Chicken or the egg...er, peanut first? The Savory Chicken Peanut Stew
Pollo al maní, or Peruvian Chicken Peanut Stew, is not something you usually find on menus in U.S.-based restaurants. Perhaps it's because it is now one of the top food allergens here but even before it became so I never recall a time when it appeared on any menu. When I spent time living in Peru in 2011, that was the first time I had the opportunity to taste it. I instantly fell in love. Interestingly enough, it reminded me of something else I had tasted and was much more widely available in other circles in which I traveled. The first peanut stew I ever tried was, West African Peanut Stew,Tigadegena, Mafé/Maafé, or Groundnut Stew, some time in 2009 or 2010. I had learned to make it through a Malian friend and it became a dish I regularly made for dinner parties from that point forward. What was not to love?
These dishes have a lot in common but what is interesting is the peanut originates from South America and was first domesticated almost 8,000 years ago in northwest Argentina or in southeast Bolivia. From there it flourished in what is now known as Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. In fact, the first peanut butter spread is thought to have been invented by the Inca. The peanut is known as maní in Quechua-Aymara-speaking South America and the further north and across the pond (Spain) you go it is also known as cacahuate, the náhuatl word for the groundnut. In West Africa, the dish has many names and variations, yet in my research I have learned it is thought to have originated out of Mali and the nut that was used historically is the Bambara nut. Today, the peanut is one of Mali's cash crops, so it is easy to see why it would have replaced the Bambara nut so quickly. It is simply more widely available. The West African stew also incorporates more ingredients, generally speaking, than the Peruvian one.
In the Peruvian version, there are few variations and at the base of the
recipe is chicken (I imagine duck or other fowl might have been used before the Columbian Exchange), ground roasted peanuts, aji amarillo (prolific throughout Peruvian dishes), onion and garlic, with salt and pepper as the flavor enhancers. The West African version can use different types of meats but at the base is usually chicken, ground roasted peanuts, tomatoes (another New World ingredient), scotch bonnet peppers (another!), garlic and onion, plus the flavor enhancers salt and pepper. Sweet potato (New World!) or yam and ginger is sometimes added as well with some type of green -- could be spinach, kale or collard greens. So, did the Old World chicken or the New World peanut come first in these ancient recipes? Perhaps the variations of these dishes were first created in their respective continents at the same time and it was the two worlds being linked by slavery and the Columbian Exchange that allowed for them each to develop further into what they are today. As a food scholar and chef, I cannot separate the two nor can I dismiss the history as perhaps playing a part in these new creations, for better or for worse.
Also as a chef, there is no reason for me to not have the best of both worlds on my plate (or several if you consider ginger, onion and garlic also create a bridge to another!). I love peanut stew and see no reason to offer up variations and the melding of the two versions. What could be more delicious? The recipe that follows, I literally created based on what I had in my pantry, so know that you can have fun with it!! Play with the types of potatoes you use, protein, or greens. The variations are endless! Buen provecho, amig@s!
Chicken Peanut Stew - Serves 6-8
1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 pounds bone-in chicken or 3 pounds chicken breast, bite-sized chunks
1 large onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, crushed
3 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
1-2 teaspoons aji amarillo paste OR 1 whole scotch bonnet or habanero pepper OR 2 teaspoons sriracha sauce (optional)
1-2 teaspoons aji panca
2 cans diced tomatoes or 3 tomatoes skinned and de-seeded, chopped
4 cups chicken stock (or enough to cover)
2-3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
12 ounces baby spinach
1/2-1 cup natural ground peanut butter, creamy
This is meant to be prepared on one large pot -- yay for fewer dishes!
In a large pot, heat olive oil and sear pieces of chicken until golden brown. Set aside.
Next, add onion and saute until translucent.
Add ginger, garlic, and hot peppers or paste and saute until fragrant.
Add tomato and cook for 5 minutes.
Add chicken back in the pot, cover with stock, then add sweet potatoes.
Bring to a boil, then let simmer 35 minutes.
Add baby spinach and peanut butter and until incorporated. Let simmer 10-15 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve Peanut Chicken Stew with white rice, cauliflower rice or couscous. Whatever you preference!