Friday 26 April 2019

Doro Wat (Ethiopian Chicken Stew)

Doro Wat is Ethiopia's national dish and it's easy to see why. In all honesty, this may be the most delicious recipe on this entire blog. The flavours you get out of this dish are unbelievable. They come at a price, however. This dish is labour intensive and takes a long time to make. If you take on this recipe, it will be a project, be warned. Is it worth it? Absolutely. There is a lot of stirring, but it's not exactly difficult. It just takes patience and perseverance. This dish took me nearly 4 hours and believe it or not, that's a rather quick version. In some households this dish can take an entire day. It's certainly for a special occasion.

'Doro' means chicken and 'Wat' (sometimes spelled "wot" or "wet") means stew. But not all chicken stews are doro wat. This is THE doro wat. Essentially, onions are cooked down and caramelized in a dry pan for a long time until jammy. Then berbere spice (an East African blend) and niter kibbeh (a spiced Ethiopian butter) are added and it cooks and reduces even more. Then chicken pieces and a bit liquid are added. After the chicken is cooked and tender, hardboiled eggs are added to the stew. There are some crucial steps that cannot be rushed or omitted. The flavours are so incredibly complex. Sweet, spicy, savoury... plus you get to eat the chicken and the egg! 

I want to talk about something: washing chicken. People seem to either swear by doing it every time or never. I'm not here to try to sway you either way. You do whichever you feel most comfortable doing. I feel it's worth noting that almost all of the recipes I researched advised to wash the chicken in salty water with lemon before cooking. Personally, I've always been taught that washing chicken is unnecessary and increases the risk of cross contamination. Therefore I never do it and this recipe was no exception. If you're asking me, I don't recommend it. But if you don't mind and want to go for the totally authentic experience, suit yourself. Some versions specified to remove the chicken skin as well. I don't usually in a stew recipe so I kept mine on. In total you want about 2 lbs of chicken pieces. I opted to use just chicken drumsticks, which was about 8 of them. You can use any chicken parts you like. Although I recommend bone-in pieces as they are traditional and flavour the sauce more. 

Brace yourselves, here we go...


2 lbs chicken drumsticks (about 8)
6 tbsp (total)  Niter Kibbeh
1 cup oil, suitable for frying like canola, peanut or rapeseed (you may not need this much)
6-8 tsp berbere spice, depending on personal preference
6 large red onions, very finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
Salt, to taste
1-2 cups of water or chicken stock (to add as required)
1 tbsp of Mitmita spice (can be substituted with garam masala, in a pinch)
6 eggs, hardboiled and peeled

The first step is to finely chop 6 large red onions. Yes, you need a surprising amount of onions for this. I really recommend a food processor for this to save you from the manual labour and tears. 

Warm a dry, heavy-bottomed pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add all the finely chopped red onion. Just to be clear, the pan must be dry. No oil, butter or any fat at this stage. This is crucial to a good doro wat. The initial sautéeing stage, traditionally, is at least 60 minutes. I went for 90. The goal is to dry out the onions into a sweet paste. Nearly constant stirring is essential in order to keep the onions from burning. If you burn your wat, there will be no saving it. You can cover the pan between intervals of stirring, but don't leave it for more than a couple of minutes or so at a time. This will help to keep some steam in the pot. 

Reduce the heat to medium-low and adjust as necessary. You want to maintain a gentle cooking process. About halfway through my 90 minutes of dry frying, my onions looked like this:

There should be plenty of water naturally in the onions to keep it from burning. In a pinch you can add a tbsp or so of water, but only if it's critical. The idea is to cook as much of the liquid out of the onions as possible without burning them. As this was my first time cooking it, there were times where I felt like most of this recipe was just guiding these onions on a long journey while keeping them within an inch of burning, lol. I can't stress this enough, this step cannot be rushed or skipped. 

After an hour or so of dry frying your onions should be a pasty consistency. Now it's finally time to add some fat. Start with 1/2 a cup of oil and add more if necessary. I ended up adding up to a full cup of oil, but this will depend on your onions. Continue frying for an additional 15 minutes or so. 

Next, add 6-8 tsp (depending how hot/flavourful you want it) of berbere spice blend. Stir to incorporate. Then stir in about 3 tbsp of niter kibbeh. More will be added later. Then add 1 tbsp of ginger-garlic paste and stir that in. 

You've come this far and deserve a gold star, but guess what, the wat needs to be stirred for about another hour more. During this time the flavours will develop and the paste will become quite jammy. Keep the heat around medium-low and adjust as necessary. Your only job is to be patient and keep the wat from burning. I was about 3 hours into cooking time when I reached the end of this step and mine looked like this:

Add 1-2 cups of water or chicken stock and turn the heat back up to medium. Stir and bring the mixture to a simmer. 

Now it's finally time to add the chicken, but first, make 2 incisions in each drumstick to allow the flavour to penetrate. 

Add the drumsticks to the sauce and reduce the heat back to medium-low. Stir occasionally and cook for 40 minutes.

This is a good time to hardboil 6 eggs and peel them. Halfway through cooking add 1 tbsp of Mitmita spice. After the chicken has cooked, add about 3 additional tbsp of niter kibbeh. Taste and adjust for seasoning (after all the love and care that's gone in at this point, it can't not be delicious).

Using a knife, cut a few incisions in the white of each hardboiled egg to allow the flavours to get in. Then add them and gently stir them in. Let the wot cook for a final few minutes and you're done.

Doro wat (and most other Ethiopian dishes) are traditionally eaten with injera, a mildly fermented flatbread. I haven't been quite able to master making it from scratch on my own, but I can get mine from an Ethiopian restaurant on my street. At the end of the day, it's a scrumptious chicken stew. If you can't get or make injera, you can still enjoy it with any other flatbread, rice or couscous. I really recommend it with injera though. 

This was my first time making doro wat. I've had it before at restaurants, including once in Kenya which shares a border with Ethiopia. The biggest difference I've noticed is that the texture of my sauce differed a bit from the more authentic versions I've tried. Mine was thicker and jammier and other times I've found it a bit thinner. Perhaps it just comes down to personal taste. If you want your sauce to be thinner, just add more water. It was delicious either way. Please make a point in your life to try this dish. It's unlike anything you may have ever tried. The love, patience and skill that goes into its preparation are a real privilege to enjoy. 

This is one of if not the most labour-intensive, challenging recipes on the entire blog. Anyone can do it with the right discipline. In that sense it's easy, but it's not for the faint of heart. I hope I haven't scared you off. This was actually a fun experiment with a ravingly delicious reward. If I haven't inspired you to make it, I hope you have at least enjoyed the pictures. lol

Stay tuned, lots of other Ethiopan recipes on the horizon...

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