As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, it is extremely important for me to honor the legacy of the Garifuna people (Black Caribs) in my upcoming historical fiction novel Children of the Ocean God. I am therefore doing my utmost to tell a story that is authentic and historically accurate, while also respectfully showcasing Garifuna customs, traditions and social ethos. Naturally, this is challenging for a myriad of reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic not withstanding. Recreating a world from over two-hundred-and-twenty years ago, in a far off land is no easy feat, especially given limited and often conflicting historical records.
This has forced me to be very resourceful in finding ways to push the boundaries of my knowledge and experience of Garifuna culture and traditions. One strategy that I have found enormously useful in this regard, has been the exploration of Garifuna culture through their cuisine. In an earlier blog post I described my experience while cooking hudutu – a delicious creamy fish soup made with coconut milk and usually eaten with machuca (pounded plantains). This week I want to share my experience making my favorite Garifuna dish of all time – ariran guisou!
Ariran guisou is a flavorful chicken stew which is very easy to make and does not cost a lot of time (about forty-five minutes including preparation). What I enjoy most about this dish, apart from the delicious taste, is its elegant simplicity. It is easy for me to imagine ariran guisou being prepared hundreds of years ago by my Garifuna ancestors. The ingredients are not hard to procure (even now, they are widely available at most supermarkets) and the cooking is very straightforward.
When cooking ariran guisou I always follow a recipe I found a while ago on the foodie site Saveur.com. After cleaning the chicken, usually thighs, I then marinate it in a blend of spices (cumin, mustard powder, black pepper, brown sugar and tumeric), mixed with lemon juice, minced garlic, onion, and Worcestershire sauce. Probably back in the day fermented fish sauce would have been used instead of Worcestershire sauce (which wasn’t invented yet). Next, I leave the marinade for twenty minutes in the fridge, so that the chicken can soak up all the spices. Up to an hour is also fine, but I usually don’t wait so long. Obviously, back in the day fridges didn’t exist, so the Garifuna would likely have simply left the chicken in a cool, shady spot to marinate for a hour or two. After that I cook the chicken thighs through on both sides in a frying pan with a little cooking oil, before setting them aside. This leaves the kitchen with a delicious aroma hanging in the air. Next, I cook the paprika pepper, sliced into thin strips, in the juices from the marinade. Once the pepper slices are soft, I add the cooked chicken thighs and a cup of chicken stock, before bringing the mixture to a boil. To finish it off, I cover the pan and leave it to cook for a further quarter of an hour. The ariran guisou is then ready to serve! Typically, I like to serve ariran guisou with basmati rice which I cook with a bay leaf, to add a bit of extra flavor. The rice pairs really well with the chicken stew since it soaks up the delicious sauce.
Whenever I make ariran guisou I experience a reconnection with my Garifuna ancestors. The dish feels and tastes like ‘home,’ despite the fact that it is from an ancient culture that I barely know. Just like hudutu, ariran gisou is quite rustic, yet it packs a flavor-filled punch. In my view, this dish reflects the amazing resourcefulness of the Garifuna. It is a testament to how they were able to make delicious food even with the most basic of ingredients and simplest of cooking methods. Here’s to ariran guisou, a dish which has stood the test of time, just like the Garifuna themselves!
Have you ever cooked ariran guisou? Do you use a different recipe or substitute some of the ingredients? Do you have any tips on how to make it even tastier or more authentic? Do you know of any similar dish from Africa? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.