To say that last week was crazy mad would be an understatement. It was so busy, I was up to my eyeballs in a lots of things. The weekend came, still no relief. Then the one sunday I have had a rest in weeks, I must have eaten something dodgy because my stomach has revolted violently. Awake at stupid o’clock on a monday morning, and I already feel dehydrated. Just my luck monday is my busiest day as a PM as I have to check up and get status reports from all my other project co-ordinators and pass them on to the Programme Manager. Lord help anyone who crosses me today, I am going to go nuclear on the person’s ass and blame it on the diarrhoea.
To kick start blogging for this week, otherwise it will slowly descend to the bottom of the pile of tasks, I am bringing you Big Oladunni’s Chicken Stew which I cooked on Saturday as part of a meal drop off service order for a heavily pregnant woman who has been placed on compulsory bed rest. Like her Fried rice (recipe HERE), my mother’s chicken stew is legendary, and I mean legendary. No matter how long I have been away for If I walk into the house when she is cooking chicken stew, I can smell it almost immediately. The signature of her chicken stew is the aroma of the pepper mix. If with Buka Stew, tomatoes are the least ingredient used, in Big Oladunni’s Chicken’s stew, tomatoes are the star of the show. When the pepper is boiling, you know you are on to a winner, because of the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. The tomatoes also contribute to the colour, so her chicken stew has this bright orangey, kind of red thing going on. The other star of the show is ginger. When boiling the chicken, she uses chopped red onions and ginger. For the pepper, she also uses ginger. I tell you, when this pepper mix is boiling, you will want to eat it straight from the pot. Just the pepper, nothing added, it smells that good and it is how I know my mother’s chicken stew. I haven’t had chicken stew in a very long time, because I don’t seem to enjoy the chicken sold here. The ones sold in the major supermarkets tastes like chaff, it is unbelievable. The other types sold in halal shops is so freaking hard, it takes away from that juicy moistness, I have always associated chicken with. I have been told to go to farms directly to buy free range chicken, I will pursue that avenue. In fact the last time I ate Chicken Stew was in September. Big Oladunni cooked it herself and she too complained about the chicken.
We can complain about the chicken here because we grew up on probably the best chickens sold in Lagos State. If you lived or grew up in Mainland Lagos, you must know the chicken place at Onipanu on Ikorodu Road. People came from far and wide to buy chicken there. It was our neighbourhood chicken place because it was a walking distance from Iye Gbuyi’s house. I never ate frozen chicken for the first 25 years of my life. It was always freshly killed from Onipanu. Even after moving to Ikeja, we still bought chicken there. My mother’s schools were roughly 30minutes away, and since her mother lived in Onipanu, Mummy always stopped by every weekday before heading home. If chicken stew was on the menu for dinner, she bought freshly killed chicken. From this small strip of the road, you can buy live chickens, duck, turkey, guinea fowl which would be killed, de-feathered and chopped for you. My grandmother made a mean Eran Awo stew (guinea fowl). I have decided her recipe will go into the cookbook, while I share my mum’s chicken stew. Gosh, those were the days. Frozen chicken is such a huge shame. Fresh from the farm healthy chickens, with their fat thighs and juicy bones. The place stank to high heavens, but no one cared. They supplied chickens to two if not more generations of families. We had our special “customer”, Baba Kazeem, a short portly, bald man who was such a hoot, always smiling, with half his front teeth missing, but he was such a sweetheart, who always managed to give us free eggs too. He called us “awon omo Alhaja mi” (my alhaja’s children). Chicken will always hold fond memories for me, and I will like to pass on some of those to you, so you too can start building your own memories. Let’s Cook
You will need
2 cans of Plum tomatoes
2 medium red onions
Ginger – amount depends on your tolerance, but you should be able to smell the ginger in the uncooked pepper mix, otherwise you haven’t added enough
A sprinkling of thyme – emphasis on sprinkling
A sprinkling of curry powder
3 – 4 pieces of ata rodo – scotch bonnet/habanero pepper
3 pieces of tatashe
Sunflower oil – or your choice of veg oil
1. First things first, blend your pepper mix + ginger. Take out a quarter of 1 of the onions and set aside. Make sure you keep your nose out for the ginger. Very important, but carefully ensure that you do not go overboard with it. Boil the pepper mixture to reduce it until it becomes thick. Also be on the look out for the colour. Big Oladunni’s Chicken Stew is a feast for the eyes and palate.
2. Boil your chicken with chopped onions, ginger, salt and seasoning cubes. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: To boil chicken, you start with steaming it first in its own juices, decanting that first batch of stock, adding a little extra water, and put back on the heat again. This is how Mummy does it. She always stressed that you should never end up with more than 2, cups of stock, per whole chicken, otherwise you have just adulterated the flavour of the chicken by boiling it with too much water. Advice drilled in my ears over time. Mummy would get quite upset with you if you boiled chicken with a lot of water. Fry or grill after boiling and set aside.
3. By now, you should have your aromatic and sweet smelling reduced pepper mix. When you get to make this and you leave feedback, I really would be expecting comments about the aroma of the pepper.
4. Heat up sunflower oil in the same pot you boiled the chicken with, so as to caramelise as much of the chicken bits left behind. Chop the last quarter of the onion from step 1, add to the oil and let it fry till it softens.
5. Add the reduced pepper and let it fry. See what I as saying about the pleasant to the eye colour. Yeeeeees, once you can achieve this, you are on to something fantastic. Allow it to fry for a bit until you start to see bubbles appear in the pepper.
6. Sprinkle in a little curry powder and thyme. Emphasis on sprinkle because these spices are just flavour enhancers, and should not over power this stew
7. Allow the pepper to fry till it absorbs the oil and takes on a glossy kind of look. This is key.
8. Big Oladunni’s stew is not fried for ages like Buka stew (recipe click HERE), or else you lose the flavour of the ginger, so keep an eye on the pepper. Once the pepper has thickened further from Step 7 above, add the chicken stock, and fried or grilled chicken. Stir and lower the heat. Now, this is where the magic happens.
Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: Lowering the heat is vital. You forget and you will hear her screaming from the living room “shey o ti yina e lole”. English for have you turned down the heat. I know some may be wondering if my mother speaks any English at all, not to worry she has a BA in English from University of Ibadan and was an English teacher for years before she left to setup her own schools. Some of my memories of cooking with her just happen to be in Yoruba.
9. Allow it to fry until you start to notice oil patches on top. Once you start to notice a little oil layer above the stew, take it off the heat, and as Mummy does, just leave it to sit on its own for a while, to allow the flavours to develop before you serve.
This is a bite your fingers, crush all the bones to smithereens kind of chicken stew. Its flavour is light, delicious, flirty on your palate and tingly aromatic on your nostrils.
You will enjoy this Chicken Stew, trust me.
Your Sunday Lunch Rice and Chicken Stew will never be the same
This stew is quite flexible, in that you can use leftovers for Peppered Chicken, which is exactly what I did yesterday. Step by step recipe for peppered meats, click HERE