I am indebted to Chef Pierre Thiam for this amazing mafe recipe. I learned about it in his book Senegal: Modern Senegalese Recipes from the Source to the Bowl.
Mafe (mah-fay), is a variant on a peanut stew. Here in the United States, peanut stews, in their various forms, are perhaps the best known dishes from sub-Saharan Africa. You see them a lot as vegetarian, with chicken, often with lamb, or, for the more exotic, goat. This is an elk mafe, made with a shank.
It looks awesome, no? Tastes even better.
Don’t get all hung up on the elk, however. If you don’t have any elk kicking around, you can get the same effect with a cross-cut beef or bear shank, or just use a whole shank from a deer, lamb or antelope. I bet even a pig shank would be good.
The key here is a cut of meat that has a lot of connective tissue, which will melt and render the meat silky and luxurious. In a pinch you can use shoulder or neck meat.
The main flavors of this recipe are peanuts, tomato and, if you’d like, a bit of chile heat. Pretty much everything in here is easy to find in a supermarket, although you’ll need to go to a large market to find Asian fish sauce. Yes, it’s in there, but it doesn’t make the dish fishy — you only add a little bit.
You have two choices when you make your mafe: You can simmer the shank until it’s almost tender, then add the rest of the ingredients to make it a mafe, or you can do as they do in Senegal and simmer it all together. The flavors won’t be as bright this way, but they will be deeper and more melded together. I like the latter method, but it’s your call.
Most mafe recipes normally feature rice or a grain called fonio, but a good chunk of crusty bread would be nice, too.
Senegalese Mafe, with Elk or Venison
- 2 large. cross-cut elk shanks, or 4 smaller shanks
- 1/4 cup red palm oil, vegetable oil or clarified butter
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 to 3 quarts stock, ideally venison but beef will do
- 1 to 2 cups smooth peanut butter
- 2 to 4 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 or 2 habanero or Scotch bonnet chiles, minced
- 1 to 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (optional)
- Salt the shanks well and set aside for 30 minutes. Heat the palm oil or vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy, lidded pot over medium-high heat. Pat the shanks dry and brown on all sides. Take your time and do in batches if you need to. Set aside the shanks when they're browned.
- Add the chopped onions and brown them, too, stirring occasionally. You want the onions to be well browned, so this might take a solid 15 minutes or so. Toward the end, stir in the garlic.
- Stir in the tomato paste and let this cook for a minute or two, then pour in the stock. Stir in the peanut butter. Add the bay leaves, thyme and chiles. Return the shanks to the pot and simmer gently until they are tender, about 2 to 3 hours.
- Toward the end, add the fish sauce, or, if you really hate the stuff, just salt. Serve the shanks with lots of sauce.