CRAVE: Punchy aromatics brighten Nigerian red stew
When cooks in Nigeria want long-cooked flavor in minutes, they turn to obe ata. Similar to a Spanish or Italian sofrito, the tomato-red pepper sauce often is made in big batches, then used as the flavor base for soup, cooked down for a dip, mixed with eggs like shakshuka, or ladled over fried fish.
Punched up with aromatic flavorings such as ginger, fresh chilies and curry powder, obe ata most often is thinned with broth for what’s simply called red stew.
One of Nigeria’s signature dishes, the stew is a saucy braise with several types of meats.
For this simplified version from our book “Cook What You Have,” which draws on pantry staples to assemble easy, weeknight meals, we pared down the meat to bone-in chicken parts, which we season with curry powder, salt and black pepper.
And we rely on canned tomatoes and jarred roasted red peppers for convenience.
We puree the ingredients in a blender to make a quick sauce, then brown the chicken in a Dutch oven before setting it aside. Simmering the sauce before the chicken is returned to the pot concentrates the flavors.
We also add sweet potatoes, which lend a bit of substance to the braise.
To tame their heat, we seed the fresh chilies, but if you’re seeking a little spice, leave in some or all of the seeds.
Red Stew with Chicken
Start to finish: 1 hour 25 minutes (30 minutes active)
1 teaspoon curry powder OR dried thyme OR 1 teaspoon each
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs OR drumsticks OR breasts (halved crosswise) OR a combination, trimmed
28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup roasted red peppers, drained and patted dry
4 or 5 jalapeño OR Fresno chilies OR 2 habanero chilies, stemmed and seeded
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped OR 1½ teaspoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
In a small bowl, stir together the curry powder, 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle the chicken all over with the spice mix, rubbing it into the meat; set aside.
In a blender, combine the tomatoes with juices, roasted red peppers, chilies and ginger. Puree until smooth, scraping the jar as needed, about 1 minute; set aside.
In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook until browned on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the pieces and cook until browned on the second sides, 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to a large plate and set aside.
Return the Dutch oven to medium; add the onion and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato-pepper puree; simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until a spatula leaves a trail when drawn through the mixture, 16 to 20 minutes.
Stir in the sweet potatoes (if using), then nestle in the chicken and pour in the accumulated juices. Bring to a simmer over medium-high, then cover, reduce to medium-low and cook, stirring and turning the chicken occasionally, until a skewer inserted into the largest chicken piece meets no resistance and the sweet potatoes are tender (if used), 35 to 40 minutes. Off heat, taste and season with salt and pepper.
Optional garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro OR chopped scallions