It all comes together this week, as one plate holds everything you’d need for a full meal, from meat, to potatoes, to vegetables. Wrapping the total package in style is a recipe Fine Cooking offered in its April/May 2019 release, Crispy Peanut-Chile Chicken with Sweet Potatoes.
The preparation is inspired by Ghana’s affinity for combining poultry and the groundnut, the local name for peanuts. The dish is a model of efficiency, with everything needed for a full, nutritious meal appearing together in one place. Luxurious and elegant, yet unpretentious and nutritious, it’s Ghana on a plate.
The chicken and vegetables don’t meet at first, as the bird marinates for a while in the titular Peanut-Chile Sauce. This thoroughly infuses it with a mildly hot richness, a flavor profile that eventually percolates through to the vegetables below when the poultry tops the other ingredients as they cook.
As for the vegetables, you have sweet potatoes and cherry tomatoes. Both items’ subdued sweetness is a perfect foil for the pepper’s modest heat and the peanuts’ creaminess. Though Fine Cooking pictures the dish with bright orange sweet potatoes, the white-fleshed variety has a more complex yet subtle flavor, ensuring its inclusion. Finally, all is topped with roasted peanuts and chopped cilantro, elevating creamy and sweet notes respectively.
Tomatoes, chilies and potatoes are relative newcomers here, as they’re New World crops and they would have been unknown in Ghana (and elsewhere) until the 16th century. Still, if Italians can adopt the tomato with enthusiasm, aren’t Ghanaian cooks entitled similar latitude? Cooking’s all about sourcing the best ingredients available. Besides, everything else has satisfied West Africans for millennia, and one taste of today’s offering likely will add others to that list.
Crispy Peanut-Chile Chicken with Sweet Potatoes
- 1/4 cup natural peanut butter (*1)
- 2 Thai bird chilies, minced (*2)
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- salt, to taste
- 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 large onion, chopped (*3)
- 1/4 cup coarsely-chopped cilantro leaves, divided
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes (*4)
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 cup shelled peanuts, coarsely chopped
In a large zip-top bag, thoroughly combine the peanut butter, chilies, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, 2 teaspoons of the garlic and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the chicken, force as much air as you can from the bag and seal the top. “Massage” the chicken to ensure the sauce completely covers it, then refrigerate for an hour.
Position a rack in the center of the oven, then preheat it to 375°. Place a cast-iron skillet over a medium flame, then add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the oil. When it shimmers, add the onion, remaining garlic, 2 tablespoons of the cilantro and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and the garlic is fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the sweet potatoes. Cover the pan and cook until the sweet potatoes begin to soften, about 5 more minutes. Cut the heat.
Remove the lid and add the tomatoes. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place it on the top in a single layer. Pour over everything any marinade that remains in the bag. Scatter the peanuts over the chicken, the place the skillet in the oven.
Cook for 30 minutes, then increase the oven temperature to “Broil” and continue thusly for a minute or two, taking care that the food doesn’t scorch. Remove from the oven and let rest for ten minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and serve.
1 – According to the recipe, either creamy or chunky is fine. I went with chunky because, hey, more peanuts.
2 – If you don’t have bird chilies (I did, but then, half the time I’m cooking something Thai, and the pantry is stocked accordingly) cayenne or serrano chilies would be just as good.
3 – “Nope, nope, nope. I’m getting a bad feeling about this, Jonesy.” (Odd spot for a Platoon quote, huh?) Don’t put onion in my dish – two large shallots are much better.
4 – “Peeled,” says the recipe. “Why?,” I ask. The skin is perfectly edible, it’s the sweet potato’s most nutritious part, and it’s so thin it softens just as completely as does everything else. Why go to the trouble?