Thursday, February 22, 2007

Peanut Sauce Chicken: A West African Gift

The wonderful African dish "chicken in groundnut sauce" is served in various forms throughout West Africa. It may have originated in Senegal, as some Senegalese have claimed to me. But the Senegalese, great itinerant merchants, are all over West Africa (as well as France and even New York), and conceivably their way of fixing chicken has followed them and become indigenous. In any case, I learned to cook this when we lived in Cameroon, but have tasted almost the same dish in a number of countries.

Peanut sauce chicken is a family favorite and has been extremely popular with American friends. It was the first thing to run out at my daughter Lisa’s wedding reception buffet. A larger volume version sells well at Donderos' Kitchen, our family restaurant and deli in Athens, Georgia. It was also specifically requested by the bride at a wedding we are catering this spring.

Peanuts, "arachides" in francophone countries and "ground nuts" in English-speaking areas, are virtually universal in West Africa, as are chickens and guinea fowl plus the little cans of tomato paste which are sold by market ladies everywhere. Originally from Peru, peanuts were brought to Africa by the Portugese and Spanish, then reimported to the New World, especially the American South, during the time of slavery. The word "goober", Southern dialect for peanut, derives from "nguba", meaning peanut in several tribal languages in Angola and Congo.

Traditionally, the chicken for this dish is cut into pieces with the bones and skin, and the sauce is seasoned with a little smoked fish plus red palm oil and can be quite hot with chilies. Here is fancier version (like I had from a fine chef in Sierra Leone) with boneless skinless chicken breast. I use Asian fish sauce plus chipotle peppers in place of the smoked fish and habanero peppers of West Africa for the mildly smoky, pungent flavor, and I usually leave out the palm oil. The dish goes with white or brown rice.

Chicken in Peanut Sauce Tim

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, minced
3 tablespoons oil such as peanut or canola
1 teaspoon paprika
1-1/2 cups water
2-1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce (available at Asian groceries) or 3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1 medium bay leaf
1 to 2 dry chipotle peppers (available with Mexican groceries; handle carefully), stem and
seeds removed, or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper or cayenne
1/3 cup “natural” (unsweetened and unsalted) 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, and ginger.

Heat the oil in a pot. Fry the onions, stirring frequently, until pale golden. Fry in the garlic and ginger for a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the paprika. Add the water and bring to a boil. Add tomato paste, fish sauce or salt, oregano, black pepper, thyme, bay leaf, and chipotle or hot pepper. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken, bring to a boil, and simmer 3 minutes (it cooks quickly). 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 (it thickens at first). When the chicken has simmered, 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.

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


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim -
haven't been in touch well ... we should def catch up.
till then, however, i should tell you i tried making this peanut sauce chicken - it was fantastic! Even with me flying solo at the culinary helm.

Did my using dried oregano and thyme rather than fresh stuff make much of a difference, you think?

9:32 AM  
Blogger Tim Dondero said...

Nabeel: I'm glad you liked the African peanut chicken. It usually uses dry herbs (all that are available generally where the dish comes from). So what you did was authentic. I've never actualy tried fresh herbs for this one.

I'll give you a call. Your name is still on my cell's speed dial.


7:30 AM  

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