Food

What’s Cooking at Third Coast? Delicious, Sweet, Spicy West African Ground Nut Stew

Ground Nut Stew. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

Just a day ago we were thinking spring and fireworks and sunshine, happily combatting ants and cartoon bears that were trying to get our goodies from the pic-a-nic basket. But on this rainy spring day, I’m more liable to reach for something that’ll warm me up after all that cool dampness. This stew went from a one-time challenge to cook something African to an all-the-time meal that I honestly love. It’s not super complex, but it does have a flavor combination I adore–spicy and sweet. This dish is also unique in my own food life in that it is the only dish in which I can truly appreciate sweet potatoes. Ever since I was a child, I’ve hated the sweet orange tubers, despite being the child who never turned down a vegetable or new food, and despite making some of my friends mad for being so open to new foods in front of their parents (often making them turn me into an example…”Now, you should just try things like your friend does.”) I could not take even the sight of a yam or sweet potato. They disgusted me. Add marshmallows? No dice. Every Thanksgiving this would come up. I’d think I’d escaped criticism because I happily ate okra, brussels sprouts, broccoli and kale. But then suddenly someone would be shoving some new sweet potato abomination at me, saying “Just try it.”

Once or twice, I’d hit on something I could politely eat–a salty/savory enough sweet potato fry at the restaurant I worked at, or a parmesan-heavy sweet potato side at someone’s holiday table I could manage, but nothing I would ever order or tolerate in any other scenario than to stop the scrutiny. But then we found this stew here on SimplyRecipes. The recipe belongs to journalist and restaurant cook Hank Shaw. Ground nut stew features big, bold chunks of orangey sweet potato goodness, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t serve it any other way. There is no substitute. It has the texture of regular potatoes I’ve become so used to in a good comfort food stew, and the sweetness marries with the peanutty, spicy base and elevates it to a level I don’t think anything else would do that well, texturally or…flavorwise.

Try this stew and see if you agree! Whether you’re sweet potato averse or not, trust me when I say this recipe is worth it on so many levels. There’s not much prep time, so it’ll come together quickly–though it does need a few hours to simmer. Even so, this is great for a weeknight or weekend, as you can easily let it simmer away while you catch up on Netflix or relax for the evening, then grab a bowl and hit play all over again. It’s fantastic as leftovers, as most stews are, since the flavors sit and marry even more, and I’ve found it to be fantastic if frozen and thawed out even a few months later as an even quicker meal. So let’s dive in to how this is made.

 

Equipment: One Big Stew Pot. Use something that’ll hold a good amount of stuff–6 quart would be appropriate. We use our big ol’ cast iron dutch oven, which to be fair, is likely unnecessary, but certainly works just as well for the job.  You’ll also need a good chef’s knife if you’re breaking down the chicken (it’s not that hard, and there’s lots of youtube videos on how!). And honestly, you’ll almost always need a good chef’s knife, something I’m sure we’ll discuss in upcoming weeks.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 pounds chicken legs, thighs and/or wings
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, sliced
  • A 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 6-8 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
  • 2-3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup roasted peanuts
  • 1 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro

Instructions: Disassemble your chicken into its main pieces- thighs, wings, legs, breasts–or buy already cut chicken pieces. You can leave the thigh/leg combo together, since we’re going to shred the chicken off the bone later. Set aside. Chop up some sweet potatoes. You’ll need about 2 to 3 pounds, and they’re essential. If, like me, you’d avoided these buggers your whole life, it’s worth it to point out that they are very fibrous and you should be careful when cutting them, especially if your knives are less than razor sharp, as they are significantly harder to cut through than their regular potato friends. Now it’s time for mis en place. Get everything in its place- cayenne, peanut butter, coriander, garlic, ginger, and peanuts (unsalted, please!) Also assemble your potatoes, onions and crushed tomatoes together in bowls so you’re ready to throw them in the mix when the time comes.

Start as so many good recipes start–hot pan, a little bit of oil, and those onions, diced. Saute them until they get some a little bit of color–golden around the edges is great. I wouldn’t recommend caramelizing them entirely though as it will affect your sweet/spicy balance. Next, add garlic and let it become fragrant. When that’s done, it’s time for the sweet potatoes. Keep everything moving to ensure the garlic and ginger don’t burn–you just want to start off the sweet potatoes some. Now, clear the pan of the vegetables, add a little bit more oil if needed, and heat it up. We’re about to sear some chicken. Is your pan nice and hot? Great. Now plop those chicken pieces in there–not too crowded, so work in batches if you have to. The chicken should be skin on, bone in. It really makes a difference in flavor. Let these get a nice golden brown on both siedes without burning.  The point isn’t to cook them, it’s just to brown, so high heat is appropriate here, as long as you watch it. Pull the pieces aside as you finish them.

Add the veggies back to the pot, then pile the chicken on top. Add chicken broth (we like to make our own, something that’s also super easy, cheap and handy.) You’ll use a quart, then add the tomatoes, peanut butter, coriander and cayenne and stir it to combine. You can add roasted peanuts at this time, or save them for garnish. In my experience, either one is good, though simmering them does take away some crunch. Simmer the stew, and once it comes to a simmer, cover it up and let it simmer gently for 90 minutes, or until the chicken meat is falling off the bone and the sweet potatoes are tender. Come back to the pot after the 90 minutes and pull the chicken out for shredding, discarding the skin and bones and adding the meat back into the stew. I like to let it simmer for a few more minutes just to ensure the chicken’s good and hot, but you can simply check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste (or more cayenne.) This stew should be a bit silky, have a definite kick, and feature tender chicken and perfectly cooked sweet potatoes. Ladle it into your favorite vessel, top with some of the roasted peanuts and cilantro if desired (though we felt it was overpowering and usually skip it for a parsley garnish) and enjoy!

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