Folks, today I don't have any mundane things to rant about apart from this amazing dish that Roshan cooked for our Sunday meal. Early Sunday morning he popped the question which always sounds like music to my ears. Nah! It's not 'will you marry me' - he said that years ago. It's the more enchanting "Shall I cook something special today?". I gave him the "Neki aur pooch pooch?" look(in Hindi that roughly translates to 'don't ask for permission when you want to do a good deed'). Well, I handed over the kitchen to him and vanished till noon time.
I knew he had mentioned about the African Chicken to me sometime ago, but it never really registered in my mind. The one he particularly loved is the version made in Henri's Galley in Macau, an hour away from Hong Kong. Although I've been to Macau myself, I never got the opportunity to visit this place and taste its famous dish. The original recipe they say was never disclosed by the chef, Americo Agnelo who created it in the 1940s. Mr. Agnelo worked in a small hotel called Pousada de Macau and legend has it that although this dish is said to have evolved over the centuries by Portuguese soldiers who visited Macau from stations in Africa such as Mozambique, it was Mr. Agnelo who put together what stands out as an 'original' among today's 'almost original' attempts.
Since it was a dish purely created in a restaurant, it has not been passed down from one generation to the other as a family tradition. It is said that Mr. Agnelo jealously guarded his secret recipe and did not as much let anyone watch him cook the dish apart from letting a junior chef pick up a special blend of spices from a local Chinese store. Unfortunately, when Mr. Agnelo fell grievously ill and knew that his time on earth was up he began to share the recipe in bits and pieces with his staff after which several attempts were made to recreate the dish. However, attempts remained just attempts with their creation not being even close to the original.
What I truly liked about the dish was its amazing flavour that permeates the meat after the baking is done. When I tasted the sauce as it was boiling, it had a dominating flavour of peanuts which I felt was okay, however, the chicken underwent miraculous transformation when it reappeared out of the oven. A slightly blackened surface with a beautiful thick sauce that was bubbling over was what greeted me. A couple of large potatoes that were perfectly baked proved to be a great accompaniment to the very succulent & flavourful chicken. We threw in a few slices of multi grain bread and our meal was complete and satisfying.
This was fusion food at its best, what with several flavours borrowed from different cuisines - almost every place ruled by the Portuguese lent its own trademark flavour to this dish. Portugal (smoked paprika), Africa (peanuts), India (coconut) and China (five-spice). The sauce has a fine balance of creamy sweetness brought in by the peanuts and coconut, delicate spice from the paprika and aromas from each of the five spices - I particularly liked the very subtle aroma and flavour of the star anise.
Today, African Chicken is served on the menu of almost every Macanese restaurant with the best version (according to Roshan) served at Henri's Galley. If I ever visit Macau again I will not leave the place till I've tasted some Galinha à Africana there. Don't miss your opportunity if you get one!
This dish is an adaptation from many sources of recipes guided by Roshan's fine sense of taste.
Prep time: overnight (marination)+20mins | Baking time: 35-50mins (depending on your oven) | Serves 4
- 1 kg boneless chicken breasts
- 2 big potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp garlic, finely chopped / minced
- 2 tbsp onions, finely chopped / minced
- 1 tsp paprika (chilli flakes)
- 2 tsp Five Spice powder * see notes
- 2 tsp salt
- a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper (approx 1/2 tsp)
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1 cup onion, finely chopped / minced
- 1/2 cup garlic, finely chopped / minced
- 1/2 cup sweet paprika finely chopped or substitute it with 1/2 cup red bell pepper (capsicum)
- 1 tsp chilli power (optional - if additional spice required)
- 1/2 cup grated coconut (pulse it just a couple of times in a grinder)
- 1 tbsp peanut butter or 1 tbsp of roasted peanuts finely ground
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 2 bay leaves
- salt to taste
1. Wash and drain the chicken breasts. Wipe with a kitchen tissue to remove excess moisture. Marinate it with all the ingredients mentioned under 'For the marinade', cover the bowl with plastic wrap & refrigerate overnight for best results (or for a minimum of 2 hours)
2. To make the sauce, heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add onions, garlic and cook until soften for about 5 minutes. Add the sweet paprika or bell pepper and extra chilli powder if required, ground coconut and cook for another few minutes. Add chicken stock, coconut milk, bay leaves and peanut butter and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.
3. Heat 2 tbps oil and fry (brown) the chicken and transfer the same onto a well greased baking tray, also fry the potatoes in the same oil for about 5 minutes on a low heat and transfer the same to baking tray. Cover the chicken and potatoes with the cooked sauce.
3. Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the baking tray in the oven and bake for about 45 to 50 minutes. Check after 30-35 minutes to see if the potatoes and chicken are tender.
4. Serve with bread or rice.
Five spice powder is available in most supermarkets or those that stock Chinese condiments & spices