Well, Spring is making an effort, but today is gray, and cold and wet, and I think I’d like a good bowl of some sort of comfort food for dinner tonight. I vote for stew!
According to Wikipedia, (we’ll start there) stew is defined as follows:
A stew is a combination of solid food ingredients that have been cooked in liquid and served in the resultant gravy. Ingredients in a stew can include any combination of vegetables (such as carrots, potatoes, onions, beans, peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes) and may include meat, especially tougher meats suitable for slow-cooking, such as beef. Poultry, sausages, and seafood are also used. While water can be used as the stew-cooking liquid, stock is also common. Seasoning and flavorings may also be added. Stews are typically cooked at a relatively low temperature (simmered, not boiled), allowing flavors to mingle.
And that is a good start. Cuisines from all over the world have their own special variations of stew–meat based, meatless, seafood, you name it–and we all have our own personal preferences. I’d like to hear about yours.
I’ll offer up a family favorite to get things started. This is “West African Groundnut Chop,” a Nigerian recipe adapted by Dad, and served with the plainest of rice. What really “makes” the dish are the accompaniments, of which there should be at least sixteen. The last time we did this together as a family, a couple of years before Dad died, my sister, brother and I managed over 100 of them. It was an epic feast.
A note before I start: This is the recipe as Dad gave it. Read all the way through it to see what you’ll need, because he doesn’t break out the ingredients list at the start. It’s highly scalable, and exact quantities are unimportant. Dad ate as he lived, with enormous gusto. Some of us can’t keep up, and that’s OK. Two suggestions: There’s really no need to make the chicken stock from scratch. You can use all breasts for the meat if you like (I’d cut each one into three pieces), and a good chicken stock product for the broth (I like Better than Bouillon). The only other thing I’d caution you about is not to add too much peanut butter to the chicken stock. The “gravy” will thicken as it cooks. If you make a mixture that’s about the consistency of unwhipped whipping cream, you should be OK. More liquid, rather than less, is better.
Quantity to serve eight hearty eaters.
Have ready sufficient chicken portions to provide a wing, one drumstick, one thigh and half of a breast for each person.
Bone out the portions and stew all bones, giblets, trimmings etc., to make a good strong broth. Do not bone out the wings, however.
Using groundnut oil or corn oil, fry all chicken until a light golden brown and just beginning to crisp.
Remove from pan and allow to drip dry.
In the same oil fry two large onions , sliced thin, until well browned. Drain thoroughly.
Hard boil one small egg per person. Peel and put in salted water to cool and set for at least half an hour.
Assemble 3/4 of cup each of diced sweet peppers, sultanas, raisins, currants, unsalted peanuts (wash the salt off if you can’t get anything else) and a couple of Okra per person (obtainable from Sainsbury’s), two teaspoons grated ginger, a cupful of raw onion chopped small and a cupful of sliced tomatoes.
One pound jar of crunchy peanut butter and one half-pound jar of smooth peanut butter.
You can now set to work.
In a large casserole put a sprinkling of the fried onions and of the diced peppers, etc., the grated ginger and the chopped onions and tomatoes. Now put in a layer of the fried chicken portions. Then repeat the other items, then more chicken pieces etc. and so on. Don’t over fill. Leave a good space at the top. Put in the hard-boiled eggs.
Take two pints of the stock (from bones etc.) and blend into it enough peanut butter (2/3 crunchy and 1/3 smooth) to make a thickish creamy liquid. Pour into casserole and allow to settle. This is best done with the stock hot.
Repeat the same mixture until enough has been made to cover the eggs.
Put in oven at 325 F for two hours. The lid should be tight fitting. If not put a square of oven foil under the lid first and then put the lid on.
Serve on boiled rice and allow guests to add the following from an array of side dishes.
My brother has recorded the same recipe for posterity here, together with a pretty comprehensive list of accompanying side-dish possibilities. If you have other favorite things you’d like to sprinkle on your Groundnut Chop, go nuts! Make it special. That’s the point.
What’s got you in a stew today?