Mafé or Groundnut Stew originates in West Africa. It’s a spicy stew with a list of ingredients that would be incongruous, if something similar didn’t exist in many other cultures. Ground nuts, a pungent salty fermented sauce, and a spicy kick come together in the same way they do in culinary traditions in other parts of the world – India, South East Asia, and even Mexico. I first had it in San Francisco, at a West African café where a number of my friends gathered to watch the World Cup years ago – mostly because unlike the European centric bars and pubs, they weren’t charging a cover. Also, the beer was cheap and the food was phenomenal.
This isn’t an authentic recipe, but rather an attempt to reproduce some of the flavors in that dish and other versions I’ve had since. It’s cobbled together from recipes I’ve read over the years from sources ranging from the NYT to a friend’s oral recollection of his grandmother’s recipe. This approximation is a gateway you can try at home. If you like it, I encourage you to seek out more authentic versions from West African cooks or at one of the many West African restaurants all over the country.
Some recipes call for copious amounts of hot red palm oil, an ingredient not always easily obtainable for some cooks. Most recipes call for a salty fermented dried fish. In this Mafé, tomatoes and hot chilies combine with peanut butter, and thai or Vietnamese style fish sauce in place of the dried fish.
Mafé Style Chicken Thigh StewCourse: Main
4 Bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
2 cups light chicken stock
1 can peeled diced tomatoes
½ cup peanut butter
1 medium onion
1 medium potato
1 medium green bell pepper
1 serrano chili
4 medium cloves garlic
1 1 inch piece of ginger
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp sweet or hot paprika
Salt & pepper to taste
- Peel, seed, and dice the bell pepper.
- Peel, trim, and dice the onion.
- Stem, and roughly chop the chili pepper. For a less spicy dish, remove the seeds and white ribs prior to chopping.
- Peel and mince the ginger and garlic.
- Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper
- Brown the chicken over medium heat, cooking until the skin is browned and has render most of it’s fat. Remove the chicken and set aside.
- Add the paprika and cayenne to the chicken fat, stirring well while cooking for 1-2 minutes, taking care not to burn the chili powders as this will add a bitter note.
- Add the onion, peppers, and minced garlic and ginger to the chicken fat. Add a small amount of salt. Cook until the unions become translucent, 3-5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes with their liquid to the pan and cook until the liquid is mostly reduced.
- Use a whisk to combine the stock, fish sauce, and peanut butter. It is easier, though not necessary, if the stock is warm. Add this mixture to the pan.
- Bring sauce to a low simmer, stirring well to combine.
- Return the chicken to the pan and simmer, covered, until the chicken is almost falling off the bone tender, 40-60 minutes.
- Peel and cut the potato into 1 inch pieces. Add to the pan with the chicken, adding additional liquid if needed to cover. Cook at a medium simmer until the potato is tender.
- Serve over white steamed rice.
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