In a country known for its revolutionary agrarian reform, it was very odd to see there was no chicken available in the markets in Cuba. Nada. Pork, of course. Lamb, also of course. That’s it. Where’s the chicken? why its in the big freezers in the stores, bought with convertibles (cuc) not Cuban pesos. So we bought some chicken, and I thawed it ready to make the finest of dinners.
Not so fast. This old hen leg and thigh was tough and had a real gamey flavour that my delicate spices brought from Canada couldn’t possibly mask. We were not able to eat it at all. I’d had chicken in restaurants in Cuba, and it tasted fine. What’s up? Having failed as a Cuban housewife I set out to discover what I did wrong and how to make chicken. Sandra, a non-practicing doctor (long story), told me how to cook it. First: boil it, then pour off that nasty-flavoured broth. Many procedures later, the chicken was guaranteed to be delicious. Or at least edible. I followed a version of her suggestions, and redeemed my cooking points. Once again, dinner had been achieved. I never did try to make the restaurant favorite: deep fried chicken steak – a large flat slightly breaded chicken entree that covers half the plate.
These old hen parts are tough, and sent into Cuba from another country, rumoured to be America. I think they are hens no longer able to lay eggs, so they are chopped up, frozen and sent to developing countries. But why, when the eggs in Cuba are the best and freshest eggs I’ve ever had, isn’t the chicken also fresh – fresh as the pork is, and available in the markets? My guess is it might have something to do with the Special Period, when food producing animals, like chickens that lay eggs or cows that give milk, were protected. Just after the hurricane a few years ago there were some fresh chickens for sale, I heard, but once there was recovery it was back to the old frozen legs and thighs.