A few weeks before we were offered the opportunity to move to Tahiti, we got the alternative to go and work on the tiny island of Mayotte, in the Indian Ocean. We considered the offer for a few days, but when time came to make a decision, the option was not anymore on the table, as another candidate to the job had come forward first.
Nevertheless, we had already started to seek for information about the local culture, and – of course – food was not the least of our preoccupations. No kidding! After no longer than five minutes of web search, I had found out that rice was the staple of the daily diet in Mayotte, along with root vegetables and fish. Rice, thank G-d! After 7 years in China, I felt more than happy (and relieved) to learn that if we moved to Mayotte I could keep rice as the basis of my nutrition. I simply love rice, it is my “daily bread” as we would say in French.
Anyhow, we didn’t move to Mayotte – and have never been there yet, as a matter of fact. That didn’t refrain me from digging into the local food habits and favorite dishes of this island. That didn’t take me away from rice either, it is still my daily bread ;) I had pictured the island as being at the crossroad of different cultures in the Indian ocean, and its food tends to confirm this, as it does combine various influences from India, Arabia and Africa. It also is similar to the food of its neighbor island, Comoros.
Mayotte’s economy relies on fishing and raising livestock, as well as on the export of spices and plants including mostly ylang-ylang, Bourbon vanilla and lemongrass, and in a smaller proportion ginger, curcuma, cinnamon, cloves, hot pepper and nutmeg. That being said, I decided to cook a Chicken Pilao, which seems to be the basic of the basics in this area of the world, and a good chance to combine several of the spices mentioned above. Have a nice trip through my plate!
INGREDIENTS (for 8 servings)
- 1 large chicken – 1.8kg to 2 kgs – or the same weight of chicken thighs and drumsticks (I used chicken breasts because someone at home doesn’t like to cut around bones…)
- 2 yellow onions
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 500g of rice
- 3 fresh tomatoes (or 1 small can of peeled tomatoes with juices, about 400g)
- 2 tbsp of tomato paste
- 1 tbsp of curcuma
- 2 tsp of four spices mix (OR the same amount of cinnamon and cloves altogether)
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 1/2 dehydrated cube of chicken stock
- hot pepper flakes to taste
- salt and pepper
- Prepare the pieces of chicken for 8 servings (keep the skin on)
- Mince the onion and garlic.
- Heat olive oil in a cast-iron pan and start frying the onions.
- When they begin to turn golden, add the chicken skin-face down and grill until golden brown on both sides.
- Add the spices and the garlic. Quickly stir it all in.
- Pour the tomatoes with their juices and combine them in the pan.
- Add tomato paste with a bit of water and let simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Add the rice to the same pan and combine.
- Pour hot water over the rice and chicken to cover all pieces.
- Crumb the chicken stock cube over the rice, salt and pepper and stir well.
- Cook on low fire for 20 minutes.
- The dish is ready once the rice is cooked. Leave it at rest with a lid on for 10 minutes before serving.
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi. © 2018 All Rights Reserved.