Friday, March 30, 2012

Cote d'Ivoire

Commonly Known As: Ivory Coast
Location: Western Africa, between Ghana and Liberia
Area: Almost 325,000 sq km; 69th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than New Mexico
Geography: Except for the capital, most people live along the coastal region
Nationality: Ivoirians
Language: French
Population: Almost 22 million; 55th largest in the world
Capital: Yamoussoukro
HIV/AIDS deaths: 36000 in 2009; 12th highest in the world
Literacy: 48.7%
UN: 9000 forces present since 2004
Source: CIA Factbook

The national dish of Cote d'Ivoire is fufu.  We already tried that once.  Well, kinda.  Didn't go so well.  I decided to try something else this time.  Something fun and new and full of potential.  Something with a name like chicken and plantain curry.  That sounds about right.  I did a search for the French version of the name, and got a bunch of sites, in French, that mentioned Cote d'Ivoire.  Seemed legit to me!

I was especially excited because it involved a lot of ingredients I have eaten before, but never cooked.  Plantains, papayas, sweet potatoes.  New, but not scary.  Baby steps.  Plus, I was able to find everything I needed without going to dozens of stores, which is always a bonus.

I already had all of the ingredients needed for brushing the chicken thighs, which is pretty cool.
I believe this has already come up before, but groundnut oil is peanut oil.
We didn't really do sweet potatoes growing up, so I don't have much experience with them beyond the fries variety.  Definitely never had to boil them before.  Also - never had to bake plantains.  I ate plenty of them in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean.  I was impressed by how sometimes they were used as a sweet dessert-like dish, and other times seemed more like a potato side-dish.
These plantains were huge.  And possibly not ripe.
I have had papaya flavored things or dried papaya before, but I don't think I had ever had it fresh before our recent trip to Hawaii.  In that context it was okay, but not my favorite.  A little bland.  Squeezing a lemon on it helped.
The plantains were unevenly browned when they came out.  I wasn't really sure what to do other than continue the recipe.  Maybe it was intended?
Yay sticker reside.
Now the oven was free!  Chicken thighs coated in garlic and curry powder smell amazing, by the way.  I wasn't sure what they wanted when they said roasting tin, though.  I decided to use my roasting rack, but it seemed a little bit of overkill for four chicken thighs.
Reading the directions is pretty important for the next few steps.  I didn't necessarily understand the timing they wanted until I re-read it a couple of times.
Dramatic reading picture taken by my sister.
The sweet potatoes peeled quite easily.  The plantains still seemed a bit...hard.  Should they have been squishy?
As a side dish, I decided to try something I had read about online.  Not from Cote d'Ivoire, but foreign.  We have a lot of spice mixes and don't always get a chance to use them.  This one was supposed to be good on bread, similar to a garlic bread concoction, so I decided to go with it.  I just mixed some with olive oil, spread it on French bread, and baked it for a bit.
Now I was ready to add the fruits and veggies to the meat.  My first true confusion hit me here.  Were they supposed to go under the roasting part?  On it?  Did I need the roasting part?  How does this all work?  First I tried it with the roasting pan.
That...didn't seem right.  How were the flavors supposed to mingle?  So I took the roaster out and mixed it all together.
Less attractive, but maybe more right.  Still not sure.  There weren't many juices to baste with, though, even after adding the coconut milk.  I'm pretty sure I added more liquid to try to help.
I added the bread with a few minutes left, and watched Tesla play with "crinkle fish," his favorite fake animal.
It was difficult to get all of the food to fit on one platter.  There was a ridiculous amount, especially with the rice.  I think the bread was in a little bit too long, too.
My sister Sarah-Anne and her friend Jason were visiting us, so they got to partake.
It is a little difficult to review this dish as a whole, because it didn't really feel like one coherent dish.  Maybe it wasn't meant to be.  The chicken was delicious.  Absolutely amazing.  I would love to make curry chicken using some of these techniques again.  The sweet potatoes weren't bad, but I think they would have been better smaller.  They got a little tough in the middle, and the flavor didn't really go beyond the surface.

The papayas were fine, but nothing special.  Sarah-Anne really liked them.  This might just be part of liking papayas in general, though.  The plantains were probably the most disappointing part.  They were still very tough and hadn't absorbed any flavor.  I believe there are two culprits here.  One is their gigantic size.  I know plantains are usually large, but not always this ridiculous.  The other was their level of ripeness.  Having them be more aged might have allowed them to give some more of their flavor to the surrounding items as well as picking some up.

The rice was good with some of the juices coming off of the chicken.  And the bread was actually quite yummy, although a little hard.  Dipping them in olive oil helped.  I plan to make them again, just with a little less baking time.

Overall, this was one of the best African dishes we have had.  I think some of my complaints could be fixed easily.  Cut up the sweet potatoes into smaller pieces, and maybe only have two of them.  Smaller, more ripe plantains.  Those could also be cut up.  And more chicken.  Because that part was amazing.

We all left full and happy, so I call that a success.  Yay!  Now we actually leave the African continent for a little while as we continue our journeys.

Have you had better experiences with including fruit in curries?  Any tips to share?

Next time: Croatia

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