This is what everyone looks forward to when they go to shags (village). That wonderful free range taste and texture that you can’t get without the free range kuku (chicken).
And it’s not just the chicken. It’s also who’s cooking it. In this case it’s usually mama/grandma depending on what stage of your life you’re in. Served with that hard ugali (maize meal) and vegetables she makes for her workers. Fork? Knife? What are those? You eat it with your hands. Sitting on a bench outside the kitchen, in the open air, and the shade of an old tree, savouring every bite to the end. Leaving that last piece of ugali to wipe the plate with, then you proceed to lick your fingers clean.
Now that we have the picture, lets get on with the recipe…
I have attempted severally to replicate my mother-in-law’s stew but just couldn’t come close. Or at least that’s what my husband said. When she said she was coming to town I told her I wanted to learn this recipe. So my post today is really Mama’s post!
Wash your kuku thoroughly with plenty of water. When done, make sure you clean the utensils and sink you used for cleaning the kuku before using them for anything else.
While she was cleaning the chicken, she told me how she selected it:
When she goes to buy her kienyeji, she prefers to pick a live one and watch them dress it, just to ensure it’s done properly. If you do the same, she says to select the young jogoo (rooster). You will get softer meat with the same kienyeji flavour. It will soften faster in the cooking process, which saves you time.
If you buy yours already dressed, here’s how to tell which one is a the jogoo; they tend to have longer wing spans and stand taller, so the wings and drumsticks will be longer than usual. Stretch them out (or ask the seller to) for a good look to size them up. The jogoos are also very lean birds, so it will not have much fat on it if at all, it will also appear quite skinny. But not to worry she said, it is still plenty of meat.
Once you are done washing the bird, cut him up to the usual pieces and place the pieces in a large enough pot for cooking. Then add some water and salt to taste. You don’t need a lot of water as you can see in the photo above. The pieces should not be fully submerged, they don’t need to be submerged in order to cook properly.
Cover and cook on medium heat, checking on it regularly to stir, and to ensure the water doesn’t run out before the bird is cooked and soft. Add small amounts of water as needed.
While the chicken is cooking, you can prepare the other ingredients. Peel and chop up a couple of tomatoes and a large onion. If you like garlic, chop/crush your desired number of cloves for the size of your bird.
How do you know the chicken ready for the next step? Well, this might sound like an obvious question but it’s where I’ve missed the mark the most. If you overcook the bird the meat toughens up again and also becomes tasteless. My old strategy was to cook it as long as possible to soften it, not knowing that overcooking changes the texture of the meat, and is later unpleasant to eat no matter how well spiced/seasoned it is.
So when is it ready? She said to look out for the meat pulling back from the bones, as in the drumstick in the photo above. The meat is almost 1/3 way up the bone! (Compare with first photo of the drumstick when it was first put in the pot) Once that happens then you need to check the meat for softness — up until this day I had never checked chicken for softness while cooking! Poke the meat with your finger or a fork, to test for softness.
When it feels soft, let the water dry out and allow the meat to fry a little before adding the other ingredients. Keep in mind that this is free range chicken, it will not reach the softness of that other chicken. But eating it doesn’t have to feel like a fight, you know?
Once it’s fried a bit, add the onions with a bit of water and stir.
Once the onions soften add the tomatoes, the garlic and your desired spices. For this we used a teaspoon of garam masala.
Keep stirring till all the added ingredients soften, adding water as needed so that it doen’t dry out.
Once everything has melded together nicely, taste for salt, and serve.
Served mine with ugali and simple fried sukuma.
It was delicious! Just the way I remember it when I think about eating it in the village.
So how about you? How do you like your kuku kienyeji cooked? Please share in the comments below, and let me know how you like this one when you try it.