Kuku paka is a chicken and coconut curry, from the coastal East Africa, the region extending from the Northern point of Kenya to the southern point of Tanzania. Kuku means ‘chicken’ in the Swahili language spoken in the area. The dish is also sometimes called ‘kuku na nazi’ (chicken and coconut).
A perfect blend of heady spices and creamy coconut milk, absorbed by chunky pieces of chicken, kuku paka shows African, Arabic, and Indian influences.
Kuku paka is quite adaptable in that the chicken can be cooked in different ways – charcoal grilled, steamed or braised. Similarly, the sauce can be spicy or mild as per your preference. And as can be imagined, there are quite a few variations of the dish. For this recipe, I’ve used skinless, boneless chicken thighs.
Shrimp or firm fleshed fish can also be substituted for chicken in this dish.
Kuku paka represents rich and well rounded flavors. The dish is usually served with cooked rice, rotis or other flat breads.
K is for Kuku Paka
- In a food processor or blender, grind together tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic, chiles, cumin and coriander into a coarse paste.
- Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Apply half of the paste to the chicken and set aside in the fridge to marinate for 1 to 4 hours.
- When ready to cook, heat a large pan, (preferably a grill pan) on high heat. Add 2 tablespoon of cooking oil till very hot. Place the chicken pieces in the pan, without overlapping and cook for three minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium and turn over the chicken pieces. Continue to cook for another three to four minutes.
- Remove the chicken pieces to a plate and set aside.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan and add the remaining ground paste. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook the paste on medium heat, stirring to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan and burn.
- When the paste becomes thick and is almost dry, add the coconut milk to the pan. Mix well, loosening up any bits on the bottom of the pan.
- Place the chicken pieces in the pan. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and continue to cook on simmer till the sauce has thickened, and the chicken is cooked through, maybe for another 20 to 25 minutes.
- When the sauce starts to stick to the chicken pieces, add the lemon juice to the pan and mix well.
- Check the seasoning and turn off the heat. Arrange the chicken pieces on a platter and serve with rice or flat breads.