Southern Angola, early nineties...

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.

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