Southern Angola, early nineties...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Chicken in Satay Sauce

It is possible to buy ready-made Satay sauce in bottles. We used to get ours from the Indian shops in Quelimane. There are two types, the concentrated stuff, which comes in small bottles and a rather blander version, which comes in bigger jars. Go for the small bottles, as all we want to do is flavour our sauce, not substitute it with a ready made one. Alternatively, you can get the Satay flavour using peanut butter.

Obviously, out in the bush, we would use every bit of the chicken that was even remotely edible, chicken liver is great for enriching sauces. If you can get hold of chicken thighs, this works very well and saves a lot of preparation time de-boning the carcass. Chicken breasts on their own, although tender, end up a little dry so if you want to use breasts, mix in some thigh meat as well. I prefer to leave the skin on, it gives some much needed fat and stops the end product going dry but if you cannot stomach the skin, then leave it off and maybe consider chopping up a couple of slices of fatty bacon and frying them up with the onions. The Satay sauce is quite salty so watch the seasoning. If you use fatty bacon, then you will need even less salt.

For this dish you will need:

The chicken meat you have decided upon
Chopped bacon if you want it that way
4 large onions, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
6 good ripe red tomatoes roughly chopped (you can used tinned peeled tomatoes)
Fresh Coriander leaves
Fresh Chillies
A tin of Coconut cream (or coconut milk)
Satay sauce (or peanut butter)
Saffron (or Turmeric)
Bay leaf
Olive Oil
Vinegar (if you are using peanut butter)
A teaspoon of sugar (if you are using peanut butter)
Lemon juice

It is best to prepare this dish in a heavy based decent sized frying pan. Cast iron pans are great but a bugger to carry around. You might well be lucky enough to be at home with a full set of Le Creuset in the kitchen, in which case you're laughing.

Heat the pan up over a medium to high heat and put a few tablespoons full of olive oil in the pan.

Chuck in the chicken pieces and fry them off until they are golden in colour (not brown). Don’t worry if they are not cooked all the way through, this is only the first stage of the cooking process. If the chicken pieces still have bones in, then they will need a little more time at this stage.

Once they are lovely and golden, remove them from the pan and place to one side.

If the coriander leaves still have their stalks on (best way to buy them), chop off the raggedy ends and discard, then chop off the stalks and finely chop them. Most people throw the stalks away and supermarkets, I notice, are now bowing to consumer demands and only selling the leaves in plastic bags. Shame. There is so much flavour in the stalks and they are far more robust than leaves at this early cooking stage.

If the pan is a bit dry, sling in another tablespoon full of olive oil and then the chopped onions, garlic, bay leaf and coriander stalks (be generous) and the finely chopped bacon if you are using it and sweat it all off until the onion is glassy. I have, when making this dish in the bush been distracted on occasion and allowed the onions to caramelise. The final flavour reflected this but was anything but unpleasant so it is largely a matter of taste. What I am saying is, if you brown the onions a bit too much, it is not a disaster.

Throw in some finely chopped hot pepper chillies to taste, some saffron or a teaspoonful of turmeric and then slice up the tomatoes roughly and sling them in and let them soften up to provide some good cooking juice.

If you are using Satay sauce out of the small bottle, pour in a couple of tablespoons full and give the lot a stir. If you are going to use peanut butter, then again, a couple of tablespoons full should do the trick but then add a teaspoon or two of vinegar and a teaspoonful of sugar.

If the contents look a bit dry, then add more tomatoes and if the tomatoes are not the really juicy kind and do not deliver enough juice, do not be afraid to sling in a bit of water. We do not want a thin broth, but we do need a bit of liquid in which to cook the chicken pieces through.

Return the chicken pieces to the pan, squeeze the juice of half a lemon over them, cover with a lid and simmer for about 10 minutes or so.

Take the lid off and roll the chicken pieces around in what should be a steadily reducing and thickening sauce.

Once it looks as if the sauce or chicken might start to burn because is has reduced so far (please do not let it burn, though, this time it is serious), add the tin of coconut cream and a generous amount of roughly chopped coriander leaves. Give the mixture a stir to incorporate the ingredients and then let them simmer over a low heat to warm the coconut milk through. Check the seasoning, adding salt as required, a squirt of lemon juice and maybe a teaspoon of sugar if needed.

Serve with boiled rice and garnish with some finely chopped coriander leaves.

This dish is a visual treat. The sauce is a pale yellow and the red of the tomato and chillie, and the green of the fresh coriander leaf garnish provide a pleasing contrast.

Depending on the season, enormous amounts of fruit were suddenly readily available, particularly Pineapple and Mango, which seem to grow in abundance in Africa. Pineapple is a bit tougher than the softer mango so if you fancy making the dish a little more exotic and choose freshly cut up pineapple chunks, then put them in at the same time as the tomatoes to allow them time to soften up a bit. If you use mango, then put the slices in at the same time as the chicken. Either way, they provide a delicious sweet and sour alternative and a variation on the standard recipe.

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