Safari Picnic Curried Chicken
Naboisho Camp in Kenya is formed of a series of large canvas tents, the main communal area formed of two especially big tents supported by wooden beams, and completely open along both the front and back sides. Beyond the tents, there is a circular area of clipped grass in the centre of which grows a tall native fig tree. A long table is set for lunch under the tree, and on another table a picnic buffet is spread atop a pale chequered table cloth. I no longer recall what I had expected 'safari food' to be like (lots of things from tins perhaps?), but the genteel little summer picnic scene played out on a small patch of manicured land, otherwise completely surrounded by the African bush, made for a very pleasant surprise. Comfortably seated in a canvas camping chair, tucking into fresh bread, chicken salad and homemade chutneys, pouring a lunchtime glass of wine from a beautiful sea glass carafe, it is easy to forget that the camp has no fences, and that where the clipped grass stops, and the long grass starts, a host of as yet unseen inhabitants lurk - inhabitants to whom I might constitute a similarly tasty lunch!
The following dish is a bit of a tribute to the Naboisho picnic experience that aims to also pick up on some of the regional flavours and ingredients of Kenya. At the same time, the colonial flavour of the activity of safari-ing itself comes through in the style of the dish, and the strong Indian influence in East African cuisine (arriving courtesy of the merchants and tradespeople who migrated from the sub-continent in the 19th century) is also felt.
Spicy, sticky and very more-ish, this curry is also tropical enough to lend itself to being made with prawns instead of chicken, and would also be good served hot, with a side of pilau rice.
- 1kg chicken breast
- 10 tablespoons of sunflower or canola oil
- 1 medium-sized brown onion – finely chopped
- 3cm piece of ginger – finely grated
- 2 red chillies – the first de-seeded and finely chopped, the second finely sliced to garnish
- 2 cloves garlic – crushed
- ½ teaspoon of turmeric
- 2 teaspoons of curry powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon of whole cloves (approx. 8 individual cloves)
- 4 tablespoons coconut cream
- 4 tablespoons mango chutney
- 200g cherry tomatoes – chopped into eighths
- Salt and black pepper
- 4 tablespoons of tinned pineapple chunks (or 2 rings of tinned pineapple) – roughly chopped into small segments
- 3 limes
- Small bunch of coriander leaves to garnish – roughly chopped
- 1 spring onion to garnish – finely sliced
Grind the whole cloves into a powder using a mortar and pestle, then toast this alongside the other ground spices (cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, and curry powder) in a dry frying pan over a medium heat. When the spices become fragrant, (usually after about 3 minutes or so), remove from the heat and set aside.
In a wide casserole pan, (one that is big enough to accommodate the chicken), heat 4 tablespoons of the sunflower oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and gently fry this until it begins to colour slightly. Now add the grated ginger, chopped red chilli, and crushed garlic. Fry everything together for a further 4 minutes, stirring frequently so as to prevent the garlic from burning. Once cooked, scrape the mixture out of the fry pan and into bowl. Put this aside for now.
Prepare the chicken by carefully removing any tendon, and then chopping the meat into bite-sized cubes. Using the same pan as for the onion mixture, heat the remaining 6 tablespoons of sunflower oil over high heat. The idea now is to lightly fry the chicken, until it golden on all sides, but not cooked through. Depending on the size of your pan, it may be necessary to do this in batches, as the pan does have to be hot to get a good sear and overcrowding reduces the temperature.
Once all the chicken is looking lovely and golden, reduce the heat to medium-low, and re-introduce the onion mixture to the pan, along with the toasted spice mix. Stir until everything is combined, then add the mango chutney, and coconut cream. Simmer for a further two minutes, before adding the chopped tomatoes. Sprinkle in some salt and this stage, (approx. 2 teaspoons), along with a generous grind of black pepper.
This dish is intended to be almost jammy in texture as opposed to a liquid-y curry. Having said this, depending on how juicy or otherwise your tomatoes are, it may be necessary to add up to about 100ml of water at this stage. Proceed with caution though, if you think you need it, add about half this, and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes or so before you add any more as the tomatoes will continue to release more water as they cook.
Once you’ve added any necessary water, cover the pan with a lid, and, keeping the heat at a simmer, continue to cook for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
To finish, stir through the pineapple segments, and squeeze in the juice of two of the limes. Mix everything through and do a quick seasoning check – add more lime, salt, or pepper to taste if you’d like.
Sprinkle with some chopped coriander, sliced spring onion, red chilli, and lime wedges to garnish. The chicken is equally nice served hot, if you'd prefer to eat it that way, but best not to serve freezing cold and straight from the fridge, leave it out to warm up a bit first!