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(Sweet) Smoking Allowed Here

August 17, 1995|STEVEN RAICHLEN

On a trip to the Caribbean, I came across a roadside stand in Guadeloupe with a sign advertising poulet boucane : "buccaneer chicken." Guadeloupe is dotted with roadside stands, most of which specialize in chicken soaked overnight in a tangy marinade and grilled over charcoal. It's some of the best street food you'll find anywhere.

Buccaneer chicken has another dimension: It's spicy and so tender it falls off the bones, like other good barbecue chicken--but it has a special smoky, sweet flavor.

Unfortunately, for me, the recipe was apparently a classified secret. I saw the grill, a hinged 55-gallon drum with welded metal legs. I spied the plastic buckets of marinade, in which island-grown spices floated amid lime rinds and Scotch bonnet chiles. But I couldn't watch how the chicken was prepared.

Fortunately, Sylvie Regina came to my rescue. Regina works for the Martinique Promotion Board, and her lilting accent bespeaks her French West Indies background. Sylvie remembered buccaneer chicken from family gatherings during her childhood in the suburbs of Fort de France. Like a New England clambake or a Maryland crab feast, a buccaneer chicken dinner is usually a family or community celebration.

A Texan would certainly recognize the equipment and how it's used: a metal drum with a low fire built at one end and a chicken roasting at the other. He'd call the process barbecue. The smoky fire and the low, indirect heat contribute to the chicken's succulence and flavor.

But what makes it absolutely unique is the use of sugar cane trimmings to generate the smoke. The wealth of the French West Indies was built on sugar; cane fields still dot the countryside in Guadaloupe and Martinique. It's cane trimmings that give buccaneer chicken its distinctive smoky sweetness.

If you live in a community with Hispanic markets, you may be able to find fresh sugar cane. (It's also sold at Asian markets and in some upscale supermarkets.) I encourage you to take the trouble to find it. The flattened stalks left over from making sugar cane juice work best for smoking, but whole cane can be used as well.

And even without cane, you can prepare a highly respectable buccaneer chicken, using hardwood chips, like cherry or maple. So mix yourself a rum drink and put on some beguine or zouk (Guadaloupean music) and fire up the barbecue grill.

BUCCANEER CHICKEN

This recipe may seem a little involved, but actually it's a series of simple steps. I've given instructions for a charcoal or gas barbecue grill. If you have a patio-style smoker, you can smoke the chicken in it, using sugar cane instead of wood chips. If you can't find sugar cane, use hardwood chips. Soak the chips in cold water for 2 hours before using.

2 large whole chickens (about 5 pounds each)

3 limes

8 cloves garlic, crushed

1 bunch green onions, coarsely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup chopped parsley (preferably flat-leaf)

1 to 3 Scotch bonnet chiles or other hot pepper, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon fresh or dried thyme

1 tablespoon whole cloves

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

2 teaspoons allspice berries

1 cinnamon stick

1 whole nutmeg

6 cups water

1 cup dark rum

1 tablespoon wine vinegar

3 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 pound sugar cane trimmings or fresh cane (split the latter lengthwise) or 1 1/2 cups hardwood chips

Wash chickens and pat dry. Cut each into quarters through breast and backbone. Set aside.

Cut limes in half and extract juice, reserving rinds. Place juice and rinds in large nonreactive bowl or plastic container. Add garlic, onions, parsley, chiles, thyme, cloves, peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, water, rum, vinegar, salt and brown sugar. Stir until salt is dissolved. Add chickens, turning to coat all sides. Cover and marinate in refrigerator 24 hours.

Build fire in one side of barbecue grill. (If using gas grill, heat one side but not other. If using charcoal, build fire on one side or around edges, leaving center empty.) Let fire burn down low. Place sugar cane in smoking pan or heavy-duty aluminum pan on fire. Remove chickens from marinade and place, cut side down, as far away from flames as possible.

Smoke-cook chickens until done, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (If using charcoal fire, add coals as necessary.) When chicken is cooked, legs will wiggle in joints and juices will run clear. Because chicken is smoked rather than grilled, meat near joints may remain a little pink even when chicken is fully cooked. Serve hot or cold.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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