When I was growing up we ate a lot of chicken. I mean A LOT of chicken. And we ate a lot of rice. Well maybe not as much as some people, because my father had eaten so much of it growing up in the depression era south, that if he never ate rice again it would have been just fine with him. But plenty.
Chicken was cheap and versatile and my mother and grandmother spent hours pouring over cook books and newspaper cooking columns an an attempt to come up with new ways to cook it. Oh we ate it fried. ( which will be the subject of an up coming blog entry) But we mostly ate in in other ways.
One dish that became a family favorite was a dish we called peanut chicken. I can still remember the first time it appeared on the table. We were living in the house on Huntingcrest lane ( we seem to tell time in our family by what house we were living in at the time, there were so many) I was perhaps in 8th grade and this dish appeared on the dinner table. We all asked what it was with it's rich brown red sauce and it's scallion cloak. All my Mom said was try it and tell me what you think. My brother and I dug in to check out what the new dish had to offer. We were impressed and pleased. It had a smoky somewhat familiar flavor but the the background flavor of the rich creamy sauce somehow eluded us. Finally after not being able to tell what is was my mother proudly announced "Peanut Butter!". Yes peanut butter was the ingredient that had us all stumped. We were big fans of this dish and really enjoyed the mouth feel of the sauce and the yummy manner it mixed into the rice served on the side. What had possessed them to use the great sandwich spread as an ingredient I thought. It was a pivotal moment for me in terms of realizing that there must be so many alternative flavor combinations that I had ever anticipated. And set me on a quest to try and find more. A quest which is ongoing to this day. For example, did you know that peanut and Parmesan Cheese is an awesome combo. Or Ginger and Goat cheese? There are plenty of others. But the point is that flavors can fuse into something else altogether when combined.
So you might think that was the end of my peanut chicken experience but it is not. Indeed my next experience with a peanut and chicken recipe happened in the most unlikely place of all, Switzerland. You see while I was working as a volunteer during college in Switzerland ( go figure), I was working with refugees and trying among other things to help them get situated. I met a family from Africa who I got to know very well. We helped them find an apartment and get into several aid programs as well as find part time work. As a thank you they us invited over to dinner one night. We showed up and they had some delicious tidbits of things to eat before dinner and a very sweet milk based beverage that went down almost too easily. Then came the time for us all to sit down for dinner. Out came heaping bowls of rice and stewed greens. Then the main course, another hearty bowl filled with a delicious smelling stew. After we had all been served and grace and thanks was said over the meal we proceeded to dig in. Again the second time in my life I was struck by the taste and flavor which was to me known to me already. Rich meaty stew flavored with the savory tastes of onions tomatoes and what else, peanut! It was the first time I ever had African peanut stew and believe you me not the last. I enjoy it at African restaurants whenever I go here in NYC. However, no version has ever come close to that meal. where with wonderful friends, who were so grateful for the help they had received, gave us a warm and sumptuous feast prepared with love to thank us for whatever small part we had played in their well being and their lives.
I recently thought about that chicken dish from my family table and asked my mother if she still had the recipe. Unfortunately, it seems it was my grandmother who had spearheaded that particular dish and my mother was unsure of it's exact makeup. Nonetheless I started thinking about that dish and how I might reconstruct it. I did some research looking at various African Stew recipes, which seemed a good place to start. I also looked at many home cook versions of the dish entitled "peanut butter chicken" but none had the exact flavor profile I remember. So I decided to make up my own, add in a few southern touches and serve it not with rice and stewed greens but with Stone ground yellow grits and fresh crisp slaw. It is in fact my so called "Green Slaw" recipe that I have worked out last year and think if you are going to eat coleslaw this is the one you should eat! So here is what I came up with I hope you enjoy it Ya'll!!!
Southern Style Peanut Chicken
based on African Peanut stew and Peanut recipes from Colonial Williamsburg
1 package boneless skinless chicken thighs
flour for dusting the chicken
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
6 tablespoons cooking oil
1 onion finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup salsa
6 tablespoons bbq sauce ( I used Brown Sugar BBQ sauce)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons Sherry wine
2 tablespoon orange marmalade
2 teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoon ginger powder
1 /2 cup warm water
1 bunch scallions chopped optional
chopped peanuts for garnish optional
Wash chicken and pat dry
add the S&P and paprika to the flour
Place in a bag and place chicken in the bag shake to coat
Place chicken on a pan and refrigerate for an hour
In a pan ( I used cast iron skillet so it could go right into the oven) place cooking oil and bring heat up to medium high
Carefully place chicken into hot pan.
Cook for 4 mins a side till brown then remove to a clean plate ( do not reuse the previous platter)
In pan place onions and brown (add olive oil if you don't have enough oil left from the chicken)
In a bowl add the other ingredients( except scallions) peanut butter first
then the warm water and stir to combine, then everything else
Place cooked onions in the sauce bowl and combine, hold
Return the chicken to the cast iron skillet and pour sauce over it and cover.
Place the skillet in a 350 degree oven for 25 mins and bake.
Serve over Stone Ground Grits and with the Green slaw