One of the first things Cass and I did in Ethiopia was a long trek through the Simien Mountains to the ancient town of Lalibela. We walked more than 250km in 15 days, camping in villages along the way. It was tough, smelly and dusty, but beautiful and a great introduction to the country and the people.
The person in charge of keeping us alive was our guide, Nurlin Hassen. Nurlin’s late 30’s, a self-confessed mummy’s boy, hard-working, Muslim and staunchly proud of Ethiopia. He grew up as shepherd in the Simien Mountains but moved to the local town aged 11 after his father sold their 60 goats and used the money to buy a townhouse and send the children to school. He’s really good at draughts, a bit of a show-off and had seen a leopard on six different occasions – he almost bumped into one a couple of years’ ago whilst guiding a French couple. Remembering advice given to him by his parents when he was a shepherd boy, he walked slowly backwards, remembering not to look the animal in the eye, managing to save them from a grizzly end.
It won’t come as a surprise then that Nurlin’s ‘last supper’ is his mum’s Doro Wat, the meal chosen because it’s “the dish of Ethiopia” and the cook, well, because it’s his mum. Doro Wat literally means ‘chicken stew’ and is eaten with injera, which is a type of pancake eaten here by absolutely everyone, for breakfast lunch and supper (more on injera in a later blog).
It’s essential that the wat consists of a whole chicken divided into 12 pieces, showing your guests that you have cooked the meal fresh and aren’t serving up leftovers. The dish also includes boiled eggs, which is a massive WIN in my book as eggs are the don. But “the real key to making a good Doro Wat”, says Nurlin “is the cooking of the onions, spice and oil. It has to be cooked thoroughly, and it must be very hot”. The spice Nurlin’s talking about is berbere, which is a spice mix used in almost all Ethiopian cooking. The mix consists of red chillis which are dried and ground down along with ginger, cardamom, cloves and other spices. It’s slightly reminiscent of cayenne pepper, which some people use as a substitute. Or, if you can’t find the mix anywhere near you and you’re going to be an avid follower of this blog (it will come up a lot), then head to Pepper Scale for a recipe for berbere spice.
Recipe for Doro Wat
Serves 6 people
2 kg chicken, in 12 pieces
200ml vegetable oil
5kg onions (not Spanish), finely diced
4 tablespoons berbere spice mix
Chicken or vegetable stock cube
6 eggs, boiled, peeled and left whole
Separate your chicken into 12 pieces: back, breasts (into four pieces), wings, drumsticks, thighs. Wash the chicken thoroughly under water and then leave in a bowl of water with lemon and salt for 20 minutes, to draw out any impurities.
Heat the oil in a large casserole pot or heavy bottomed saucepan, then add the diced onions and cook on a medium-low heat until translucent and beginning to brown. Add the berbere pepper and continue to cook together on a low heat until the onions are soft and the berbere has blended with the onions. This is the most time consuming aspect of the recipe and will take about 40 minutes to one hour, but be patient as it will be worth it!
Whilst the onions and spices are cooking, remove the chicken from water and remove all moisture (this will stop the oil from spitting angrily when you add the chicken to the onions). You can do this by first squeezing the chicken with your hands and then patting dry with a clean jay cloth or tea towel.
Add your pieces of chicken to the onions and keep turning and stirring them so that they get nicely browned all over. The should hear a ‘sizzle’ from the pot – turn up the heat if necessary. Once all the pieces are browned add enough water to cover the chicken and crumble in a stock cube and some salt. Stir. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer, put a lid on the pot and leave to simmer very gently on the hob until the chicken is cooked.
Whilst the chicken is cooking, boil and peel your eggs and leave whole. There should be (at least) one egg per person. Place plates in the oven to warm.
Once the chicken is cooked, stir in the whole eggs. Check the taste and season as necessary. Eat immediately.
Serving suggestion: Doro Wat is usually dolloped into the middle of injera and then eaten communally by everyone with their hands. But if you don’t happen to be able to get your hands on any injera, this would be equally nice with some rice.