Chicken Vatapa

Chicken Vatapa 1024 768 David Rosengarten

Here’s another Bahian stew sometime seen in Brazilian restaurants—though it hasn’t yet achieved the recognition of moqueca. No matter; it’s a dish on its way up. It is normally made with shrimp, but the chicken variation is also delicious. The element that gives it its distinction, aside from the dried shrimp and dende oil, is pulverized nuts; sometimes all peanuts are used, but I think a blend of peanuts and cashews yields a better, subtler result. This is a thick sauce, and you will be able to taste and feel the nuts. This is how it’s supposed to be; don’t try to achieve a super-smooth sauce.

makes 6 main-course servings

1/2 cup dried shrimp (available at Chinese grocery stores)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
2 hot peppers, such as jalapeno, serrano or habanero (use more if you like hot food), chopped fine
3 fresh Italian plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 cup canned Italian tomatoes, chopped
2 cups loosely packed cilantro leaves, washed and spun dry, then roughly chopped (plus extra cilantro for garnish, if desired)
3 pounds chicken thighs, skin removed
1 cup chicken stock
2 cups unsweetened canned coconut milk
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/2 cup roasted cashew nuts
1 tablespoon dende oil (aka red palm oil)

1. Cover the shrimp with warm water to soften. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, such as a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook until any liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add the cilantro leaves.

3. Push vegetables to the side, turn the heat up slightly, and add the chicken pieces. Brown on all sides. Add the chicken stock and the coconut milk, turn the heat to low, cover and simmer until the chicken is tender, about 30-40 minutes. If the mixture looks dry while the chicken is cooking, add a little more stock.

4. When the chicken is falling off the bone remove it from the saucepan. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, pull into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Discard bones.

5. Meanwhile, drain the shrimp and add them, along with the nuts, to the sauce in the pan. Simmer for five minutes.

6. Let the mixture cool, and liquidize in the blender. (You must not do this when the mixture is still hot, as hot liquid in a blender has a tendency to explode.)

7. Return the sauce to the pan, add the chicken pieces and heat through. Just before serving, add the dende oil. Serve sprinkled with more chopped cilantro, if desired.

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