Cooking Colonial in Paris (Project Food Blog Challenge #2)

26 09 2010

There’s a downside to cooking a lot and experimenting with all types of international cooking: when Foodbuzz challenges you to make a classic dish from a cuisine with which you’re unfamiliar, the pickings can be slim.  French is out, for obvious reasons (e.g. I live there).  As is American (e.g. I am one).  Mexican, Chinese, and Indian all get a fair share of play on my table.  I have been known to cook Japanese, Russian, and Italian.  And I’ve cooked Bulgarian, English, Thai, North African, Vietnamese, and German, too.

I thought about cooking feijoada, the Portuguese/Brazilian bean and meat stew.  I even asked one of the Portuguese women at work for her recipe.  But somehow it wasn’t wacky enough.  (I mean, I’ve done pig’s ears and feet before.)  I asked my sister-in-law, who is Filipina, if she had any classic family recipes.  She sent me a very tasty-sounding recipe for chicken adobo.  The same day, Nick came home from work with a recipe from one of his colleagues.  A Frenchman who used to live in West Africa, notably Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, had given him a recipe for mafé, a type of groundnut stew.  It varies widely from country to country, but is popular throughout the region.  At its heart it is a basic braised chicken (or lamb, or beef, but never pork) dish, but the spicy tomato and peanut-based sauce combines familiar-to-me ingredients in a very unfamiliar way.  The recipe also came with specific instructions as to an appropriate beverage – jus de bissap, a chilled, sweetened tea made from hibiscus flowers.  I was seduced.

1. Athithane, 2. Sweet potatoes & Manioc, 3. Bissap bags, 4. “Produits Exotiques”

Living in France can have its disadvantages, too, especially when it comes to cooking something not French.  (The challenge is reduced somewhat if the country in question is a former colony of France, which Senegal was until 1960.)  Fortunately, I live in a very diverse neighborhood in Paris, and there are a handful of “exotic product” shops selling products from places as far apart as Africa, India, and China.  I found this tiny one on my way to the bank Saturday morning, and they had everything I was looking for: sweet potatoes, bissap (the aforementioned hibiscus flowers), and ginger.  I love poking around in the foreign food stores here, because I never know what I’m going to find.  In this case, I succeeded in keeping focused, so after picking up the necessities, and a quick stop at the butcher for a chicken, I headed home to get cooking.

1. Boning Knife, 2. Scissors, 3. Cleaver

Aside from being in French, all the recipes I found for mafé called for whole chickens, cut up.  In the spirit of authenticity, I channeled my inner butcher and cut the bird into ten pieces – two legs, two thighs, two wings, and two breasts, halved.  I saved the backbone to make stock at a later date.  The vegetable components in the recipes varied wildly, but onions, carrots and sweet potatoes featured in several, so I figured they would make a fairly classic stew.  Like any good French-trained cook, I got all my mise en place together before starting to cook.

1. mafé mise, 2. peanut butter

One of the most interesting things about cooking, to me anyway, is how much about it is the same around the world.  Sure, the set of available ingredients differs from place to place, but many techniques are practiced around the world, largely unchanged.  Take braising.  How many cultures include some kind of stew in their culinary repertoire?  It turns out that this sub-Saharan African dish is prepared just like any number of stewed chicken meals I’ve made before.


It starts with browning the chicken in peanut oil.  Then the pot is deglazed with chopped onions, which cook, soaking up the delicious browned bits on the bottom of the pot, until they soften and begin to caramelize.  The major difference here was that I was to leave all the fat in there instead of draining most of it off.  Next come crumbled pili-pili peppers (the tiny dried chilis also known as African Birdseye peppers), a few chopped tomatoes, some sliced garlic, and a big spoonful of tomato paste.  After that has cooked together for a bit, water and peanut butter are added to the sauce.  Once it has all come together, the chicken is returned to the pot, and if there isn’t enough sauce to cover it, more water is added until it does.  Finally, the chopped carrots and sweet potatoes join the party.


At this point, I partially covered the pot and popped it in a moderately hot oven for about an hour.  In the meantime, I made the jus de bissap.

dried hibiscus (bissap)

As instructed, I rinsed the flowers under cold running water.  They immediately began to bleed magenta-colored juice.  I brought a pot of water to boil and plopped in the flowers.  After steeping for ten minutes, the liquid was a deep red.  I strained it into a bowl and whisked in some sugar.  The suggested flavorings for the bissap tea were many.  I could use mint, vanilla, ginger, fruit juice, or orange flower water.  Mint and vanilla is one of the more classic combinations, but having recently acquired a bottle of orange flower water, I wanted to use that.  I thought ginger would be a nice compliment, so I grated a bit of fresh ginger into the tea as well.

Making jus de bissap

I poured the tea into a pitcher, plonked in a handful of ice cubes, and set it in the fridge to chill.  I quickly steamed a pot of white rice, and dinner was finally ready, as indicated by the layer of oil that had formed on top of the mafé.


It smelled heavenly as I ladled the chicken, vegetables, and sauce over bowls of rice.


We ate it hungrily, and drank glasses of cold, sweet, pink-red jus de bissap.  It was surprisingly comfort food-like for a meal I’ve never eaten before in my life.  But then, the ingredients were nothing strange, and the cooking method was an old friend, so maybe that’s perfectly natural.

ice cold

I’d like to conclude this with a big thank you to everyone who voted for me in round one of Project Food Blog.  This is my entry for round two, The Classics.  Voting opens at 6:00 am Pacific time tomorrow, September 27th, and continues through 6:00 pm September 30th.  I would love it if you wanted to vote for me again, so here’s the link to the voting page.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.




29 responses

27 09 2010
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27 09 2010

Oh, Camille. Peanut butter. Yes. Plus you’ve reminded me that I’ve got about a dozen peanut soup recipes stashed away, which I might make as a kind of homage to your adventures here. Because, you know, I’m silly and would rather not be thwacking away at backbones. That shall be your forte, my dear! 😀

27 09 2010
Life on Nanchang Lu

Hi Camille, a great read! You’re so right about the techniques being the same around the world – for my challenge I was making a pork skin jelly, never before attempted, when I realised it was just like any old stock recipe, but with ginger, scallions, and garlic substituting for onions, carrots and celery.

North African cuisine seems so mysterious, but this looks very do-able!

All the best,

27 09 2010

What a perfect recipe to try, given that you live in France! I’ve been interested in groundnut stews ever since I worked on a project for a French class on the cuisine of Mali. Next time you’ll have to try making foutou (aka fufu, but I prefer the racier name) a starchy paste of mashed yams.

Going to vote for you now!

27 09 2010

Mmm, that does sound warming and comforting despite being exotic. Also, I’m impressed that you actually butchered the chicken yourself. I’m terrible at that and usually ask the butcher to cut it up for me 😉

27 09 2010

Oh, Camille! This is wonderful–wish it were colder here; I’ll have to wait awhile to give this one a try. The hibiscus tea is lovely, too.

And way to go all Dexter on that chicken! Well done:) 😆

27 09 2010

This meal sounds very exotic, great choice! Oh, and I just love hibiscus tea. What a perfect combination!

27 09 2010

YUM! So good, this is some of my favorite! Got my vote.

27 09 2010

Hannah – I knew you’d love the peanut butter aspect!

Fiona – Thank you! When you look at it that way, food really can connect the world!

Ann – I saw bags of fufu in the store, but I had no idea what they were. I’ll definitely have to try that the next time I get yams in the CSA.

Hopie – It’s funny, when the bird is raw, It’s my job to hack it up. When it’s cooked, Nick does the honors. Always.

Jenni – It is a delicious cold-weather dish. (I can say this with authority because it is already in the 50’s and cloudy here. Boo.)

Jeanne – Thanks! One of the reasons I chose it is because it came with the drink suggestion. Why try one new recipe when you can try two?

Delishhh – Thank you!

27 09 2010

Wow! What a wonderful meal ! I have never had food from Senegal and I would love it judging from your chicken stew here; love the combo of peanut paste and chilies and the rice and the hibiscus tea! I have got to learn to dry these hibiscus flowers, there’s so many here and it is supposed to be so healthy to drink!
I love that you summoned your inner butcher for this project! 🙂

27 09 2010

I’m so glad you commented on my blog. I love all things Paris, so I look forward to reading more of what you have. Good luck.

28 09 2010
Colleen @ sweetswallows

Very exotic. I never done any African cuisine, so I’m thoroughly impressed. I have had hibiscus tea before, and love it. Looks like it turned out beautifully! You’ve got my vote. 🙂

28 09 2010

Lovely choice, Camille. I’m especially touched by your observation that sometimes cooking a far-off dish reminds us that every culture has comfort food, and every culture has variations on universal food themes. Thanks for stopping by and you have my vote too, of course. 🙂

28 09 2010

You have my vote.

28 09 2010
hungry dog

Wow, this sounds wonderful. I am so not familiar with African food, but anything recipe that starts with browning chicken gets my vote. That’s of of the best smells in the world!

28 09 2010

tasteofbeirut – Yes, the hibiscus tea is a new favorite around here, too! You’re lucky you have them growing around you – they’re so colorful!

Clarice – Thank you, and good luck to you, too.

Colleen – Africa is by far the continent I have cooked the least from, so it seemed like a good place to start. Thanks!

Amy – I think you put it even better than I did!

Joy – Thank you!

hungry dog – I know, when I put the onions in after browning the chicken, I commented, “It smells good already!”

28 09 2010

That’s one delicious looking stew, I love all the ingredients so I know it would be delicious. I’ve cooked plenty of tagines before but I have never tried tried any other kind of African food, i think this is one I’m going to have to try. I’ll be voting for you again!

29 09 2010
maybelles mom

looks delicious. i love that you broken down the butchering. good #pfb2010

29 09 2010
Crystal's Cozy Kitchen

My husband lived in Brasil and feijoada is not one of his favorite meals – if you want challenging from Brasil it would have to be Churrasco… among other things.
This looks delicious though! Good luck – I cast a vote for you.

29 09 2010
Nate @ House of Annie


great job! everything looks wonderful.

29 09 2010

Sam – It’s almost like “I know all those things, I like all those things, why haven’t I tried this before?” And thanks for your vote!

maybelles mom – Thank you! Butchering the chicken was probably the most challenging part.

Crystal – Really, I find that surprising! Thanks for the vote!

Nate – Thank you!

29 09 2010

Looks delicious. The way you described it really brought me through the whole process. You’ve got my vote!

30 09 2010

This sounds absolutely fabulous and I love the drink that’s paired with the stew! Good luck!

30 09 2010

Lindsey – Thanks!

Peggy – The tea was kind of a surprise hit around here, too.

1 10 2010

Forgot to tell you I voted! They sure made finding your post tough though. Good luck!

1 10 2010
Crystal's Cozy Kitchen

I was sad to learn you didn’t advance in Project Food Blog. I was hoping to see you in the future challenges!
PS – my husband loves Brazilian Barbecue more than rice and beans. – he doesn’t mind the feijoada.

4 10 2010

Ryan – Thank you! I appreciate you taking the time!

Crystal – Me, too. Good luck to you in the next round!

8 11 2010

that’s a fantastic article croque-camille! you know that else you can do with those hibiscus flowers? once hydrated, they are fantastic in a glass of champagne!

anyway, my tummy is now rumbling from looking at those pics!

8 11 2010

zac – Why, thank you! Love the champagne idea!

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