Sunday, January 22, 2012

African Inspired Chicken in Red Pepper Sauce

Plate with Drumstick, Millet, and Red Pepper Sauce
Chicken & Red Pepper Sauce over Millet

Recipe by Robin

Way back when in ’89, I started studying African drumming. My Nigerian mentor, Danjuma, not only played hand drums, guitar, bass, trapset drums, and trumpet, but also cooked up a variety of spicy hot tomato-based stews.  He used chickpeas, potatoes, spinach to make a vegetarian stew, and sometimes would make chicken stews. All of these were fiery hot. He also prepared “foufou,” a thick millet, which could be rolled into balls and dipped in the stew, a tradition enjoyed in many African cultures. Many variations of red pepper stewed chicken are prepared throughout Africa.

At last night’s dinner party, our guest chef Joe prepared his African inspired Pumpkin Mash with Spinach & Peanuts (recipe soon!). I wanted a simple, red-peppery chicken dish and a grain to accompany this, and thought of Danjuma’s stews with millet. I don’t have any of his recipes (yet), and am sure I’ve simplified his ideas. I’ve also borrowed some ingredients from Sierra Leone via U. of Pennsylvania’s African Studies Center recipe collection: bell pepper, garlic powder, and poultry seasoning. I also brought the searing spiciness down a few notches, to moderately spicy.

It’s more or less an art to adjust the amount of chili-based heat in a dish. Experiment with your chilies to find out how hot they are and how spicy you like your food. I used small dried chilies that look similar to dried cayenne. If you don’t have those on hand, use crushed red pepper, starting with about 1 ½ tsp. for moderately fiery, or to your taste. Underestimate rather than overestimate the chili quantity. You can always add powdered cayenne to your plate, but trying to un-chili a too-hot dish never works, no matter how much grain you eat with it.

Red Chili on Plate of Chicken in Red Pepper Sauce over Millet
Note Size & Shape of Chili
African Inspired Chicken in Red Pepper Sauce
serves about 8 - 10

1 – 2 tbsp. peanut oil
1 large onion
1 medium bell pepper
6 whole chicken legs, about 3 ½ lbs.
1 tsp. Spike or other seasoned salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. poultry seasoning
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 – 28 oz. can crushed fire roasted tomatoes
12 small dried red chilies

Remove skin and fat from chicken and cut drumstick and thigh sections apart. Chop onion very finely and dice bell pepper into small (~1/4 inch) pieces.

Pour 1 tbsp. of peanut oil into a preheated electric frying pan or large skillet, and sauté onions and bell peppers until they start to get soft. Move veggies to side of pan and add chicken. Lightly brown on both sides, adding more oil if needed.

Mix together tomatoes, Spike or seasoned salt, garlic powder, poultry seasoning, and black pepper, and add this to the chicken, stirring around to be sure each piece is surrounded by sauce.

Remove stem ends of chilies. Distribute chilis throughout the sauce, leaving a few whole and breaking up the rest.

Simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally to distribute hot chili flavor and turn chicken. Serve over cooked millet or rice.


  1. As one of the lucky dinner guests I very much enjoyed the African Inspired Chicken in Red Pepper Sauce, the foufou, and the Pumpkin Mash. Of course I'm also a nut for Very Hot and Spicy, so I would have loved to sample the full bore Danjuma fire!

    Grain alone might not quench the fire for most folks, but I found that the Pumpkin Mash a cooling complement to the spicy chicken.

  2. Thanks, James. Next time we'll crank up the amount of chilies.