Our third country in this culinary adventure is the Congo. Specifically, we’re looking at the Republic of Congo, because now there are two Congos: Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s confusing because I grew up calling the Democratic Republic of Congo “Zaire,” but the naming changed in 1997. For clarity, I’ll refer to them as Congo for the Republic of Congo and DR Congo for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Now that the confusion is out of the way, let’s talk about some food. Congo has a culture of food stretching since it has been inhabited for over 80,000 years, but colonization by the French and Belgians has influenced the cuisine as well. There is typically a big emphasis in the meal on a starch, such as maize (corn), cassava, yam, or sweet potato. These are typically served with a sauce or protein such as goat, fish, or chicken.
Moambe Chicken (Poulet à la Moambé)
December 30, 2016 edit: With some great advice from Elena, we learned that peanuts are less frequently used in Moambe chicken then we thought. In fact, the moambe IS the Palm oil. Keep reading through the comments below or jump down for a recipe that Elena was kind enough to share.
For our first Congolese dish, we’re going to do Chicken Moambe (also known as mwambe, nyembwe, among other names) adapted from Margarita’s International Recipes. It is a simple and delicious dish to get you introduced to the tasty cuisine of Congo. It’s the national dish of both the Congo as well as the DR Congo Like the French Coq Au Vin, we’re making a hearty stew where chicken is simmered for a short time to cook and a rich sauce to go with it.
We’ll start by quartering a chicken, drying it well with paper towels, and searing it briefly in palm oil. Palm oil is the most authentic type of oil to use here and is becoming fairly easy to find. Amazon has some great Nutiva Organic Red Palm Oil that is perfect for this, but your local cooperative or health food store should have something similar. I also like red palm oil because it has a high smoke point at 450F and is a very healthy oil with lots of carotenoids (cancer fighting properties), antioxidants, and Vitamins A & E. Peanut oil also has an equally high smoke point and would work well as a fairly authentic substitute.
So you want to get a heavy, preferably cast-iron Dutch oven blazing hot with your red palm oil and sear your chicken quarters on both sides until they’re golden brown, about 4-5 minutes per side. You’ll have to do this in batches and I recommend wiping out the Dutch oven with paper towels after each batch and adding new oil each time. Set the seared chicken aside and reduce the heat to medium-low. Sauté two diced onions in the same Dutch oven slowly until they’re golden as well, about 7-10 minutes. Add 3 cloves of pressed garlic, stirring constantly, and cook just until you can smell it, about 30 seconds. At this point, you want to dump in a 6 oz (170g) of tomato paste and keep stirring – this will stop the garlic from burning. Keep cooking the paste until the color darkens slightly, about 3 minutes. Taking this time really helps to develop a rich, savory, deep flavor base. Once that is ready, add a 14.5oz (411g) can of diced tomatoes (I prefer Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted), 1 in (2.5mm) grated ginger root, 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, 1 cup (237ml) of water, and salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon) and mix thoroughly. Add the chicken back and bring to a boil on high heat. When it’s starting to boil, cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, pull off about 1-2 cups (250-500ml) of sauce and mix very thoroughly with ½ cup (125g) of natural (preferably organic) peanut butter. This will make it WAY easier to blend the peanut butter into the rest of the sauce. Return the mixture to the Dutch oven and mix well to combine. Cook uncovered until chicken breasts and thighs reach 165F (74C). Taste sauce and adjust the seasoning to your preference. And that’s it! Quick easy and simple. Serve the chicken with rice and fufu (a puree of white yams or sweet potatoes) or fried plantains, spooning the sauce on top.
Moambe Chicken (Poulet à la Moambé)
Tasting and lessons learned
Let me start by saying that Moambe chicken is absolutely delicious. Rich and savory base that is enriched by the peanut butter – it really rounds out the dish and smoothes out the acidity of the tomatoes. It also helps thicken out the sauce and give it a very pleasant, thick body. The chicken comes out super tender as well since it receives gentle treatment in the simmer and monitoring the temperature prevents it from becoming overcooked. We enjoyed our chicken over rice and fufu, and the sauce worked perfectly together with everything. Being a fan of peppers, I’ll kick-up the heat next time I make it – this sauce lends itself perfectly to hot chilies. Beyond that, I wouldn’t change a thing, though this sauce would go very well with roasted squashes and tubers as well.
Tried this recipe? Let us know what you think about it and comment below!