Monday, January 30, 2012

Cuban Chinese Food...Mandarin Chicken Thighs

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This recipe derives its name from the mandarin oranges (clementines) that are prevalent in most supermarkets at this time of the year and not from the traditional dish found at most Chinese restaurants.  It is an attempt, and a very successful one at that, to use up the remains of a box that was purchased during the Christmas holiday. You could classify it as elegant leftovers or Cuban Chinese Cuisine.

I use orange juice in a lot of my recipes, particularly in chicken and pork marinades, and the addition of a small amount of lemon juice as a substitute for naranja agria or bitter orange, is very typical in many Cuban dishes, perhaps as a result of the large migration of Chinese laborers who settled in Cuba in the middle of the 19th century. 

The Chinese first arrived in Cuba in significant numbers in the late 1850s to toil in Cuba’s sugarcane fields after the abolition of slavery in England led plantation owners in Cuba to search for workers elsewhere.

China emerged as the labor source following deep social upheaval after the First and Second Opium Wars. Changes in the farming system, a surge in population growth, political discontentment, natural disasters, banditry, and ethnic strife -- especially in southern China -- led many farmers and peasants to leave China and look for work overseas. While some willingly left China for contract work in Cuba, others were coerced into semi-indentured servitude.

On June 3, 1857 the first ship arrived in Cuba carrying about 200 Chinese laborers on eight-year contracts. In many cases, these Chinese “coolies” were treated just as the African slaves were. The situation was so severe that the imperial Chinese government even sent investigators to Cuba in 1873 to look into a large number of suicides by Chinese laborers in Cuba, as well as allegations of abuse and breach of contract by plantation owners. Shortly after, the Chinese labor trade was prohibited and the last ship carrying Chinese laborers reached Cuba in 1874.

Many of these laborers intermarried with the local population of Cubans, Africans and mixed-race women, although laws forbade them to marry Spaniards. These Cuban-Chinese began to develop a distinct community. At its height, in the late 1870s, there were more than 40,000 Chinese in Cuba.

In Havana they established “El Barrio Chino” or Chinatown, which grew to 44 square blocks and was once the largest such community in Latin America. In addition to working in the fields, they opened shops, restaurants, and laundries and worked in factories. A unique fusion, Chinese Cuban cuisine melding Caribbean and Chinese flavors, also emerged. (Wikipedia)

Dragones Street in Havana's Chinatown

Some famous Cubans of Chinese ancestry include former dictator Fulgencio Batista and one of Cuba's foremost painters, Wilfredo Lam.

While the following recipe is my own, it melds some of the distinct characteristics that make up what is known as Cuban Chinese food.

Serves 4


 8 chicken thighs with skin
4 clementines or mandarin oranges
1/2 lemon
2 TB soy sauce
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic
3 TB olive oil
2 TB butter
1 laurel leaf
Salt and pepper
chopped parsley

White rice


Pat and dry the chicken thighs and place them in a bowl. Cut the mandarins in half and squeeze the juice over the chicken thighs. Do the same with the lemon.  Add the soy sauce and the chopped onion. Add the mandarin and lemon skins. Cover the bowl and marinade the chicken for a couple of hours.

Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towles.  In a skillet melt the butter and olive oil.  Brown the chicken pieces on medium high.  Remove to a plate.  Add the mashed garlic and onions from the marinade and sautee until translucent.  Add the chicken pieces back to the pan, the clementine juice as well as the skins and a laurel leaf.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender and cooked, about 30 minutes.  If the sauce begins to dry out add some water to the pan. At this point, you might also add more soy sauce if desired. When the chicken is done, uncover and add some chopped parsley on top.  Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with white rice

Photos Lindaraxa


  1. I had the privilege to spend several weeks in Peru many years ago, which at the time had the largest Chinese population in the Americas. The food was fabulous. Lindaraxa, m'dear, this is a marvelous recipe and one that I plan on recreating, as it combines my favorite ingredients -- chicken, clementines, and you! Thx, Reggie

  2. I like the mix taste of garlic and mandarine juices. Great recipe.

  3. You always have such fun things sweetie...but this is lovely....
    Everytime I make simple Italian pasta Georgie calls it Danish/Italian...I don't think I have mastered the combined cuisines ;o

  4. love this ..thank you for great recipes. :)

  5. With the exception of the fruits (limes and mandarins), you've just made Philippine Chicken Adobo which probably traveled to Cuba earlier than the 19th century!


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