The Congo; it gave us Um Bongo, set the scene for The Heart of Darkness and it boasts an awfully big river. Until recently, that was all I knew about this magical land (and I think there’s no denying that the midst of the Congo is pretty magical) but having been landed with the country as part of the Olympic Food Challenge I was forced to find out a little bit more…
Wikipedia is always a good place to start when it comes to this kind of thing and, although I didn’t read the whole article, I did catch that the Congo is the eleventh largest country in the world, that it’s financially poor but considered to be the richest country in the world in terms of its natural resources, that it has the second largest rainforest in the world and that it’s had about 5 different flags since the 60’s.
Sadly there’s not a lot to say about the Congo’s experience of the Olympics. They have no medals and this year they have sent 7 athletes to compete in just 3 sports (running, swimming and, of all things, table tennis).
Thankfully, despite the Congo being all magical and mysterious, I found the task of picking a recipe relatively easy. There’s a fantastic site called The Congo Cookbook and it’s packed full of recipes from across the whole of Africa, including 14 from the Congo itself. I then picked the easiest recipes in terms of techniques and ingredients and ended up with Muamba Nsusu (Congo chicken soup) and Fufu (mashed yam).
Noting that the chicken recipe asked for a natural peanut butter (i.e. handmade with only peanuts and salt), I thought I’d have a go at making some myself. I didn’t go the whole hog and roast my own peanuts, like this recipe wanted me to, I just bought some pre-roasted and salted peanuts, blitzed them up in the food processor and drizzled in a bit of sunflower oil at intervals until the nuts formed a paste.
I was stunned at how well that worked out and I’m looking forward to having some on hot toast at breakfast tomorrow. @Craig_Middleton suggests that I give it a go with pistachios…. and serve that on chocolate brioche. I might just have to do that one day!
Anyway, back to the Congo… I kind of went into cooking these dishes a bit blind. I had no idea what the soup/stew was supposed to look like and I had no idea how long any of this was going to take, so I just went for it and started boiling the chicken and the yam at the same time (which is a good job coz they took about the same amount of time).
The recipes aren’t the best as they’re really short and don’t give much away. The chicken recipe even told me to fry off the onion and chilli and then forgot to tell me what to do with it. I was sure I just needed to stick it into the stew, but thought I’d better check. This then led me to Google the recipe in order to find new version and this one assured me that my thoughts were right. It also made me feel a bit sad that I hadn’t noticed it earlier as it sounds a bit more exciting than mine!
I used 8 chicken thighs (skinless but bone in) and set them off to boil in a pan of plain boiling water. I then made my peanut butter and fried off a diced onion and one sliced chilli in some palm oil and set it all to one side once softened. Once the chicken was cooked through (it probably took about 40 mins), I took the meat off the bones and set it to one side (keeping the cooking broth simmering away). I then spooned some of the peanut butter into a bowl (say about 3-4 dessert spoons), added some of the broth from the chicken pan (say two ladles worth) and stirred through before adding half a tube of tomato puree. That was all mixed into the broth along with the chicken, onions and chilli and simmered down until it had thickened up.
As for the yam, I boiled it (skin on) until it was soft (and the nice thing about this meal was that although the yam took forever to cook, it didn’t really matter as the chicken was quite happy bubbling away patiently), peeled it and mashed it with a shit load of butter.
So, how was it? Well, the chicken was pretty damn tasty. The meat was really tender from the poaching, the sauce was rich, thanks to the tomato purée, and creamy, thanks to the peanut butter. I would, however have liked a bit more heat as, although I used a whole chilli (seeds and all), it could easily have taken another.
The fufu however was a different matter. It was pretty dry (and I really did put a lot of butter in there) and had an unusual taste; not horrible as such, just not nice enough to make me want to have it again. I’m glad I tried it though; the name alone is enough to make me love this dish (although I do have a friend who calls a certain area of her body her fufu!).