Last Updated on February 2, 2022
In the 17th and 18th centuries, island-hopping pirates who roamed the Caribbean were doing more than fleeing the law. As they encountered indigenous Caribbean people, they took up a method of meat preservation that the natives used to preserved their hunted game.
Caribbean people rubbed their game meats with pungent seasoning pastes made from wild herbs and then smoked on wooden frames over a low, smoldering pit-dug fire. Those wooden frames were called buccans, which historians say is where the word buccaneer—a lawless pirate—originated. The buccaneers of the Caribbean carried the meat preservation method (and the seasoning paste) up and down the Caribbean chain and elsewhere in the world.
In Trinidad, Buccaneer cooking still refers to herb-seasoned barbecue or smoked meats. The high, cool elevations of the island’s mountain ranges provide an ideal growing climate for herbs like thyme and oregano originally found in the Mediterranean and brought to the New World with French and Spanish colonizers.
Along with chives, scallions, garlic parsley, and cilantro—locally called shado beni—these herbs are the basis for “green seasoning,” a flavorful sauce that is used for everything from marinating meats for the grill to soups and stews.
This is a good dish to make on a slow summer afternoon. To get the best flavor, marinate the chicken thighs for at least a couple of hours. While my preference for grilling these thighs is fruit hardwood like cherrywood or applewood if you can get it, you can also use regular charcoal briquettes. If you don’t have a charcoal grill you can use a gas grill set at a low temperature or bake the chicken in the oven at 250ºF for about two hours; however, you will miss out on the smoky flavor.
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For the green seasoning:
- 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
- 1 bunch thyme
- 1 bunch chives
- 1 bunch scallions
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1 bunch fresh oregano
- 1 bunch Mexican culantro or cilantro
- 5 shallots sliced
- 3 cloves garlic sliced
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 small red chili pepper stemmed
- ¼ cup white vinegar
For the chicken thighs:
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 3 pounds bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 6 cups fruit wood briquettes
For the green seasoning:
- Rinse and dry all herbs. If thyme stems are woody, remove the leaves and discard the stems. Chop parsley, chives, scallions, celer,y and cilantro coarsely. Place all ingredients in bowl of food processor or high-speed blender and process to a smooth, thick paste. If necessary, add up to ½ cup of water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to facilitate processing.
- Set aside ½ cup of the green seasoning and mix it with the tablespoon of dark brown sugar. Store the remainder of the green seasoning in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.
- Place chicken thighs in a bowl and squeeze lime juice over them. Mix to coat the chicken in the lime juice. Rinse with cold water and drain. Pat the thighs dry and rub with the salt and black pepper. Sprinkle the thighs evenly with the allspice and then pour the green seasoning mixture over the chicken and turn to coat completely. Place in a shallow nonreactive bowl, covered, in the refrigerator overnight, or for up to 24 hours.
For the chicken:
- Soak 3 cups of the wood briquettes in water for 1 hour.
- In a charcoal grill, create a smoldering fire on only 1 side of the grill pan, using the 3 cups of dry wood briquettes. Once the embers are glowing, place the chicken on the grill and cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until grill marks form. Move the chicken to opposite side of the grill, away from the fire.
- Add the 3 cups of damp briquettes to the fire and let smolder. If necessary, occasionally spray the fire with fresh water during cooking, using a spray bottle—just enough to maintain smoke without putting out the fire. Close the grill lid and allow to smoke for about 1 hour. Remove the chicken and serve with rice, potato salad or grilled vegetables.
Ramin Ganeshram is a chef, food historian and journalist with an expertise in the foodways of the Caribbean. An award-winning New York City-born cookbook writer of Trinidadian and Iranian descent she is the author of Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad & Tobago.
Photo credit: JP Vellotti