Southern Angola, early nineties...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Muamba da Galinha. A Peasant Dish and one of my favorites

How dare we kill an animal to eat its flesh and then throw half of it away?

I respect people who choose to be Vegetarians, Vegans or even Venusians (those who refuse to eat Cadbury's Eggs or pasta) but I feel sorry for their kids, who are just busting for a MacWhopper with Chips and a Milk Shake.

We raise our own animals here with the intention of killing and eating them.  Mainly chickens as none of us has had the guts to take a knife to Goosie's neck.  He's an ornery beast and will nip your ankles if you're not paying attention but he's part of the scenery now and keeps the dogs in line and unwelcome visitors from darkening my door.  As a recluse, I can thoroughly recommend a goose as a guard so I can't bring myself to eat him.  There are so many parallels between us.  He wanders the garden chewing everything and everyone in sight because he is on his own and I wander my lounge at night with a gutful of whisky suffused with the stark realisation I might as well be on my own.  Neither of us are getting our leg over.  At least I have TV.

So I kill chickens for food.

I have done a lot of hunting in my time and I have one hunting rule which I have passed on to my oldest boy and will, in due course, pass on to little Alex: 'Don't kill anything you aren't going to eat'.  Technically, by my simple rule and with a decent lawyer on your payroll, if you had the appetite and a big enough freezer, you could legally blow way an elephant and have enough ivory to carve a lifetime's supply of toothpicks but I think you all know where I am coming from.  As omnivores, we have to kill to survive but what we do kill, should be sustainable and we should use all of it.

I could say, 'They are only chickens'.  But I saw every one of them emerge into this world and every single one of them eats grain out of my hand.  They will sit on my shoulder or on my lap.  I don't have fleas but they will peck in my hair like female gorillas grooming an alpha male.  And then I select one and chop its head off.

If you are going to kill an animal, then be prepared to eat it.  From its arse to its lips.  Does Kentucky Fried Chicken offer packets of fried chicken lips?  I never died from eating a Big Mac or a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and by God I have enjoyed them.  We may question from where McDonald's get their ground beef and how Kentucky look after their chickens but there's no denying, if you are hungry enough to eat a horse (a non-endangered source of meat available in all good UK supermarkets), they're both finger lickin' good and although there might have been outbreaks of obesity and flatulence, I haven't seen any mass outbreaks of botulism.

So, here we go. If you have a few scrawny chickens running around, this is what you do.. 

First catch them, kill them, pluck them and draw them. 

(I spared you those images.  Unlike Cro, I was pretty bloody useless when it came to drawing fowl.  My art teacher always said my efforts were indistinguishable from Lowry paintings.  At the time, in the early Seventies, I took it as the insult it was intended to be.  I'd like to meet the bastard now and at least get my paintings back.)

Then chop them up and chuck them into a pan with a bit of water and stick them on the boil,

I could not find the chicken lips while dissecting the chickens but saved the breasts and thighs
for later and for this exercise in providing sustenance, just ran with the feet and wings,
plonking them in a pan with a bit of water, banging the lid on and boiling them up a bit.
In the meantime I collected a few simple ingredients.
A few garlic cloves beaten to a pulp with a bit of rock salt.
Roughly chopped tomatoes
an onion
and a couple of plastic sacks of beaten and pounded to hell peanuts.
Chop the onions up (you can see I took my time over this). Add the
tomatoes and garlic paste and fry it all up in a pan.
I squeezed out the peanut paste into a small pan of boiling water
and kept stirring it until it looked like milky breakfast tea.

I added the onion tomato mix to the chicken
and then added the peanut juice

Served with rice, and maybe a side dish of really hot local peppers and a cooling  cucumber salad
made with natural yoghurt and finely chopped mint, this is delicious.
Etiquette Tip:  Provide guests with crisp, clean, starched linen napkins, finger bowls and, as the host, dive in first so as to lead by example.  This really is finger lickin' good!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


A Peasant collecting Clams, God Bless her. 
She deserves more than four bucks a bucket.

Yesterday I decided I would prepare a fine chicken curry with a smooth peanut and coconut cream sauce.  I like curries with a spiciness categorised as ‘Burning Bum By Morning’ but little Alex’s palate is refined enough to sense chilli in his food even if the last time I touched the local very fiery hot peppers was a week ago.  Maybe I should try washing my hands more often.  Anyway, there was no way I could put chilli into it so I went for smoothness, a rich, creamy sauce lathered around chunks of deboned chicken ladled over rice.  Creaminess of texture takes time, so I started early.

Marcia was in town and Alex was off with his friends so I was on my own in the house.  Sometimes I like being on my own.  I don’t know about you but every now and then I think I could have been perfectly happy living as a bachelor in converted stables in some mews in London.  Looking back, I know exactly where I went wrong.  Shagging my farming neighbour’s daughter and accepting the gracious offer of the light of his life’s hand in marriage rather than two Ely cartridges discharged at point blank range into my guts.  With hindsight, of course, I would have dared the outraged father to shoot me.

I just wanted to clean.  Women have no idea how to clean.  Oh sure, they can wash dishes, do a bit of dusting and can run an iron over dhobi but clean?  Not a chance.  For a start, any dirt above eyeball level is invisible.  To fry one single egg they need three litres of olive oil, four frying pans, a casserole, a pressure cooker and about ten plates.  I have never yet met a woman who can pour herself a bowl of cornflakes and eat them without destroying a whole kitchen.  And, I know I have banged on about this before, ANY flat surface is a repository for icky feminine things.  What woman would accept her husband rinsing his kecks out in the sink and hanging them out to dry on the shower taps?  Steaming socks on the radiator, would they go for that?  At least this is a hot country so I don’t have to fight my way through dangling stockings to get to the shower.  Who washes stockings or pantyhose anyway?  I thought they were disposable, like nappies, another disgusting consequence of productive co-habitation between the sexes.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love kids, but like puppies they are just so bloody messy until they are house trained.

So today I could clean.  And having cleaned I decided to cook.

I took five chicken legs, dropped them into a pan with a couple of chopped onions.  I added very roughly chopped stalks of fresh coriander, a few bashed to shit garlic cloves and a couple of ripe, slashed tomatoes and a dash of salt.  I poured in about a pint of water and set the pan on a high heat to boil the crap out of it for ten to fifteen minutes.  I then fished out the chicken legs, checking to see there was no blood oozing from them as I stabbed them with a fork, and laid them on a plate to cool.  I strained the liquid and set it aside.

I finely chopped onions, garlic and fresh coriander stalks and fried them off in a heavy cast iron pan.  Just as they were caramelising I added two heaped tablespoons of Garam Masala, gave it all a stir to sear the spices a bit before adding a tin of skinned tomatoes, bashing them with the wooden spoon to break them up and thicken the sauce before adding a squeeze of locally produced peanut paste (you could use two tablespoons of unsweetened smooth peanut butter), stirring that in before adding some of the stock and giving it all a good stir to combine.

I chopped into cubes a chunk of fresh pineapple and threw that into the mix along with a few roughly chopped coriander leaves.  Rather than swamp the mixture in the pan with all the chicken stock, I added it a bit at a time so as to keep the sauce thick as it reduced.

With the chicken legs cool enough to handle, I stripped the flesh off the bones.  I like the skin but neither Marcia nor Alex does (do? Help please YP) so the skin joined the bones in the bowl for the dogs.  I know that a lot of experts say one should not feed cooked chicken bones to dogs.  But they are not ‘dog’ experts, they are ‘soft fluffy pet’ experts.   Real dogs will eat the arse out of your pants as you are running and mine will happily gnaw on the skeleton of a bony fish as well as the bleeding bones of any intruder.  Cooked chicken and fish bones to them are just an appetizer and while I may have had a couple of them hack up spectacularly on my living room floor, none of them have ever choked to death and they look pretty damn healthy to anyone entering my property uninvited.

I finely sliced a couple of ripe but still firm red tomatoes and a couple of green sweet deseeded peppers, added them to the reduction giving it all a stir and then had a whisky and smoke break which allowed enough time to soften the peppers without them turning to mush, we want a bit of al Dente here.  I then chucked in the bite sized chicken pieces and added half a can of Coconut milk and half a handful of finely chopped coriander leaves, stirred it up again and left it on the heat until it started to bubble (not boil) before banging the lid on the pan and taking it off the heat.  This is why heavy cast iron pans beat everything else hands down.  There is enough latent heat in the iron to make sure everything warms through without the coconut milk curdling.  We’re going for creamy smoothness here and once again, free from distraction, I had not only achieved this, I had been able to accompany an episode of Midsomer Murders, choke down a few cigarettes and a couple of whiskeys.

I placed a pan of water, about a quart, on the burner to bring to the boil adding a good pinch of salt.

I very finely chopped a couple of Garlic cloves and half an onion and fried them off in a bit of olive oil in a heavy based pan.  I added two cups of rice and gave it all a good stir to make sure the rice was evenly coated with the oil before tipping in the boiling water (if it does not sizzle and scald your hand, you have chickened out and not roasted your rice) and banging the lid on the pan.  Like I said, my pans are heavy cast iron so it is hard to put their lids on quietly.  I turned the heat down to minimum and left it alone for the time it took me to smoke another fag and swig another glass of the amber nectar.

Lifting the lid off the pan, I could see no sign of liquid, just the steaming craters formed by water boiling through the rice so turned the heat off, banged the lid on again and left the rice to steam through gently.

My job was done.  The place was clean, the kitchen immaculate and the food was ready.

Half an hour later Marcia walked in carrying a bucket with Alex in tow.  A trip to town can be pretty unpredictable here so I was rather pleased with my timing.  My lovely family walk in, no doubt tired and hungry, and I can serve them immediately on the nicely laid out dining table.  I was pretty bloody chuffed.

‘Have you cooked?’ asked Marcia, sniffing the air, ‘Oh dear’

It's obviously a cultural thing, a sign of our vastly different backgrounds but most arguments Marcia and I have can be put down to a simple lack of mutual comprehension, things get lost in translation so, rather than take issue at her obvious dismay that her husband, housebound due to a rotting snake bitten foot, had cleaned the whole house and put food on the table, I asked her what she had in the bucket.

Quitetas’, she said.  Clams.  She had a whole bucket full of fresh clams.

‘We have to eat them now,’ I said, ‘I love Quitetas,’ I said, ‘It would be criminal to waste them.’

‘But what about your food?’ Márcia asked me.  I really hate her sometimes but she is such a love.

‘It’s a curry,’ I told her, ‘curries always taste better the next day.  I’ll stick it in the fridge and we’ll have it tomorrow.’

Márcia grabbed the last of the fresh coriander and tossed it into a very light, aluminium pan.  She chopped up an onion and added half a pint of white wine, threw in the rinsed clams and… carefully placed the wafer thin lid on so she didn't accidentally bend it.

So often, nowadays, people like to sit in splendid isolation and gorge their food in front of a TV.  I like to honour meal times by sitting at a table surrounded by family.  In what are sometimes arrogantly considered Third World cultures, food is served up in a communal pot, those choosing to absent themselves going hungry.

I delighted little Alex by showing him that to eat clams, he did not need to struggle with a knife and fork.  All he needed to do was suck the flesh from one shell and then use the original, pincer or tweezer like, to fetch the flesh out of the rest.  I crisped some fresh bread up in the newly rewired oven and made up a garlic butter dipping sauce.  We sat together around the table as a family for over an hour. 

The clams were delicious and a bucket full cost Márcia 400 Kwanzas.  That’s four dollars.  Talk about value for money.

My smooth chicken curry is, of course, outstanding.  But I’m glad we did not eat it last night and had communal clams instead.