Palm Butter

Palm Butter

Rich, buttery and infused with everything from hot
pepper and nutty oil to tropical sunshine and sweat,
palm butter tastes as if it has all of Liberia locked inside it.

Made almost exclusively from local ingredients, palm butter has been filling bellies in Liberia for centuries. Some claim it was a speciality of the Kru ethnic group from the balmy southeastern corner of the country. Today the thick, golden sauce makes it to daily specials boards nationwide – from upscale restaurants to the simplest of rural ‘chop bars’.

You’ll need
4 handfuls of palm nuts
Handful of hot chilli peppers
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 onion, peeled
1 lemon
3 cups (750mL) water
1 large cleaned fish or half a
Vegetables (optional)
600g (1lb 5oz) rice

Cooking Method
1 Add palm nuts to a saucepan filled with boiling water and boil for about 15 minutes until the nuts are semi-soft.
2 In a blender (or with a mortar and pestle) pound the chilli peppers, garlic and onion.
3 Parboil the chopped fish or chicken with the blended pepper, garlic and onion mixture in water. Vegetables such as mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes or aubergines (eggplants) can also be added.
4 Next pound the softened palm nuts in a blender (or with a mortar and pestle) until they form a pulp.
5 Add water and press the pulp through a strainer into a saucepan. Discard the fibres and kernels that are left in the strainer. The remaining pulp should contain the oil and fruit of the palm nuts, as well as the water.
6 Heat the pulp, adding extra water if necessary. Add the fish or chicken to the heated palm butter and boil until the mixture is the consistency of Indian curry sauce.
7 Cook the rice and serve the palm butter over it.

Tasting notes
Liberian comfort food at its best, palm butter’s rich, fiery taste easily rivals that of the Indian curry. Local joints tend to up the fire factor; useful if you need to sweat out a fever but beware – it can be served hot enough to hurt. In Liberian homes, preparation often takes hours, beginning with boiling, then grinding the palm nuts to extract the oil and jungle flavour. Then blindingly hot spice (known as ‘pepe check’) is chucked in, along with salt, garlic, onions, water and palm oil. The resulting sauce, complete with chicken or fish, is poured over rice or thinned with water to make a soup that’s typically served with fufu (a West African staple made from cassava).

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