Spicy West African Fish Stew

I love this dish. It’s packed with flavor, specifically the flavors of West Africa. It also incorporates a few more “exotic” ingredients typical of East Africa and its trade connections. In that way, we can say this spicy, sweet, tomatoey fish stew is in honor of the great Bantu expansion, when the Bantu peoples of West Africa embarked on many waves of migrations which successively took over much of the continent south of the Sahara.

Paired with fufu or with corn porridge, let this dish and all it’s many flavors transport you to Africa.

RUSTIC AFRICAN FISH STEW

2-3 filets White Fish, cooked*
1/4 cup palm oil
2-4 pounds Tomatoes, rough diced (or a large can of whole peeled tomatoes)
1 lb. fresh Red Chili Peppers, de-seeded and sliced (African or Jamaican varieties best here)
1 Head of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 small ginger root, peeled and minced
1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp. black peppercorns, coarse grind

1 tbsp. ground tumeric
2 lbs. mixed bitter greens *
2 tbsp. tamarind paste*
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup vinegar

*On the fish:
-Stews, especially in Sub Saharan African, are meant to be like… well, a stewpot! Throw in what you have! Incorporate last night’s dinner! So that’s what I did, in my case it was some char grilled tilapia.
– This recipe works great with raw fish too, if you’d rather use that. It has a stronger seafood flavor though. I’ll include down in the instructions how to cook it both ways.

*Note that tomatoes and chilis are only in African cuisine post contact with the New World and the Columbian Exchange, but these days are pretty quintessential to African cuisine. Additionally, tamarind, ginger, and black pepper are ingredients from East and Central Asia, which made their way around Sub Saharan Africa via trade networks across the Indian Ocean

*Before I got cooking, I went outside and harvested some wild and garden greens to cook into my stew.

Dandelion, frisee, and arugula.

Once your ingredients are picked and prepped, the cooking part is pretty simple.

In a stewpot or dutch oven, warm up the palm oil over medium heat and saute the onion, ginger, and black pepper for a few minutes until a little soft.

Add the hot red pepper, tumeric, and the smashed garlic cloves and continue to cook for 5 more minutes, when things are just starting to brown up. Add the vinegar and deglaze the bottom of the pot before adding in all the tomatoes, sugar, and tamarind paste.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately turn down to a simmer. Cook on low for 1-2 hours.

When everything is nicely melded and cooked down, add the greens. It will seem like a lot, but cook down quite quickly.

This is when you’d add the raw fish if that’s what you’re using. Let the fish simmer in the sauce until it flakes apart. If using pre-cooked fish, add at the very end of cooking, turning off the heat as soon as you do. Flake the fish apart and let it warm up in the still hot mixture.

With Plantain and Cassava Fufu.

Plantain and Cassava Fufu

Have I told you about the feeling of fullness yet? Reading about the reverence many West and Central African cultures give to how it feels to have eaten and to be satisfied by a skilled cook, was a revelation to me. It was a perspective on what makes good cuisine that I hadn’t considered before.

So what better way to appreciate this (for me) newfound culinary philosophy than to make the starchy staple which has come to epitomize it: fufu! It’s not bread. It’s not porridge. It’s a kind of starchy, doughy, hybrid of both.

Likely first invented in what is modern day Ghana, fufu is a deceptively simple yet ingenious way to eat your daily carbs. Just about any carb will do: yams, sweet potatoes, corn, plantains, and cassava being the most common across Sub Saharan Africa today.

I’ll be making my very first fufu with the latter two, Cassava (or yuca) and plantains. We’ll be cooking, pounding, and somewhat binding the rich starches in these African staples into a creation that’s simultaneously food and a spoon for eating other food.

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HOF Episode 24: The Feeling of Fullness (Sub Saharan Africa)

Is good cooking defined by ingredients, skill in preparation, style of cuisine, or is it something even more fundamental and deeply human?

We left out of Africa all the way back in Episode 1, and rarely looked back, but in this episode we finally return to the vast continent, specifically south of the Sahara desert, where more than any other qualities, feeling full and satisfied are what make a great meal, and a great chef is one who can evoke that feeling the most.

Come listen for this and other perspectives on food and dining we so rarely hear about in western history.

AVAILABLE ON ITUNES,   SPOTIFY, and GOOGLE PLAY.
Please leave a review to help spread the word!

Music from this episode: Traditional Nigerian as well as Zulu drums

Continue reading “HOF Episode 24: The Feeling of Fullness (Sub Saharan Africa)”
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