The Groundnut’s Mozambican chicken and peanut stew
How an evocative chicken and peanut dish made by friends unexpectedly catapulted Jacob Fodio Todd, of the Groundnut supperclub trio, back to his childhood in Mozambique
Rosa and Maria were our empregadas in Mozambique. They looked after my older brother Simon and me, and kept the house. The story goes that when we first arrived in Maputo – taken there by my father’s work – my mother insisted on doing the cooking, despite offers from Rosa to take it on during the week. It wouldn’t be necessary, my mother said, as she enjoyed it, after all. So Ma continued to cook her repertoire of family dishes, accumulated over various travels, alongside English classics, such as bangers and mash. That was Simon’s favourite dish.
But, increasingly, she started to question her continuing rejection of Rosa’s offers to cook for us. The smells that would come from the kitchen when Rosa and Maria cooked for themselves were so incredible that, at some point, my mother simply gave in. And once she had started, it would have been madness for her to stop, because, for one, chicken amendoins superseded sausage and potatoes in my brother’s estimation, and, for me, Rosa’s cooking firmly established Mozambique as a place of food wonders.
Before I continue, I first have an admission. Chicken amendoins is a misnomer. As a young boy, I was almost fluent in Portuguese, but we spoke English at home, which is reflected in my family’s jumbled name for the dish. The dish is actually known in Maputo as caril de amendoim, which translates as stew, or sauce, of peanuts. It has a creamy colour, which makes it far removed from other peanut based sauces such as a groundnut stew, satay sauce, or even peanut butter. Before I learnt how to make it myself, relatively recently, I had numerous theories about what it could contain, and became convinced it was coconut that
Until I learned the recipe, chicken amendoins was a work of magic
gave it a distinctive colour. It is actually just raw, pounded peanuts in water that give it such a unmistakable colour and flavour.
I continued to enjoy Rosa’s chicken amendoins, cooking and company immensely for the remaining few years we spent in Mozambique. We left Maputo in the early 90s, when I was seven. Except for a couple of visits in the early period after we left, we did not return. My Portuguese was forgotten (I continue to be very disappointed about this), and my memories of Mozambique faded. There was the occasional discussion along the lines of “remember Rosa, chicken amendoins and that bean soup, blah blah blah” although, naturally, over time those memories became increasingly distant.
I thought that was it. It had all been relegated to the back of my mental filing cabinet, alongside some other dusty thoughts that I’ll only ever be able to recall in a very dim light. But that wasn’t it. I was wrong. Researchers have long debated the relationship between smell, taste and memory, and it was not for nothing that Proust wrote about madeleines. One summer, when I was a student, my memories of Mozambique were brought back in vivid HD. It must have been in my second year at Goldsmiths, University of London, where I’d become good friends with a guy named Miles. We had organised a picnic in Greenwich Park with his brother Duval, and Duval’s closest school friend, Yemi. Miles was excited because they’d cooked one of his family favourites to bring along to the picnic – groundnut stew, a West African sauce made with pasted roasted groundnuts, onions, scotch bonnet pepper, and often chicken – which I tasted before we packed up the food.
That was it. Right there in his kitchen, before we left for the park. It was so evocative of chicken amendoins that I couldn’t believe it. I still remember cradling the teaspoon, stuttering “bbb-but, but do you know what this is? How do you make this? Oh, Lord!” Bang! Time travel. It would be apocryphal to say that this event was the beginning of our partnership, although it was definitely the first in a chain of events that led to Yemi, Duval and me cooking and hosting dinners together under the name the Groundnut.
I recently had the opportunity to meet Rosa and Maria again, courtesy of Eliseu, a good family friend who hosted my mother and me when we returned to Maputo for the first time in over 20 years. What did we do? We hugged, I fumbled with Portuguese and we ate together. What did I achieve? I learned to make chicken amendoins. It was just like I remembered. Incredible.
To all intents and purposes, until I learned the recipe, chicken amendoins was a work of magic in my mind. But it is brilliantly simple. Try to ensure the peanuts are pounded as finely as possible to give the finished dish a velvety texture although, as you’ll see in the method, you can control the texture as you please.
1 chicken, jointed into 8 pieces 375g raw peanuts ½ tbsp salt 1 tsp black pepper 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced 2 green bird’s eye chillies, left whole Steamed rice and/or steamed plantain, to serve
1 If your butcher hasn’t done it for you, cut the whole chicken into 8 pieces and remove the skin. Season the meat with ¼ tbsp salt and black pepper. Cover and set aside.
2 Either using a large pestle and mortar or a food processor, pound or blitz the peanuts into a coarse powder. 3 Peel and cut the garlic into fine slices. 4 Add the ground peanuts and garlic to a deep saucepan with 1.2 litres of boiling water and leave to cook over a low heat for 1 hour. Make sure the mix does not boil.
5 If you prefer a smooth sauce, at this point you can strain the liquid and remove all or some of the ground peanuts, leaving just the milk. Having said that, I like to keep a good deal of the ground peanuts in to give the final dish more texture.
6 Add the whole green chillies, remaining ¼ tbsp of salt and the chicken, then leave to simmer for 40 minutes.
7 Remove from the heat and serve with white rice or steamed plantain.
From left: Duval, Yemi and Jacob