Brown stew chicken, most times simply referred to as stew chicken, is a thick and smooth Jamaican stew. Of fact, stew chicken isn’t unique to any particular Caribbean island; even though different islands may have recipes that seem to be very similar, there are actually minor but significant distinctions between them. For instance, a Trinidadian version might be fairly similar to the one I’m sharing, but Trinidad’s characteristic green spice would be added to the base, and a Haitian version of poule en sauce might exclude browning sauce or sugar and place a greater emphasis on the tomatoes and peppers.

Although the recipe might vary from one household to another, what truly defines the brown stew chicken in Jamaica is that it is made by first pan-searing the chicken in oil, followed by braising it in a brown gravy with sweet bell peppers and a kick of Scotch bonnet.


Why Browning Sauce Is Important

Browning is a sauce created from caramelized sugar that has been heated to the point when it liquefies, smokes, sputters, and almost turns black. It is a common ingredient in Jamaican cuisine. Home cooks frequently prepare it from scratch as a first step in dishes like this stew chicken, leaving it in the pan so they may sear the chicken directly in it, or it is prepared in preparation, bottled, and kept. By the time the sugar has reached the desired color, it is no longer blatantly sweet; instead, it can be slightly smokey, almost bitter, and, when made with dark brown sugar, it may have a trace of molasses. It is common to add spices, but since browning can be used for both savory and sweet purposes, I avoid doing so.

For this recipe, I used the bottled readymade browning. It is worthy to note that the addition of 1 tablespoon of browning is very important because it gives the chicken a caramel hue when it is seared and also infuses a deep flavour.




  • 2.5kg chicken
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) Jamaican browning sauce
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) Chinese dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) neutral oil, such as vegetable or canola
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled, halved, and sliced
  • 1 medium-sized red, orange, or yellow bell, cored, seeded, and sliced
  • 3 plum tomatoes, cored and diced
  • 3 scallions, ends trimmed, white and green parts sliced crosswise
  • 3 medium-sized garlic cloves, sliced
  • 4-5 stalks fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 whole Scotch bonnet pepper (optional)
  • 5 allspice berries
  • ¼ cup (30g) ketchup
  • White rice, rice and peas, and/or cooked cabbage, for serving



  1. Using a sharp knife, cut the chicken into 8 pieces. Cut each bone-in breast in thirds crosswise to yield 3 pieces, to make 12 pieces of chicken in total. Remove chicken skin only if desired.
  2. Mix the lime juice, 1 tablespoon (15ml) of browning, the dark soy sauce, the salt, the garlic powder, the onion powder, and the black pepper in a big bowl. Chicken is added; coat well. For at least two hours and up to eight, cover and chill in the refrigerator.
  3. In a Dutch oven or large sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pan, add chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until browned all over, this takes about 3 minutes. Transfer chicken to a platter, and reserve marinade.
  4. To the pot, add the onion, bell pepper, and tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom to loosen any browned bits, for about 8 minutes, or until the veggies are tender.
  5. Add scallions, garlic, and thyme and cook, and cook, stirring constantly until the garlic and scallions are both softened but not brown. This usually takes about a minute. Add cornstarch and cook for a minute.
  6. Combine 2 cups (475ml) water, the reserved marinade, sugar, Scotch bonnet, allspice, and the remaining 1 tablespoon (15ml) browning in a mixing bowl. Place the chicken drumsticks, thighs, and wings in the braising liquid, bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 40 minutes.
  7. Place the saved chicken breasts in the stew, cover, and boil for 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken breasts reaches 155°F (70 °C). The liquid’s consistency should be checked: Although it is referred to as “gravy,” the cooking liquid shouldn’t be thick like a gravy made with roux. If the sauce is too thick, add additional water, ¼  cup (60 ml) at a time, until a rich, glossy, but otherwise fluid sauce forms. It should have more body than water but still be quite liquid and not coat the back of a spoon.
  8. Add ketchup, simmer for an additional 5 minutes with the lid off. Serve alongside steamed cabbage, white rice, or rice and peas.


By Elijah Hughes

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