Massa-massa-maaaaaan! Mystery chicken stew.

I am, typically speaking, a big fan of the happy accident. Which is probably a good thing, when you consider the fact that I am the Jedi Master of the crap-in-a-pan philosophy of cooking. It’s an approach that is aptly named–both because it’s a crapshoot, and because when you get it wrong, well…you’ve got an accurate description of the catastrophe. But when you get it RIGHT…well. When you get it right, you end up with something like my mystery chicken stew.

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Note: It’s not really all that mysterious; it’s basically a west-african-thai dish, kind of a jacked-up massaman curry, but that’s so wordy. And wouldn’t YOU be interested in getting to know Mystery Chicken Stew?

Mystery chicken stew was born, weirdly, of a trip to the office cafeteria. Like most cafeterias, it’s not known for its wild and/or innovative offerings; this day was no exception–the endless rows of prepackaged turkey sandwiches basically forced my attention to the soup station, which piqued my curiosity with a savory peanut soup.  It smelled heavenly, though not quite heavenly enough to inspire me to purchase it (I find it suspect when cafeterias attempt to go global; it’s a terrible prejudice of mine). It did, however, smell good enough to make me wonder how I could co-opt the concept for use in my own kitchen. With this in mind, I tickered back to my desk and did what I usually do when I’m ruminating over a recipe: I called Bench, who not only gave me an inventory of the contents of the kitchen, but pulled my peanut-butter-obsessed brain back from the brink of such horrors as peanut-butter-and-preserves chicken (don’t ask).

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Between us, we determined that we had the necessary ingredients to put together an excellent franken-dish–something with the kick of a thai curry and a decadent infusion of peanutty-satay-goodness, with the sweet vegetable profile of an indian massaman curry. Something surprisingly easy to put together, something flavorful and delicious and while not entirely unexpected, fully fantastic–sweet and savory and complex (and nowhere near as heavy as one would expect). Everything you could want from Crap-In-A-Pan cookery.

Or, put simply by my friend J, “It was delicious. The end.”

Mystery Chicken Stew!

1 large onion, sliced
3-4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″cubes
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2lbs chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 c smooth peanut butter (I recommend using a non-natural variety–the extra sweetness will work really well)
1/2 c coconut milk (you can use lite/lowfat)
2 c chicken stock
1 lime, zested and cut into wedges
1 tsp thai red curry paste, dissolved in 1 tbsp warm water
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
3-4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
Scallions (chopped) for garnish

  1. Over medium heat, saute onions in some olive oil until just translucent (3-5 min); crank heat and add the sweet potatoes, cooking till they start to blacken and blister slightly (2-3 minutes).
  2. Add the chicken and cook till just non-pink (3-4 min); add garlic and cook one more min, stirring frequently
  3. Reduce heat to low and add stock, coconut milk, peanut butter, tomatoes, and curry paste. Cover and simmer for 60-75 minutes.
  4. Uncover, add cilantro and lime zest and simmer for 10 more minutes.
  5. Serve with scallions, lime wedges, and a healthy appetite.
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