The Secret to Shelia’s “Chicken and Red Sauce”

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A friend of our son wants to make a him Ghanaian comfort food for his birthday.  Sheila’s Chicken and Red Sauce is the gold standard.  Prepared in the afternoon, the chicken is served room temperature with piping hot Red Sauce, white rice and a fruit salad. 
In 2009, Shelia taught me it’s secrets.

Shelia & Steve

[Steve & Shelia cooking in 2009]

There are two recipes that are cooked concurrently, often in the early afternoon before the house got hot.

Fried Chicken

8 medium onions, quartered
2 fists of garlic, skinned and cut
4 fingers of ginger, skinned and cut into slices
3 small chickens, cut up.
2t salt
Oil for frying (safflower or sunflower)

Method:

Chop onions, garlic and ginger in a food processor or blender until rough-smooth. Pour over cut up chicken and cook on medium-high heat for 10 minutes.
“steaming” the chicken

[“steaming” the chicken]

Add salt, stir and continue to cook until chicken thoroughly cooked and just starts to pull away from the bone. Shelia calls this “steaming the chicken.”
While chicken is “steaming” start work on the Red Sauce (see next recipe).
When chicken begins to pull away from the bone, steaming as long as 30 minutes (depending on the tenderness of the chicken) turn fire off and remove chicken with tongs and place in a colander, capturing the stock that drains off and returning it to the stock pot. Let chicken cool slightly.

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[frying the steamed chicken]

In a large, deep frying pan add one half to three quarters inch of light oil. Heat oil until hot, then carefully add chicken to one layer. Cook until chicken is deep brown on all sides and remove. Drain on paper towel, and cover. Cook chicken in batches.

 

Red Sauce

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[peppers and tomatoes]

32 Roma Tomatoes, quartered (or 3 large tins of diced tomatoes)
1 handful of small hot habanero peppers, steamed and seeded (if you want to reduce the heat).
3 medium onions, halved and then sliced in half moons.
1-2 cups light oil (safflower or sunflower)
2 tins of tomato paste (70gr each)
½ c dried shrimps (or 4 cubes of Maggie – Maggie is a concentrated flavor cube [wiki]).  Or use extra salt or flavoring cubes. 
4 cups stock from the steamed chicken (see previous recipe)
3 T curry powder
3 green peppers, cubed, or cut in nickel sized pieces  (add right before serving)

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[fried onions and pureed tomatoes and peppers]

Method:

In a large stock pan, fry onions in oil until just brown at the edges.
While onions are frying, puree tomatoes and peppers in a blender of food processor until smooth and add to fried onions. 

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[sauce reduction, see how its level reduces in pan]

Cook on high until reduced by half (about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning).
When reduced by half, add 2 tins of tomato paste, and blend until smooth, cooking on medium heat.
Add half cup of dried shrimps (or 4 cubes Maggie). Stir often to prevent burning.

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[dried ground shrimps added, see how much sauce has reduced]

Add 4 cups of stock from the chicken, (which should replace half of the liquid that was reduced by cooking). 

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[chicken stock added]

Cook until thick.  Add in 3 T curry powder and turn off fire and correct seasoning, adding salt if needed. 
Tip: Do not cook curry powder as it loses its flavor and becomes bitter.
Just before serving, stir in cubed green peppers.
Serve with rice and fruit salad.

Thoughts on Cooking

I wonder why it is I am drawn to doing the things that only last for the moment, like

performing music

preaching

cooking

things that are fully consuming, but once completed, become memories.
I look at the artwork my kids have made over the years, and they are for us, a moment in time, captured. But for most of what I really I enjoy doing, there are only memories.
Like my mom teaching me to make what I now call “Iowa Chili,” though it should more rightly be called “Kansas Chili” because that is where she was raised, but I learned it in Iowa. Iowa Chili doesn’t have garlic, it does have kidney beans, along with ground beef, and uses tomato sauce along with the whole tomatoes.
Texas Chili is way different, as is Grubstake Chili. Each has been taught to me in a kitchen of shared love, love of food, love of the cooking process, love of the companionship of learning and teaching food, and the stories.
At my first church, the kitchen was where everything important happened. We cooked together, talked, enjoyed each other’s friendship in that room. If I needed to think or talk to someone, staff knew it would happen in the kitchen.
At my last church, I taught a cooking class that prepared food for 100 in a couple of hours from raw ingredients.  It really was an excuse for us to gather in the kitchen and enjoy each other for a few hours.  It was an amazing kitchen. 
Not every church has a kitchen like that.  In one church I served the kitchen was a room designed by someone who doesn’t like to cook. It lacked a soul, odd for a building that has such vibrancy in its design and construction.
I know rooms are not alive, that they don’t have a soul, but there is something about this kitchen that is missing. It may be what my daughter Anna talks about, when she says “chain food” doesn’t have love in it. She can taste if the love is there, she says, and knows if the person who made it cared.
Food is symbolic of Love when words are inadequate. – Alan D. Wolfelt
Eating dinner that night Shelia taught me her Chicken and Red Sauce, around the Mozley’s large table, eating this wonderful food, with these great friends, I remember thinking, if my Anna was here, she would taste the love, and the friendship that produced and shared this meal. It made me think that food is not just to something to sustain our bodies, but when shared, to sustain our souls.
The secret to Shelia’s Chicken and Red Sauce?  Love.

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4 thoughts on “The Secret to Shelia’s “Chicken and Red Sauce”

  1. It is precisely becuase these particular moments are all-consuming that they fully engage us. They incarnate the transcendence that is among our purest experience of the Holy. In performing, preching, cooking, eating, we allow ourselves to be wholly in the moment, putting all of time and preception in dynamic perspective.

    • Oh wow! I had never seen it that way. In those moments, doing those things, we are 100% engaged. Cooking is a jealous art, turn your thoughts away for it, and she burns. But stay focused and we all are well rewarded.

  2. Don’t think I could eat this dish with all the habanero in it, but wish I could. It sounds so yummy. As for doing things that only last for a moment I don’t see it that way. There are so many great memories being created at that moment. Times to cherish. Our cooking class is a classic example of what I am talking about.

    • Hi Sandi – The Red Sauce isn’t actually that spicy-hot. Shelia would add three handfuls of peppers; I just toned it down. The chicken, amazing.

      The Cooking Class made some of my fondest memories of our time back in the states. You are right, while the product of that class has long left us, the memories and friendships forged in that kitchen are with me where ever we go. I can’t make bread rolls without thinking of you all, especially when I make a Rebecek (as I did tonight) to go with the Texas Chili Parlor #2 I whipped up over the week-end to share with Suzanne.

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