Evoking memories of Ghana Chicken Stew with Rice
Ghana Chicken stew with rice holds a special place in my heart. This dish signified new beginnings and transition from boyhood into manhood. This was the dish my family had every Sunday without fail. The day that we all put on our Sunday best and waltzed into church. Church was normally finished by 1 pm and then bam to the exciting bit of the day (or so I thought)! It was time for Chicken Stew with rice after the 20 or so minute drive home through Accra’s traffic to Awudome estates, Kaneshie in Accra.
As a 14 year old, I learnt how to boil rice partly by watching others and experimenting. I became an expert in knowing intuitively how much water to boil rice in to get that single grain consistency. Rice cookers and measuring cups did not feature in my life.
This indeed was the first meal I ever cooked. This was my Bar Mitzvah of sorts without too much fuss. It was my out-dooring without the ceremony. It was a rite of passage from dependence to independence. In one fell swoop I knew cooking did not belong to the realms of magic. It can be done; even I could cook! I knew if I were ever to metamorphose into McCauley Caulkin I’d survive being home alone and will not starve. All I had to do was think of it as a process. A combination of edible things called ingredients in the right form and the chucking of these into a cooking utensil on fire was all that was needed. The idea of cutting onions the “right” way, adding spices and herbs and regulating heat for cooking were merely garnishes to this process that I picked up in later life. I certainly had no idea what Umami was and had very little regard for cookbooks. Tintin and Asterix were far more interesting to read.
Did I mess up and get it wrong sometimes? Too much salt? Over did the pepper? Forgot all about the onions? Yes I did on more than a few occasions possibly several times but that never dented my new found confidence in creating food. I never cooked anything that was not edible because the word edible was just not part of my vocabulary or consciousness. As Long as I cooked it; I ate it and on the occasions that I messed up big time my imagination just kicked in and as I imagined it tasting like mum’s I was good to go.
As someone once said, “All of us have had the experience of hearing a tune from childhood and having that melody evoke a memory or a feeling. The music we hear early on tends to stay with us all our lives.” Chicken stew with rice is that tune for me. It brings back memories of a happy childhood in tropical Africa. It brings back memories of routine, associating certain dishes with certain days. It brings back memories of over indulging and being forced by mother “carbohydrate” to partake in a quick shut eye. It brings back memories of waking up too late in the day with shouts of “Have you done your homework?” from mum. It brings back memories of dreading Monday mornings at school as Mondays were the mornings for “Mental”, “mental” being the name we (pupils) gave to the tortuous ritual of being asked a series of mathematical questions like “what is 23-9 times 4?” and being expected to answer in less than 5 seconds flat or else you got the sharp end of the teacher’s wooden ruler on your knuckles. Ouch!
Ghana Chicken stew with rice always takes me to the beginning, when there was no mortgage to pay off, no bosses to answer to at work, when the haircut was taken straight out of the movies “house party” and “boys n the hood”, when Michael Jackson looked, well still kinda black, when I thought Bill Clinton was cool and Monika Lewinsky could not spell the word, intern. This was the time when I thought the Cosby show was real, when words like “recession” and names like “Iraq” and “Syria” were not known by news readers.
Fast-forward to 2000 and something and the world now looks different for this thirty something grown man. I googled images of Ghana Chicken Stew with rice this morning, bought the spices I use in this dish online and I am planning to post photos of my latest Ghana Chicken Stew with rice creation on Pinterest and Facebook and will definitely twit a couple of the photos too! I love and thrive on change. As C.S Lewis once said, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” One thing though remains stagnant in my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The flavour and taste of that traditional Ghana Chicken stew with rice. Some things are just best left unchanged.
Armed with one whole layer chicken, which was what I grew up with I embarked on a Sunday odyssey to yet again and possibly for the 1000th time recreate history. The chicken, which reminds me of those days were those free ranging ones that used to forage in our backyard in Accra. I found the closest thing to that – layer chicken – in a specialist butcher in North London. Onions, tomatoes and some spices and a couple of other ingredients were all I needed, and I was good to go.
Get the recipe for Ghana Chicken stew