Monday, October 21, 2013

West African Chicken Mafé in Peanut Sauce

Mafé is a famous and popular West African dish, known by many names, including groundnut stew, mafe, maffé, maffe, sauce d'arachide, sauce z'ara, tigadèguèna and tigadene. Variations of the dish appear in the cuisine of nations throughout West and Central Africa, particularly in Senegal, Gambia, Mali and the Ivory Coast. It's a delicious stew made with chicken, fish, or lamb simmered in a fragrant sauce thickened with ground peanuts and a colourful combination of mixed vegetables. Traditionally, the stew is made with raw peanuts roasted over charcoal fires then ground by hand into a flour, which I'm sure makes a wonderful sauce but sounds enormously labour intensive. Peanut butter is a much faster and easier substitute. You can make your own peanut butter or use a natural version, minus the stablizers and sugar found in many commercial brands, to get the right silky texture and pure peanut flavour. 

Chicken thighs marinated in a spice rub of garlic, salt, cayenne, minced shallot and vegetable oil

The chicken is lightly browned on both sides in a non-stick skillet

Once lightly browned and cooked through, the chicken is set aside

Recipes for West African Stew vary wildly, but commonly include chicken, tomato, onion, garlic, cabbage, and leaf or root vegetables. In the coastal regions of Senegal, Mafé is frequently made with fish. Other versions include okra, corn, carrots, cinnamon, hot peppers, paprika, black pepper, turmeric, and other spices. Mafé is traditionally served with white rice in Senegambia, fonio in Mali, couscous in West Africa and the Sahara, or fufu and sweet potatoes in the more tropical areas, such as the Ivory Coast. A variation of the stew, Virginia Peanut Soup, even traveled with enslaved Africans to North America in the early 1700s. The recipe for Mafé, in true African style, can be tweaked according to what ingredients you have on hand, by adding carrots, squash or sweet potatoes to the dish, in lieu of meat or in addition to it. Served with rice, chapati and sautéed greens such as Sukuma Wiki, this sweet and savoury West African Stew comes together with mouthwatering results.

Finely chopped carrot, red pepper, green pepper and onion

The chopped vegetables are added to the skillet with chopped jalapeño pepper, 
garlic and a tablespoon more vegetable oil

The mixture is sautéed over medium-high for 5 minutes until the vegetables become soft

Four cups of chicken broth is added and the mixture is simmered for 20 minutes

The remaining peanut sauce ingredients are then added: peanut butter, tomato paste, chopped tomato, grated ginger, coconut milk, fresh thyme and the browned chicken pieces

Simmered over medium-low for about an hour, the sauce thickens and becomes 
a lovely and aromatic with a wonderful saffron hue

Garnished with chopped cilantro and a drizzle of coconut milk, the chicken is ready to be served 

Served over Basmati rice and a flurry of chopped cilantro

West African Chicken in Peanut Sauce
Serves 6

4 lb chicken pieces, such as thighs, legs or breasts
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Spice Rub:
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 1/2 tsp minced shallot
1 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper, or to taste

Peanut Sauce:
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp finely diced and seeded jalapeño pepper
4 cups chicken broth or stock
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tomato, seeded and diced
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp peeled, grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro for garnish

Stir together the 'Spice Rub' ingredients and rub onto the chicken pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high. Add the chicken in batches and brown on all sides, then transfer to a platter or bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, onion, bell peppers, carrot, garlic and jalapeno to the pan, then cook about 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft. 

Add the chicken broth and simmer about 20 minutes uncovered. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and stir in the remaining sauce ingredients, and simmer for two minutes. Return the browned chicken to the skillet and cook 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is tender and the sauce thickens. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve over rice.

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