I gave myself a really interesting challenge as to how to choose the country this week, as I wanted Henry to choose as it is his first birthday on Thursday. The issue being that Henry is yet to speak and therefore how do you have a 1 year old choose from a list (held on my PC) when holding his attention for more than a second or two is challenge enough. I started by giving him a number of bricks with numbers on and have him pick them, but when he picked up ‘4’ I didn’t know whether to stop there or let him pick another which would get us into the forties. So, to resolve things, I took a different tack. I popped him on my lap and put his finger on the down arrow and as the cursor flew down my list I would take the number corresponding to when he took his finger off. Attempt one was a disaster as he didn’t remove it until we had flown past the end of the country list, but attempt two was far more successful and he stopped at GAMBIA!
Already I am re-visiting West Africa, but unlike Burkina Faso there seems to be a great number of dishes to choose from, which are all specifically Gambian. Gambia has had many influences to its rich cuisine. Colonised by the Portuguese and then the British, it has been independent since 1964 and is, I read, well-known for the ability of local cooks to blend complex dishes together, particularly if the ingredients are not usually used together. This is exactly why I have chosen Superkanja! I have to admit that the name of the dish was a major part of my decision-making. Had the dish been called” Gambian Stew” I might not have looked at it with such excitement and gone with other potential dishes such as Yassa (chicken fried with onions) or Pepeh Soup (spicy with fish), but I just couldn’t resist any dish with the word “super” in it.
Superkanja is effectively a stew made of beef and smoked fish. I need to point out that at the point of writing this part of the blog I have not yet begun cooking, and have a distinct belief that this dish could potentially be absolutely disgusting. Bar crappy Surf and Turf in a seaside restaurant I have rarely thought to mix fish and meat, and to then stew the flavours together does sound different. It could be bad different, but people talk of this dish with such enthusiasm it makes me think that it could be very good, or they have grown up with it and know no different. A great example of this is the fruit found in New Zealand called Feijoa. My wife is a Kiwi and told me of this fruit which all New Zealanders have been brought up on as they can be found in most gardens. It is popular enough to have Vodka flavoured versions and to be a highly trendy drink in Auckland when served in bars with Apple Juice. A feijoa to an untrained palate is, however, revolting. It tastes somewhere near a pineapple and a pear but a bit rotten. Kiwi’s love them though and that must be the exposure to the flavour over the years. Is the fish and beef mix going to be another. We shall see!
At one point I thought I was going to keep us up until after midnight as the beef (as I really should have planned) took a long time to get to ‘melt in the mouth’. Making the dish was incredibly simple. I effectively chopped and lobbed everything in a pot and left it alone. The dish, predictably, smelt heavily of smoked fish for the first hour, but afterwards began to pick up ‘nose of beef’. Tasting as I went, the dish slowly took on flavour as at the start it just had watery heat.
When a dish is bad I will say so. I put together recipes from what I see online. If I then taste a dish, and it is horrible, I will say so. I am making this point this week as throughout the week I have been doubting this dish and the haddock going with the beef. I believed I wouldn’t enjoy it and I was prepared to say so….but I did! It worked brilliantly together. When served the fish, beef, okra and chillies had been stewing for two hours which meant that the beef had become tender but the rest of the ingredients had largely dissolved, well it worked! The okra had become a mush which became the base to a stew soup, the chillies had developed a deep spice and the fish had largely become seasoning. The dish was not fishy at all but, instead, the fish (with the okra) made the dish taste light, which is a feat in itself with beef. To eat, it was somewhere between a fork and a spoon but I wouldn’t serve it with anything else. It was a stew, a soup, a mush with tender beef lumps in it, but I liked it.
In summary, I am writing this blog at 10pm in our lounge. Two minutes ago I walked into the kitchen and my wife (Des) was picking beef (with fingers) out of the casserole and popping it in her mouth. That is a sure sign that this dish worked.
This makes for about 6.
250ml groundnut oil
700g stewing meat, cubed
2 onions, chopped
1 red pepper
2 chillies 2.5l water
1 smoked fish (I used Haddock) cut into cubes
1 fresh fish (I used Haddock again), cut into bite-sized pieces
800g of Okra chopped
2 Beef Stock Cubes
TBSP Chilli Powder
TBSP Ground Coriander
Salt to taste
Brown the meat in half the oil. Chuck everything else in bar 100ml of oil. Cook for 1 hour 45. Add the rest of the oil and let it go. Simple as that!