A Kenyan Pursuit: Perfecting the Chicken Dish Kuku Paka

Ms. Patel and her husband, Anil Patel, raised their two children in Nairobi, driving to Mombasa for family vacations by the beach, bringing home the flavors of the coast like a keepsake. Kuku paka, which has been part of her culinary repertoire for decades, is both celebratory and nostalgic.

She found what she needed at Fruity Fruits, a produce market that almost seemed to be showing off the city’s vast range of excellent, year-round ingredients. Back in her kitchen, Ms. Patel split open a few coconuts. She grated the white flesh and pressed the mass to make coconut milk, setting aside the sweet, cloudy water to braise the chicken.

Once the milk reduced a little, Ms. Patel added the braised meat and let it all bubble together. When the sauce was creamy, thick with finely ground cashews, and the leanest pieces of meat were tender, she threw cilantro and fried onions over the top and set the dish out beside a basket of mandazi, deep-fried yeasted buns still warm from the fryer.

As a dozen guests ate, a pile of clean chicken bones grew at the center of Ms. Patel’s table.

Kaluhi Adagala, 25, is a Nairobi food blogger who previously worked in the finance industry. She adds sprigs of fresh rosemary to her chicken marinade, crushing the needles to release their pine-scented oils.

“For Kenyans who are more inland, this dish is an occasion,” she said, noting its richness. “We make it only from time to time.”

When Ms. Adagala does make it, she braises the chicken in coconut, tinted with turmeric, and serves it over hot rice, or with a stack of supple chapati. She also likes it with ugali, the plainly delicious boiled cornmeal that, unlike kuku paka, is an everyday pleasure.


Fruity Fruits, a produce market in Nairobi, Kenya, has a wide range of ingredients year-round.

Adriane Ohanesian for The New York Times

Madhur Jaffrey, the actor and author, who…

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