This recipe looked so good, and yet, I totally messed it up – I didn’t check the quality of my ingredients. I was looking to make odika chicken from this great looking recipe at Madd Cooking (in French). Odika, also called wild mango, African mango, or ogbono, is the kernel of a plant that only grows in Central Africa – it’s used in Nigerian, Cameroonian, and Gabonese cuisine. It’s supposed to give a rich, cocoa flavour and thickens stews. However, if it’s been stored too long, it spoils and takes on a strong soapy flavour.
I probably should have looked that up first.
Instead, I bought a package of ground odika that had been shipped to Canada from Nigeria and then placed on the back shelf of a grocery store for enough time to gather dust. When they say spoiled odika smells soapy when cooked, they don’t mean just a little bit soapy. They mean powerful, chemical, “back of a laundromat” scent, almost like lye (it reminded me of lutfisk, and that’s not good). I should have pulled back and saved the remaining ingredients once the smell filled up my kitchen, but I thought that maybe the soapy smell would cook off if I saw the whole recipe through.
It did not. I had all my windows open (even though it was -10C), all fans going, and a heavy hand with the air freshener. Even then, I still gave it a taste test – the soapy flavour is still there, though not as strong as the smell. It’s a shame, because otherwise this recipe would be tasty, everything else seems like it works great.
I did make some instant plantain fufu to accompany it, and that turned out not bad. It’s a good arm workout, making sure it’s well beaten, but it’s a great texture. It’s stickier and stretchier than pap/xima, with a satisfying carb-y taste like whipped potatoes (you use fufu to scoop up some of the main dish with your fingers). So there’s that at least!
I want to take another kick at this, but don’t know if I’d be able to find fresh enough odika. In Gabon they often process and preserve odika into dika bread, which can be grated and has a longer shelf life. I haven’t been able to find any in my local African grocery stores – it may be available in Montreal, where there’s a large French African community, if it’s available in Canada at all.