Before we left for Macau, I thumbed through the guidebooks to get a sense of what else we might find beside casinos. When it came to the food, there was mention of a heavy Portuguese influence as well as a traditional Macanese dish called “African Chicken”. Now when a guidebook says a dish is a “must try” or a “classic”, I usually fine tune my food radar to track its presence. Half of this is simply to fulfill my curiosity. The other half is to determine if the guidebook is completely full of shit. So when it appeared on the menu at Galos, I insisted we include it in our order.
When it arrived at our table, I had already polished off a basket of bread, some sardines, and a mound of curried prawns. I should have stopped when I saw the plate exploding with chips and a crispy chicken fillet smothered in a dark gravy. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. It was too damn good. I’m a sucker for greasy comfort food, and this dish swept me off my feet. The chicken was lightly fried. The sauce was rich and sweet with a hint of spice. The chips perfectly mopped up what the chicken had left behind. So when Tom said he was writing about the Macau this week, I didn’t even have to think which dish I would turn to for inspiration.
Last week, I tried to refine a simple dish. This week, I decided to stick to the dirty, rustic nature of the whole thing. It was the sauce that I found to be the most complex, and I knew it would be a fun challenge to replicate it. Since I had only had the African chicken at Galos, I decided to do a quick Google search to see what a traditional recipe should include. However, what I found is that recipes are all over the shop. Most of them list shallots, chillies, a variety of spices, and coconut milk. However, some were adding tarragon, peanut butter, condensed milk, and even cola.
In fact, it’s tough to find a reputable source that gives more than a few sentences about the history of the dish. A few claim it came about in the 1940’s, but then others say it’s been around for a lot longer. Most sum up its current identity as a confluence of world cuisines. Whatever the case, it’s clear that families have kept their recipes secret which might be one reason why the origin of the dish is so hard to crack.
I realised that none of this was pointing me in the direction of what I had tasted that day at Galos. Their sauce didn’t seem focused on coconut milk at all, but instead the rich, sweetness of caramelised onions. Deciding how we would present our new creation was a joint effort, and we finally came up with this African Chicken Sandwich. I can’t say the dish below is an accurate representation of what traditional African chicken should taste like, but I can say that I got it pretty close to what we had that day, if not better.
African Chicken Sandwich
For the sauce:
- 150 g butter
- 3 onions
- 1/2 bulb of garlic
- a pinch of sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 1 liter of chicken stock
- 1 red pepper
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp coconut milk
- 2 bird’s eye chillies
The key to this recipe is caramelised onions. It takes a while and you have to keep your eye on the pot, but the time and energy is definitely worth it. Slice 3 onions and smash half a bulb of garlic. Since I’m lazy, I plopped all of this in a food processor and pulsed a few times until coarse, but you can also dice everything by hand if you prefer.
Place the red pepper under the grill/broiler to blacken the skin. You’ll have to turn halfway through to char both sides. If you have a gas stove, you can also hold the pepper over the flame to do this. Once the pepper is black on all sides, remove and place in a plastic container. Seal and let steam.
Put the chicken stock on a low simmer. Keep hot until ready to use. Melt the butter in a heavy bottom sauce pan. Make sure the heat is set to medium, and add the onions. Saute and carefully monitor the progress. You want the onions to brown slowly. Try to refrain from constant stirring otherwise they won’t brown. Let them cook gently, and then give them a stir every few minutes. Closely keep an eye on the heat as well. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat. You’ll risk burning them, and if that happens you’ll be ordering take away for the evening. About halfway through add the salt and sugar.
The entire process took me at least 30 minutes. I started with this:
Once the onions are a rich brown colour, add the hot chicken stock a little at a time. As you stir, the mix will thicken. Keep adding stock until the sauce is a little runnier than the consistency you like. You won’t use all the stock, but it’s better to have more than you need just in case.
- 5-6 baking potatoes
- oil for frying
Cook the chips in boiling water for 5 minutes. It’s very important that you don’t over cook these otherwise they’ll fall apart when they go to the fryer. Drain the potatoes and spread out on a baking sheet to cool. If you leave them clumped together in a bowl they’ll continue to cook, and you’ll again be dealing with chips that’ll crumble before they hit the fryer.
For the chicken:
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 eggs
- salt and pepper
- smoked paprika
- panko bread crumbs
Frying the chips
Fill a pot less than half full of vegetable oil. It’s a good idea to use a large, heavy stock pot for this. Heat the oil on medium. I don’t monitor the temperature, but if you happen to have a thermometer, the temp should be around 170C.
- thick white bread, sliced
- olive oil
- coriander (optional)
In the same pan, heat some oil and fry the chicken fillet 2-3 on each side. Place the toast on a plate, add the fillet, smother with sauce, and add a mound of chips. Sprinkle with a little coriander and top with another piece of toast. Make lots of room in preparation for this gut buster.