Sunday, August 21, 2022

 


West African Chicken in Peanut Sauce

 

The wonderful African chicken in peanut sauce is served in various forms all over West Africa. I first encountered it while living and working in Cameroon. The dish is originally from Senegal in far West Africa, and was introduced throughout the region to as far east as Congo in Central Africa by itinerant Senegalese merchants, who do business all over. I know of at least five names for the dish: “Poulet en Sauce d’Arachide” in African French, “Groundnut Soup” in West African English, “Groundnut Chop” in West African Pidgin, and “Mafe” (mah-fay), its original Senegalese name, presumably from Wolof, the main Senegalese language. In European English it is “Chicken in Peanut Sauce” or “African Peanut Chicken.”  

The dish has been extremely popular when I prepare it for American friends. It was the first dish to run out at my daughter Lisa’s wedding reception, now many years ago. In West Africa, the chicken is usually cut up into pieces with the bones, and the sauce is seasoned with smoked fish plus red palm oil and can be quite hot with chilies. Here is a fancier version (like I had from a fine chef in Sierra Leone) with boneless, skinless chicken breast. I use Asian fish sauce plus dry chipotle peppers for the smoky pungent flavor in place of the smoked fish and habanero peppers, and usually leave out the palm oil. The dish goes with white or brown rice. 

The recipe easily serves six.

 

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1/4 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 to 2 dry chipotle peppers (available at Mexican groceries; handle carefully), stem and

seeds removed, or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper or cayenne

3 tablespoons oil such as peanut or canola (not olive)

1 1/2 cups water

2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce (available at Asian groceries) or 3/4 teaspoon extra salt

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon thyme

1 medium bay leaf

1/3 cup “natural” (unsweetened) peanut butter plus 1/2 cup water

 

Trim away any tough or fatty parts from the chicken and cut the flesh in 1 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside. Prepare the onions, garlic, ginger and chipotle pepper. 

Heat the oil in a pot. Fry the onions, stirring frequently, until pale golden. Fry in the garlic and ginger for one minute. Add the water, tomato paste, fish sauce, herbs, bay leaf and chipotle or hot pepper. Stir well. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Add the chicken and simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add water, if needed, to keep the liquid level just below the top of the chicken. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the peanut butter with the 1/2 cup of water (the mixture thickens at first). When the chicken has simmered 5 minutes, stir in the peanut butter mixture, and bring back to a simmer, stirring frequently. Simmer about 4 minutes. Taste for salt, and add some if needed. Remove from the heat. Remove the pieces of chipotle pepper and bay leaf. 

Serve with lightly salted white or brown rice or a seasoned rice dish.

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