I’m having a double whammy of Cuba today. Not only am I finding out what Cuban food is I have to scoot off later and drive my best mate to Heathrow as he is off to Cuba for the Easter holidays. It’s April and it’s snowing in London, Cuba today is 33C with clear skies (never mind the 2 day stop said mate is having to South Beach on the way there). I find myself in Camden.
I’m a South London chap – have been for 14 years. Camden is 35 minutes for me up the ‘Misery Line’ as we call it, but on the tube map so well depicted by Harry Beck it’s known as the Northern Line. Stand on the platform at 8am and the word misery comes to mind. I have 35 minutes to travel / Google. All I can find is missile crisis, Havana, cigars, a certain bay and then I release that I have seen Cuba in the past. A few years ago I was on a beach outside Kingston (not the London Kingston, rather the Jamaican capital) and I remember seeing it as clear as day. What do they eat? Where does their food come from, what’s it like to live in Cuba? The concept of over population is now setting in on me as I’m like a sardine on a cold day looking at my iPhone with smelly people pushing on either side. I never liked the tube I want to be in Cuba.
A good word for Camden is bohemian, and that’s how I imagine Cuba to be, you see it’s all a bit odd today; I’m going to a restaurant called The Cuban in the Stables Market in Camden. The stables is a world on its own, originally a horse hospital. Chain stores are not permitted in the Stables; it’s a labyrinth of bazaar outlets where Mr. Woo’s Chinese is next to the luminescent sites of the Cyberdog neon clubbing clothes emporium. I walk round this place selling all sorts of items for Goth’s, household goods, ethnically influenced items, brick-a-brack and clothing outlets for every sub culture known to the human race. Standing in the middle is The Cuban, a converted barn large in stature. This place is more like the Souks in Marrakesh but fewer rugs and instead of Jalabas clothing items have neon edging with flashing electronics appliquéd onto them. All a bit of a bazaar place to find the flavours of a communist island in the middle of the Caribbean – but it’s London. Did I mention it was snowing?
David the chef in The Cuban starts to explain Cuban food to me, how the influences are typically Caribbean and Spanish. He’s very proud to tell me he has over 150 varieties of rum in stock, I’m thinking drinkaware.co.uk as the techno music from the Goth Trance shop across the Stables pipes into the restaurant. It’s situations like this that remind me I do live in the world’s city. David explains that the flavours of Cuban food are citrus with spice, not hot chili like one would find in Asia, rather a sweet pimento spicy.
Today’s dish is set in front of me to try. It’s beautiful. I look at the pouisn (that could very well be a large chicken) roasted in a special marinade served with a timbale of rice and peas. El Presidente Whole Baby Chicken I’m informed. Well, I knew a president of Cuba had to come into this cuisine so I could get the whole Cuban experience. I reckon you can’t talk about Cuba in modern day history without mentioning the ex President, rather today it’s El Presidente. David explains the dish, El Presidente is a cocktail of pre-revolutionary (I Google under the table to find we are talking about 1953) Cuba, and the chicken is marinated in this. It’s made of white rum, sweet and dry vermouth, triple sec and maraschino liqueur with sweet pimento spices. David explains the chicken is coated in the marinade, left in the fridge overnight and then roasted. It’s sticky and sweet and succulent. As for the rice and peas, well, it’s Caribbean peas we are talking about so to us in the UK they are not petit pois or the mushy sort consumed with fish and chips on a wet day on Brighton Pier variety, they are black-eyed beans.
Back to Divertimenti in Marylebone High Street to cook Cuban food on the AGA, I need to warm up. The AGA Total Control is up to temperature, it’s still snowing outside, there is nothing nicer than cuddling up to the AGA on a cold snowy day. Remember we are in April.
Cooking a roast in an AGA results in a special roast. Juices are flowing when it’s carved. The cast iron walls of the AGA Roasting Oven seal the outside of the chicken, in a way that no other oven can. The hot juices heat up and then it’s moved to the Simmering Oven for the rest of the cooking time. Open roasting where the meat is not covered always gives the best results but as the AGA is self cleaning that makes my life as a cook / skivvy easier. My El Presidente chicken is juicer than The Cuban one.
I like this Cuban malarkey. Must text my mate to see what he’s eating in Havana today.
Restaurant: The Cuban
Address: The Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, Camden, London, NW1 8AGH
El Presidente Chicken
Extra virgin olive oil
2tbsp El Presidente Rum
1 tbsp Sweet Vermouth
1 tbsp dry Vermouth
1 tsp Triple Sec liqueur
1 tsp Maraschino liqueur
2 tsp sweet pimento chilli
1 pousin, oven ready
- Make the marinate by combining all of the ingredients together.
- Brush the marinade over the pousin, cover and place into the refrigerator over night.
- Place the pousin onto an AGA half sized grill rack and place into and AGA half sized roasting tray that has been lined with AGA Bake-O-Glide. Place into the AGA Roasting Oven for the first 30 minutes of cooking and then move to the Simmering Oven for the remainder of the time. To calculate the total cooking time for chicken – 20 minutes per 550g and 20 over. Ensure all juices run clear after roasting.
- Allow to rest for 20 minutes after cooking.