Boulettes de poulet colombo

Colombo, a spice mix widely used in the French Caribbean, gives its name to this dish of spicy chicken balls in a coconut-curry sauce. The dish is generally served over rice to temper its heat. Start off the meal with ti punch, a cocktail of rum and lime, and if you’re feeling ambitious you could bring out a platter of acras de morue (spicy cod fritters). Serve an avocado-tomato-cilantro salad alongside, and you’ll feel those trade winds blowing.

Boulettes de poulet colombo / French Caribbean chicken balls

The words ‘French cuisine’ tend to evoke classic dishes such as coq au vin, cheese soufflé and boeuf bourgignon. Much less often do people associate French cooking with the cuisine of France’s farflung overseas states (départements), like the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies. Their distinctive cuisine includes dishes like stuffed crab, fried plantain and le féroce, a fiery Creole take on guacamole made of avocado mashed with salt cod and cassava flour, as well as the cod fritters mentioned above.

Another classic dish of those islands is le colombo, which comes in many forms: with chicken, pork, fish or lobster, and goat is popular, too. Coconut milk, lime juice, green onion and hot red pepper (scotch bonnet or bird’s eye) are often involved. The essential ingredient, though, is the colombo spice mix, a milder version of curry powder that also includes Caribbean flavors like allspice. While colombo powder is widely available in France, it may be impossible to find elsewhere. But not to worry — you can mix it yourself.

As its name implies, the colombo spice mix has roots in Sri Lanka and its main city, Colombo. It evolved from spices that were brought to the Caribbean by Indian and Sri Lankan laborers who were sent to work on the islands by the British and the French during a less than glorious chapter of colonial times. From there it made its way back to France, where it is used in various adaptations of Caribbean and Indian cuisine.

Colombo with chicken balls is both easy and fun to make. You first chop skinless chicken breasts in a food processor with onion, garlic, cilantro, hot pepper, lime juice, salt and pepper. You then shape the mixture into balls and sauté them with the colombo spice mix, coconut milk, more lime juice and a little sugar. This process is even more fun if you have a glass of ti punch handy.

Happy cooking.

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