The Peanut, or groundnut as it is sometimes known, is both versatile and protein rich. Peanut butter, a popular spread, has filled the sandwiches of generations of schoolchildren as well as being a mainstay for expeditions including those to the South and North Poles, plus peanut based paste products have been used to help feed malnourished children in developing countries. Here in the UK, though, peanuts rarely feature as a cooking ingredient. Apart from in peanut butter, they are more often thought of as a party snack item, although they are sometimes added, ground and/or whole in biscuits and very occasionally cooked into a nut loaf or nut burgers. In other parts of the world, including South America, South East Asia, India and parts of Africa, the peanut is widely used either whole, ground into flour or with the oil used for frying in both savoury and sweet recipes. In India peanuts are eaten in a number of ways: roasted and salted, sometimes with chilli powder added, they can be a savoury snack – and a sweet version when processed with sugar; they can be boiled or give added crunch to salads. The peanut is native to and almost certainly originated in Peru where specimens can be dated back several millennia. One well known Peruvian recipe, Papas con Ocopa, is a smooth sauce of roasted peanuts, hot peppers, roasted onions, garlic and oil, served poured over boiled potatoes. On the other side of the world the Indonesians have a number of spicy peanut based sauces, the most well known being Satay and Gado-gado. In Africa too, where this recipe originates, the peanut commonly appears as an ingredient in stews, both with or without meat.
The original recipe for Chicken & Peanut Stew, comes from the Tesco website as part of a series of international recipes to celebrate World Cup 2010. Its flavours originate from West Africa and the recipe was taken from the book The Soul Of A New Cuisine: A Discovery Of The Foods And Flavours Of Africa, by Marcus Samuelsson. In the end I used mostly the same basic method and ingredients with a few slight variations: less chilli and ginger, though more of both would be fine, and I used poached pre-cooked chicken (although chicken thighs would be a good alternative) and added a sweet potato for good measure. I was concerned that cooking the peanuts would make them lose their crunch but I need not have worried. The stew was mostly soft in texture but with a delicious peanutty flavour and crunch. It is a delicious and unusual recipe, not difficult to make and one which I will definitely be repeating.
West African Style Chicken & Peanut Stew
2 medium onions, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2·5cm/1in pieces
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2·5cm/1in pieces
½-1 small chilli – deseed and remove membranes
2.5cm/1inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
6 peppercorns, white if available
900ml/1½ pints of water
1tsp chicken stock liquid/½stock cube (unless using fresh chicken pieces)
12ozs cold cooked chicken
4 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs
200g/7ozs peanuts, salted or unsalted (seasoning can be adjusted later)
3tbsp olive oil
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into 5cm/2in cubes
4 tomatoes, cut into quarters
500g/1Ib spinach, tough stems removed, washed
Salt, if needed
1. Put the onion, carrot, sweet potato, chilli, ginger, bay leaves and peppercorns, along with the water and the stock powder/liquid/cube into a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil over a high heat and then reduce the heat to medium.
2. If using fresh meat it should be added now - previously cooked meat is added later when the potatoes are cooked. Add the chicken thigh pieces to the pan. Simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
3. Toast the peanuts in a dry frying pan on medium heat, shaking occasionally, until you can smell them roasting and they are golden brown. Once cool, grind 100g /3½oz (half) of the toasted peanuts to a powder. (This will be used to thicken the stew. The remaining peanuts should be kept whole.) Put the pan on one side to use later for frying the potatoes.
4. Remove the chicken from the cooking liquid and put on one side. Throw away the bay leaves. Liquidise about half of the vegetable and stock mixture until smooth and then re-combine with the unliquidised mixture and set aside. If you want a less chunky stew then liquidise all the vegetable and stock mixture.
5. Put the oil in the frying pan used for roasting peanuts over a medium heat. Put in the potato pieces and sauté for about 10 minutes until golden brown.
6. Add the chicken pieces that have been set aside or the pieces of cold cooked chicken and toss for about 10 minutes so they start to brown a little, adding a little extra oil if needed. Remove the pan from the heat.
7. Return the vegetable purée mixture to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir in both the ground peanuts and the remaining 100g/3½oz whole toasted peanuts until well combined.
8. Add the tomatoes, browned chicken, potatoes and spinach. Simmer for around 5 minutes until completely heated through and the spinach has wilted. Remove from the heat, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
9. Serve with rice or crusty bread, if required, as an addition to the potatoes already in the stew.