African chicken, like Singapore noodles and Yangzhou fried rice, is hard to find in its namesake place. The dish is popular in the Chinese gambling hub of Macau, where it is often listed on menus by its Portuguese name, galinha à Africana. It is a spicy, finger-lickin’ dish that goes well with a pitcher (or two) of sangria to tame the heat.
When you order this dish in Macau, you never know exactly what you are going to get. It will be some type of spicy chicken, but at some restaurants the marinated poultry is grilled and served without sauce, while at others it is more like a stew, with pieces of chicken swimming in sauce.
Some versions are fiery hot, while in others the taste of coconut dominates. And don’t get me started on what the chicken is served with – I’ve eaten it with rice, sautéed potatoes and, my favourite, home-made potato chips (packaged varieties are fine, too).
This recipe is a cross between different versions that I've enjoyed. I marinate the chicken, grill it, then bake it in the oven with the marinade, which was reduced on the stovetop to a sauce consistency. Allow plenty of time for the chicken to marinate; it needs at least three hours, although you can leave it for up to eight.
I make this with bone-in chicken thighs, but you can also use bone-in breasts. If you do use breasts, reduce the cooking time slightly so the meat doesn't dry out.
Dry the chicken pieces with paper towels. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken pieces with salt, then put them in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
Roughly chop the shallots, garlic and ginger, then put them in the bowl of a blender or food processor (or use an immersion blender). Mince the bird’s-eye chillies, shaking out as many seeds as possible as you go. Roughly chop the banana chillies and fresh coriander. Add these to the food processor or blender.
Add the peppercorns, sugar, chilli powder, paprika and 10 grams of salt to the food processor or blender and process the ingredients to a coarse paste. Add the fish sauce, vinegar and lime juice, and process the ingredients to a rough purée.
Stir the coconut milk into the purée, then pour the marinade into the bowl holding the chicken. Mix well to ensure the pieces are coated with marinade and refrigerate for three to eight hours, mixing occasionally. Take the bowl from the fridge an hour before cooking the chicken.
Preheat the grill element of the oven, turning it to high. Take the chicken out of the bowl and wipe off as much marinade as possible. Place the pieces skin-side up in one layer on a baking tray. Grill the chicken on high until the skin is deep brown and slightly charred in spots, then turn the oven to baking mode at 200°C (390°F) and bake the chicken for eight minutes for breasts, and 10 minutes for thighs.
While the chicken is cooking, pour the marinade into a heatproof serving dish (such as enamelled cast iron) just large enough to fit the chicken pieces a little snugly in one layer. Place over a medium flame and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring often, until the sauce is a nice coating consistency. Taste the sauce and correct the seasonings, as necessary. If it's too spicy add more sugar and/or coconut milk.
After the chicken has baked for 8-10 minutes, take the pan from the oven. Pour any chicken juices into the serving dish and mix well. Place the chicken in the dish and spoon the sauce over the pieces to lightly coat them. Place the dish in the oven and bake for another 8-10 minutes.
Take the dish from the oven, place sprigs of fresh coriander over the chicken pieces and serve immediately with rice or potatoes.