Monday, January 30, 2006

Comfort food

Alicat and Sara have kicked off a really fun monthly event for food bloggers: the Weekend Cookbook Challenge. Each month they announce a theme and invite the blogosphere to contribute an entry based on the theme. This month the theme is the warm, familiar, hearty, simple genre of dish known as comfort food. What a great choice!

Ahhh, comfort food. It brings visions of mashed potatoes and butter. Tomato soup. Meatloaf. Apple pie. Macaroni and cheese. Rice pudding. Spicy peanut chicken stew.

Boinnnggg! Spicy peanut chicken stew????????

You have your comfort food, I have mine.

About 15 years ago, I was living in Manhattan in a one-bedroom apartment in midtown. This wasn't a fancy place, but it had a fold-down couch in the living room/kitchen that enabled friends to crash with me. Or friends of friends, as was the case when a friend living in Paris asked me if I would allow her friend from the Ivory Coast stay with me for a week or two while she investigated the possibility of emigrating to the US. I was glad to help. I remember it was near the end of the year, and my guest could not believe that I was not going to go to Times Square to see the ball drop in person. It was literally 7 blocks from my apartment, but I wanted nothing to do with the crowds and the pickpockets and drunks that could be expected to be among them. So, she descended to the crowds and I sat in a stairwell with a view of the ball, and we each saw in the new year in our own way.

The night before she left, she bought groceries and made an incredible pork stew with peanut butter that I absolutely loved. She left me the recipe, but it never did come out the way it had when she made it. So I went on a hunt for something similar, and what I finally found was this recipe for Spicy Peanut Chicken Stew, in Rick Rodgers' Ready and Waiting.

This is an uncommon slow cooker cookbook. Rodgers believes that most slowcooker food is boring because people think they should just be able to throw a bunch of stuff in the pot and come back to eat it in eight hours. Not so, he says, if you want fabulous food, you need to put a little more effort into it. Sear the meats so their flavor doesn't all leach out. Saute the onions to bring out the sugars in them. In fact, on Amazon you'll see comments from people who think there's too much prep work for a slow cooker recipe.

To my way of thinking, the results are worth the effort, but that may be because I like to cook!

This recipe has become something of a standard at our house. The Huz loves it, and we have often served it to company. I have modified the recipe somewhat, a fact that has caused me a little problem with my reputation when I served my pastor and his wife and some other friends the dish, and then gave them the original recipe when they asked for it, forgetting to tell them about my small but crucial modification. When they all said they weren't able to reproduce the wonderful dish I had served them, I realized to my horror that I had given them the wrong recipe! It has been a source of recurring joshing about my being one of those cooks who doesn't tell the right recipe so she can be considered a better cook than her friends. Sigh.

Anyway, here is the real recipe for my Spicy Peanut Chicken Stew. Try it with pork, too. Because it's essentially a braise, you can use a cheap cut and it will still come out tender. I promise it will warm your throat and your belly, and when you've eaten a serving, you won't be hungry again for a long, long time.

Comfy eating!

Spicy Peanut Chicken Stew
adapted from Ready and Waiting

2 T vegetable oil
2–3# lbs boneless chicken pieces (I use thighs) OR a 3-1/2 lb. chicken, cut up
½ tsp salt
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
42 oz diced tomatoes (I love Muir Glen brand)
2 T tomato paste
1 tsp curry
1/8–¼ tsp cayenne pepper, to taste
1 c plain yogurt
1 c unsalted, sugar-free peanut butter

  • Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat till hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil. Immediately add the chicken skin-side down, in batches without crowding, and cook until the skin is golden brown, about 3 minutes. (Do not turn the chicken.) Transfer to a plate and season with the salt. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the skillet.
  • Add the onion to the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute (see this post for an idea for how to add the garlic to the pan without risking burning it). Transfer to a 3-1/2 quart slow cooker.
  • Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, curry powder, and cayenne. Stack the chicken in the slow cooker. If you use mixed chicken pieces, place dark meat on the bottom and breast meat on the top. Cover and slow-cook until the chicken is cooked through, 5 to 6 hours on low.
  • (Optional) Remove the chicken from the slow cooker, remove the skin, and cut into smaller pieces.
  • In a small bowl, combine the yogurt and peanut butter. Stir the mixture into the slow cooker and cook just until heated through.
  • Serve over rice.


mll said...

I am astounded at the amount of food we have been given!!! I am currently letting a turkey breast simmer on top of my wood stove, with no plan of using it until I saw this recipe. I am going to try it with the turkey meat, but I'm curious about the peanut butter. Is it usually sugared up? or are the natural sugars in the p.b. taken out? I'm somewhat of a purist with my foods. Don't like fat-free anything. So that's why I ask. Thanks so much for this. I am excited to try it, and for someone who doesn't really care for cooking, that's pretty good!!!

p.s. it seems that I remember a typo in the form of curry power instead of curry powder... or is there a curry power I can get somewhere???? And if so, is that anything like nuclear power or horse power? :-)

PatL said...

MLL, regular peanut butter like Jif or Skippy has quite a bit of added sugar, plus other stuff to emulsify it so the oils don't separate and so it will last long on the shelf. I use Teddie brand, which is nothing but ground peanuts and salt. The oil does separate, so when I open a jar I like to dump the contents into my food processor and give it whirl. That not only mixes it up, it seems to keep it from separating again ... but maybe that's just because I keep it in the fridge after opening.

This dish sounds right up your alley, knowing the types of dishes that you like! You'll want to use the 1/4 tsp cayenne; 1/8 barely gives a hint of burn.

The original recipe called for chunked carrots and zucchini, forgot to mention that in the posting. We didn't care for them, though.

Bless you for the pointer to the typo!!! I copied this recipe off my recipe website, so it's probably wrong there too. Thanks!!!!

Paz said...

When I first saw the recipe title, it reminded me of the food I used to eat in Africa -- Groundnuts stew. Then I continued reading and saw that the recipe was from your guest from Ivory Coast. Made sense. That's why it was familiar. ;-)

A few months ago, I also made a peanut butter stew, which I blogged about. The ingredients are different from the ones used in the traditional recipe. It even asked for cilantro, which is unavailable in WestAfrica (that I know of). I let my mother be the judge of the authenticity of the meal. It passed with flying colors. She was really surprised that it taste like something made at home.

Your recipe sounds delicious. Is yogurt your adaptation to the recipe? The traditional recipe doesn't call for yogurt, curry, carrots or zucchini... interesting.

When I used to watch them prepare this meal in Africa, they never used peanut butter but groundnuts, instead. It was only when we came to the States that my mom and other African cooks would use the peanut butter,which I think was easier...

Thanks for posting this recipe. I love the photo. Beautiful plate.


PatL said...

My adaptation is to double the yogurt/curry combination to make it much richer and creamier. So you can imagine the disappointment when theirs turned out thin!

What are groundnuts like? I figured the peanut butter had to be an Americanization of the recipe ... but I love it!

Will take a look on your website for your version!