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.

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