My spice paste is very thick, a mahogany color, a deep, dark, beautiful red. The first taste is sweetness, and then you taste the pepper and oil.
Doro Wot is a spicy chicken stew garnished with hard-boiled eggs that have been steeped in the sauce. It’s often called the national dish of Ethiopia, featured both at family celebrations and on almost every restaurant menu.
I wrote down the following recipe after watching Zenash at Ras Dashen. It’s filtered through my own experiences in the kitchen. As Zenash has taught me, every woman is entitled to her own style. Doro wat is best made the day before you plan to serve it, allowing the flavors to develop.
The dish starts with the same base that is used in most Ethiopian cooking: a paste made of slowly melted onions, ground fresh ginger, and garlic. The technique for melting and caramelizing the onions is the same as one published in an earlier issue of the Cook’s Gazette.
Caramelizing the quantity of onions used in this recipe can take up to three hours, with close attention paid after the first fifteen minutes. Three pounds of onions will reduce to little more than a cup, but a tablespoon of this mixture can perfume a whole dish. The depth of flavor achieved by slowly reducing and browning the onions is worth the time and focus involved. I usually set up my TV next to the stove and binge watch a favorite series so as not to be tempted to rush the process.
Zenash butchers her chickens the way her grandmother taught her when she was a girl. First, she skins the whole bird as quickly as an experienced mother extracts her infant from a pair of onesies. She saves the skin and wing-tips for stock, and then cuts the bird into seven pieces: two drumsticks, two thighs, two half-breasts, minus the tenders. She leaves the tenders wrapped around the breastbone to create the seventh piece. You can always buy chicken parts, on the bone, and remove the skin. However, in Ethiopia where everything is used, this would be considered a wasteful way to shop.
Basic Sauce for Spicy Stews
2 pounds of yellow onions, minced
1 pound of red onions, minced
4 – 6 Tbl olive oil
8 Tbl finely minced garlic
8 Tbl minced fresh ginger
4 Tbl berbere mixed spice **
Place the oil and onions in a heavy bottomed pan, covered, over medium heat. Let them cook in their own steam for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Uncover the pan, reduce the heat, and cook very slowly, stirring more and more frequently as the onions brown. Plan on this taking a hour or two.
When the onions are golden-brown, add the garlic and fresh ginger. If the mixture sticks to the bottom of the pan, add a little more oil. Continue to cook over low heat, always stirring just as the mixture starts to catch on the bottom of the pan.
The onions are done when they are a rich brown color, soft, and incredibly fragrant.
Thoroughly incorporate the berbere mixed spice. Cook for fifteen minutes longer to bloom the flavors.
This sauce base will keep for several days in the refrigerator. It also freezes well.
** The spice mixture Berbere can be mail ordered from Brundo, an Ethiopian market in California, purchased at the Spice House in Chicago, or made from scratch. See Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s recipe online as a starting point.
Spicy Chicken Stew
Berbere-Onion sauce base made with 3 pounds onions and 8 tbl each, minced ginger and garlic
4 pounds chicken, skinned and cut into parts, with the thick part of the breasts and thighs slashed to allow the sauce to penetrate.
2 Tbl olive oil
4 cups chopped canned tomatoes with their juice, preferably a fire-roasted brand or 4 cups skinned puréed fresh tomatoes
1 Tbl kosher salt
2 cups boiling chicken stock or water
Salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste
4-6 hard-boiled eggs, with 4 lengthwise slits cut into each egg
½ cup niter kibbeh (optional)
Injera bread, for serving
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat in a large (5 quart) heavy-bottomed pan.
When the oil is hot and begins to shimmer, sear the chicken on all sides, a few pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pan. The chicken should be nicely browned on all sides.
Coat the chicken with the berbere sauce base and add the tomatoes, salt, and boiling broth or water. Simmer on low for 45 minutes or so, until the chicken is very tender and infused with the sauce.
In the last five minutes of cooking, add the hard-boiled eggs and let them gently simmer.
For a smooth, voluptuous finish to the sauce, stir in the niter kibbeh
Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Serve with injera for dipping in the sauce.