Angola ❀ Muamba de Galinha (Chicken Stew with Palm Oil)

Muambe de Galinha with fufu

Wow – this dish was certainly an adventure.  From procuring the ingredients to cooking and eating the stew, let’s just say this week entailed a lot of firsts.  Muamba de Galinha is chicken with moambe sauce – moambe being the fruit and oil of the African palm tree.  It involves stewing chicken pieces in red palm oil, palm fruit pulp, pumpkin and okra.

This was the first dish partly decided by you, my loyal readers (thanks mom!).  In last week’s poll, chicken stew and coconut pudding tied for first place, and I went with the savoury option after last week’s dessert.  My Angolan friend Francisco, in reply to my email, kindly provided the following:

One of the main foods in Angola is Shima nyi Misoji.  Shima is a kind of East Angolan stiff porridge made by boiling corn meal. Misoji is a delicious fish that can be found only in Angola, mainly in the Eastern part.

Hmm…I wasn’t sure I was going to get misoji in Brussels, though, so chicken stew it was.

Never tasted palm oil?  Don’t worry, neither had I.  Despite being the most commonly produced edible oil in the world, many people – especially here in the West – are leery of it.  Actually, you have probably eaten palm oil, as it has found its way into a lot of products in recent years – everything from margarine to biscuits.  But it’s about as controversial as an oil can get, with many groups blaming it for destroying rainforests in Borneo, and some even calling for a ban.  So that’s probably one of the reasons you haven’t seen it on a menu…

But it’s an oil also produced in Africa, and Angolans, Congolese and many others simply LOVE to cook with it.  So what’s a girl to do but roll up her sleeves and give the dark red substance a go?

Red palm oil

So the first challenge awaited:  where to find red palm oil and its cousin, the pulp of the palm fruit?  And where to find funge, the cassava porridge usually eaten with it?

Luckily, I knew just where to find it.  Off I headed to Matonge, the heart of Brussels’ Congolese quarter.  Matonge is amazing – exit the metro, turn a corner, and suddenly you could be in Brazzaville, Dakar or Kigali.  With over ten thousand inhabitants of African descent packed into a few square kilometres, I knew this area would have what I needed.  I wasn’t disappointed either.  Sandwiched between barbers and bars playing Congolese hip-hop, I tracked down my ingredients on the shelves of little shops stuffed with dried tilapia and plantains.

Photo by genome4hire at Flickr.

Bringing home what I thought was funge, I found out that I’d instead bought fufu flour, made with a mix of plantain and cassava flour.  And here it becomes important to know your African staple starches:

Fufu – strictly speaking, this is plantain flour boiled into a porridge.  Fufu is eaten mainly in West and Central Africa.  But to make things confusing, some people (especially those coming from outside Africa) refer to all African starchy porridges as fufu.

Ugali/pap – this is the one I, as a South African, know and love.  Pap is similar to polenta, but made from white rather than yellow cornmeal, and often coursely ground.  To me it has a toasty, nutty flavour that is equal to none, but I know some foreigners find that it tastes of nothing!  Pap is eaten, in varying consistencies, in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Funge – made from cassava (also called manioc) and eaten mainly in Angola, where it was introduced from South America by the Portuguese.  Angolans also sometimes eat ugali (you’ll remember Francisco calls it shima), but I wanted to try funge or fufu for the first time.

Together, these porridges are the lifeblood of sub-saharan Africa, and eaten at almost every meal; stew or sauce with porridge is the quintessential African dish.

What Did I Need?

My recipe is adapted from the excellent one found here.  It’s quite simple to make, but I’d advise you to use a splatter guard, if possible, as red oil on a white wall is not a good look.

Ingredients for muamba de galinha

  • 6-8 pieces of chicken
  • juice of one lemon (optional)
  • half a cup red palm oil (or a mixture of palm oil and any other cooking oil)
  • two or three onions, chopped
  • three cloves of garlic, minced
  • one hot chilli pepper (with the seeds removed if you prefer a milder dish)
  • four tomatoes, quartered
  • one squash or pumpkin; seeded and cut into chunks.  (peel if using a butternut, but I tend not to feel other pumpkins).
  • one cup of canned palm soup base, also called “sauce graine” or “noix de palme” (optional)
  • one or two dozen small, tender okra; chopped into rounds (optional – I couldn’t find any)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

How Did I Do It?

  • Rub the chicken with a mixture of lemon juice (if using), minced garlic, chopped chilli pepper and salt. Let it marinate for fifteen minutes to an hour.
  • Over high heat, bring the oil to cooking temperature in a deep pot. Add the chicken and cook it on all sides until it is slightly browned, but not done.
  • Add the onion, marinade (from the first step) and tomato. Stirring occasionally, cook over medium heat for about half an hour, until the chicken is nearly done.
  • Add the squash/pumpkin and cook for an additional ten to fifteen minutes. Then stir in the canned palm soup base and okra (if using). Gently simmer for a few minutes — until the okra is tender.
  • Salt to taste. Serve with rice or one of the three porridges listed above.

So How Did It Taste?

Ummm…this is the first dish Joe and I were just not sure of at all.  The plus points:  juicy, tender chicken, and sweet pumpkin in a unctuous tomatoey sauce.  It’s difficult to go wrong with a saucy chicken stew.

The demerits:  we fell at two hurdles.  The palm oil had a really distinctive aroma – as it was cooking, I realised this was the smell I associated with Matonge, where every second restaurant serves a variation on this recipe.  It’s not exactly bad…but takes some getting used to.  And the dish calls for so much of it – my recipe above halves the quantity in the original.  The oil is a lovely attractive deep red when warm, though, and the palm fruit (which is not at all fruity, thank goodness), gives the sauce a nice creamy consistency.

The second hurdle was the fufu.  You’ll remember I cooked a mix of cassava and plantain flour.  Now I’m not sure which one was the culprit, but the end result tasted like Smash, only more rubbery.  Like a white, edible rubber ball.  😦  I’d like to try fufu/funge again when next in Africa, because this flour was imported from the US, of all places, and contained a ton of preservatives and additives.  But let’s just say that for now I recommend cooking it with rice or ugali – however jingoistic it might be of me!

And we end with a quote, as per usual, from Joe:

It feels heavy in my belly.
UPDATE:  We had it again last night for leftovers, and it definitely improved overnight.  We served the stew with bulger wheat instead of fufu, and it made a big difference – the bulger wheat soaked up all the yummy sauce, which had mellowed and thickened. Make enough to last more than one meal, stay away from the fufu, and you have yourself a pretty tasty dinner after all!
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11 thoughts on “Angola ❀ Muamba de Galinha (Chicken Stew with Palm Oil)

  1. Paula Fourie says:

    I like it that you are honest about your results! Sounds like quite an adventure… I suppose heavy belly is good when you have to try and fill it as little as possible! How much would this dish cost me to make? I am looking forward to going to the Congolese quarter in Brussels when I come visit.

    • Thanks Paula! Yes – we’ll take you to our favourite restaurant there, for fried chicken and cheap beer. I think this dish would be pretty cheap if you bought the ingredients in Angola, but because I had to buy a lot of ingredients from new (and because chicken is comparatively expensive here in Belgium), it wasn’t all that cheap. You could make it for cheaper by cutting out some of the ingredients though. Let me know if you make it!

  2. Adam says:

    Palm oil has a nice colour. I can imagine its funky aroma. Seems your adventure is taking you exactly where you want to be.

  3. Maander says:

    Hi Ellie the chef!,
    As someone who doesn’t like cooking so much as visiting new places, I liked the part about your shopping errand into Matonge best and hope to read more about such sorties in the cosmopolitan city of Brussels in future. Oh, for teleporting myself on Sundays to your home to take part in some of these wonderful, weird and wacky food adventures! I would offer to do the dishes without a single complaint passing the lips that I just licked!

  4. Dankie, maander 🙂 Yes, you would enjoy Matonge – I can see you enjoying getting lost in it. In the absence of a teleportation device, I suppose we’ll have to make do with virtual lunches together via this blog?

  5. Helga-Bára says:

    Hello hello !

    I am inspired by this adventure of yours.

    As for this dish, and the results, I belive using “original” funge might not change it too much. I recall it more often than not being stuck to the various bits in the mouth, before the next mouthfull of juicy chicken would assist in getting it down.

    Greetings from the South Pacific.

  6. Haha, that’s good to know. At least we weren’t doing anything wrong then! Thank goodness for juicy chicken. Out of interest, did you find it to be like ugali? I don’t at all, but I know some people who can’t tell the difference…

    • Helga-Bára says:

      I recall all the “stick to your tounge somewhat tasteless mass” being called funge. Would love to ecounter a more tastier nuttier version 😉

  7. Sounds like you got the Fufu just about right 🙂

    I prefer to call it “wallpaper paste”…

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