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?
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.
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.
- 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.