Monday, July 31, 2017

Malagasy Chicken with Ginger (Akoho sy Sakamalao)

Note to self: onions that are simmered in a luscious amount of coconut oil until they're so soft they melt in your mouth ... are not photogenic. More important note to self: they're terrific for eating.

While flipping through reading like a novel the Global Kitchen cookbook, an East African Cucumber-Mango Salad recipe caught my eye but also presented a dilemma. You see, it reeeeally bothers me when people treat the entire African continent as a single country, culture, or people group. It's just wrong. So I was miffed that the recipe was associated with the broader region of East Africa rather than a specific country ... to the point that I almost wrote off the recipe on principle. But it sounded so yummy and summery! So I struck a compromise with myself: I'd find a main dish recipe from a specific country in East Africa, and make this ambiguous Cucumber-Mango Salad as a side dish.

The winner of that internet search was Akoho sy Sakamalao--literally "chicken and ginger"--a dish hailing from Madagascar. To be honest, the recipe sounded good but not amazing. The ingredient list is simple, the cooking technique un-fussy. But my first bite revealed the dish to be far greater than the sum of its parts. There's some kind of magic happening with the ginger-lemon-garlic rub, the caramelizing onions and bell peppers, the nutty coconut oil, and the bed of simple rice soaking up all those flavors.

All in all, a wonderful meal! The Akoho sy Sakamalao recipe is below, and the Cucumber-Mango Salad recipe is here. Thanks, Madagascar!

Malagasy Chicken with Ginger (Akoho sy Sakamalao)
Adapted from Global Table Adventure
Yield: 4 servings

3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
Zest from 1 lemon
4 chicken thighs (I used boneless, skinless, without the drumsticks attached)*
1/3 cup coconut oil**
1 orange bell pepper, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cooked white rice, for serving

Combine the garlic, ginger, and lemon zest, and rub it all over the chicken. Cover (or put into a plastic zip bag) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Overnight or all day would be perfectly fine.

In a large skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Brown the chicken until it's a lovely golden color on both sides. When you add the chicken to the pan, your oil will probably go crazy. I recommend putting a lid on the skillet, but tilt it to let steam out, and pull the skillet off the burner to let the oil calm down a bit any time you need to mess with the food inside.

When the chicken is beautiful, take it out of the pan, and season it with salt and pepper. Add the bell pepper and onion to the pan, and saute until softened. Add the chicken back to the pan, lower the heat, and put a lid on (not tilted this time). Let it simmer for about 45 minutes, until the chicken is super tender. I gave the skillet a good shake/slide/jiggle every so often to keep things from sticking.

Cook your rice while the chicken and veggies are simmering.

Nibble a bit and add more salt and pepper if needed. To serve, spoon a good portion of rice onto your plate. Top with onion/bell pepper mixture and a chicken thigh. Scoop some of the sauce over the whole thing--the sugar from the onions and lemon will have caramelized nicely, and all that glorious flavor will be packed into your coconut oil sauce.

*The recipe on Global Table Adventure uses bone-in thigh quarters (leg and thigh both). I decided to go for just thighs in order to have smaller portions and less meat, and at the store I went into auto-pilot and got boneless skinless, though bone-in probably would have been more flavorful.

**I couldn't quite bring myself to eat an entire 1/3 cup of coconut oil by myself, so I ended up scooping it only sparingly over my plate ... which meant that a lot of that glorious caramelized flavor was wasted. If I make this again, I'd probably scale back to 3-4 Tbsp. coconut oil instead of a full 1/3 cup.

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