan, gently sauté the onions and the remaining half of the garlic over low heat until the onions are translucent, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season with sugar and paprika, then salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a serving dish.
- Combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper in a large bowl to be ready for dredging chicken. Fill the wok 1/3 or 1/2 way up with vegetable oil and heat the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Working in batches, dredge chicken in cornstarch/flour mixture, then shake off the excess. Fry the chicken until crisp and golden brown on all sides, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat with other batches.
- Serve with the paprika onion side and garnish with optional mint or cilantro.