Réunion is a country. About 800 kms. east of Madagascar. Off the coast of Africa. A former fueling/supply station for ships on their way to Asia for spices. A bit “out there,” yes.
But the food there … tastes and flavors marry each in ways only possible when people from different cultures meet each other and, well, you know.
Beginning officially in 1649, France wielded power, political and culinary, over this small way-station (then called “Bourbon”) in the Indian Ocean. Appropriately enough, Napoleon Bonaparte lost the island to the British in 1810, but France finagled it back in 1815. (Such complicated doings — it takes a database to keep all this history straight!) All the tropical crops — sugar, vanilla, coffee — edged out food production at some point. Réunion is now part of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
I like to think of Réunion as the little island that can cook.*
This chicken curry, adapted from a recipe in The Ethnic Paris Cookbook, by Charlotte Puckett and Olivia Kiang-Snaije, combines a very common cooking technique used all over Africa — frying lots of onions with tomatoes — with a hint of the spicing associated with Indian cooking.
Restaurant Le Bernica’s Poulet au Cori
4 cloves garlic
4 whole cloves
4 T. peanut oil
6 whole chicken thighs
2 medium onions, small mince
1 1/2 T. ground turmeric
2 cups canned whole tomatoes with their juice, run through a blender until almost puréed
1/2 t. dried thyme or 1 t. fresh, if available
1 cup water, more or less
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. fresh parsley, minced
Preheat the oven to 325° F.
Grind the garlic and cloves to a fine paste in a mortar and pestle.
On high heat, heat the peanut oil in a heavy, non-reactive oven-proof skillet. Add the chicken, browning it well on both sides, about 10 minutes or longer. Add onions and cook until transparent, another 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent onions from burning. Toss the turmeric and the garlic over the chicken and stir in. Cook another 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and thyme, reduce the heat and cook the tomatoes until bubbling. Stir the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits.
Add water, salt, and pepper to the skillet, bring to a boil, cover, and place skillet in oven. Cook about 45 minutes.
If sauce is still a bit too liquid, remove chicken to an oven-proof serving dish, cover, and place in 200° F oven. Put skillet on a burner turned to high heat and reduce the sauce until thickened. Serve chicken, topped with lots of sauce and sprinkled with parsley, sided with fluffy white rice.
For more recipes from Réunion, CLICK HERE. (Unfortunately they’re written in French, but you can look up the ingredient words on an online French dictionary.) For a gorgeous visual travelogue on Réunion, CLICK HERE.