Coming from the DC area, there is a true abundance of high-quality and amazing Ethiopian restaurants around town. This cluster of amazing Ethiopian food is, oddly enough, one of the few things that the DC food scene is known for.
After recently going to one of our favorite places nearby, it dawned on us that these types of recipes – especially one like doro wot – are exactly why we started Arousing Appetites in the first place. For Cyrus, doro wot has been one of those dishes that he loves for the fragrance and full flavor, yet we both knew so very little about what made it so. Until now.
What Is Doro Wot?
Translated from Amharic, the language spoken in Ethiopian, doro wot literally means “chicken stew.” The name certainly doesn’t leave much to the imagination, so what you see is what you get. The word doro stands for chicken, and wot means stew, which is why you might see plenty of different wots available on the next Ethiopian restaurant menu you come across.
It’s hard to say if doro wot is officially Ethiopia’s national dish, but it’s certainly one of the most popular, both to Ethiopians and to Westerners.
Doro wot has long been intertwined with various traditions in Ethiopian culture. For example, before marriage, a bride would have to demonstrate her cooking skills and, by extension, her suitability for marriage by making doro wot for her soon-to-be husband. Recently, though, this ritual is less en vogue than it used to be.
Nevertheless, for as long as doro wot has been around in Ethiopian cuisine – on the scale of centuries if not millenia – it is associated with special meals. Especially around periods of fasting like Christmas and Easter, hearty and filling dishes like doro wot and others are prepared for when it’s time to break the fast.
Also, if you happen to be invited to an Ethiopian home for dinner and your host makes you doro wot, that’s a very good thing. Because of how intensive it can be to make, it was traditionally seen as a sign of great respect if a host were to prepare doro wot for their guests.
Nowadays, especially since it has become so popular with Westerners (you’ll find it on every menu of any Ethiopian restaurant in the US), doro wot has become more ubiquitous and sometimes altered to be made as an everyday meal, but that doesn’t detract from its significance and impact on the overall Ethiopian cuisine.
If anything, it’s a testament to the power of doro wot itself.
About the Recipe
The traditional method of preparing doro wot can be time intensive and require a lot of tender loving care.
As most great recipes should, it all starts with onions. The doro wot recipe requires extremely finely chopped onions, even to the point that the onions are so finely cut that it is almost a paste. These onions are the base of the stew and, if chopped as small as they need to be, will lend itself to the desired thick consistency for doro wot.
The next two ingredients lend the most flavor to doro wot (and to most other Ethiopian dishes) and are fairly unique to Ethiopian cuisine. First up is niter kibbeh, a clarified butter not unlike the Indian ghee, fused together with plenty of spice and flavor. Then there’s berbere, which is as close to a “staple spice” for Ethiopian cuisine as you’ll get.
As a spice mixture, berbere has a very unique flavor to it, especially once its been cooked. Made from a mix of ground chilis but also aromatic spices like paprika, cloves and cinnamon stick, the berbere flavor really comes alive in a very spicy yet sweet way as it cooks. And in most recipes, the berbere used will usually be one of the first ingredients added so that it can cook fully through. There’s actually a term in Amharic that describes when berbere is undercooked, kulait, which is something you don’t want to happen with your Ethiopian cooking.
Traditional recipes for doro wot budget for a lot of time to allow the onion, berbere, niter kibbeh and other ingredients to meld together and simmer before adding the chicken. Some recipes scale down this simmering time so that it can be made in shorter time (like we did), but if you have plenty of time, don’t rush the simmer.
Towards the tail end of the doro wot process, chicken and then hard boiled eggs are added to complete the dish. Supposedly, the original recipe for this spice mixture called for lamb, but chicken was a more readily available and less expensive meat to use, which is why we now the stew is made with chicken.
Before adding the chicken to the doro wot, however, it’s common to soften the meat by way of “pre-cooking” it with the acidity of lemon juice. It’s a principle very similar to what the Peruvians do with lime juice and seafood and ceviches. In order to soften the meat so that it can become extra soft as it stews, you’ll want to cover your chicken in lemon juice and salt for at least 30 minutes before adding it to your doro wot.
Once the chicken is added, hard boiled eggs come shortly thereafter, and the doro wot is almost done. To help the eggs absorb more of the flavor, we learned a cool trick – cut a small X into the bottom of the egg, which you’ll see in the photos. Oddly enough, it actually makes a difference in how the eggs end up.
Finally, some doro wot recipes will add some “finishing spices” to their stews. This step is completely optional, and in some cases your hand might be forced if you don’t have makelesha readily available or can’t recreate it. Nevertheless, spices like makelesha and additional salt and pepper are added after the stew in order to make sure the flavoring is just right before serving.
Our Take on the Recipe
First, for sake of time, we did opt for a quicker version of making doro wot. We came across recipes that called for simmering the berbere and onions for hours and hours, but turning this recipe into a full day affair doesn’t seem very practical for many. One particular experiment we would love to try in the near future, though, is to make doro wot in the crockpot to allow for this sort of all-day, extremely slow cooking. To be continued…
But for today, as we approached the recipe (and several other Ethiopian recipes), one issue we came into was finding all the Ethiopian spice mixtures we wanted to use. Our original reference recipe didn’t use any makelesha, but it was something we certainly wanted to use in ours.
To make up for the difficulty in finding the spices, we found a fantastic blog post that helped us deconstruct and recreate the mixtures for, for example, makelesha. Niter kibbeh, coincidentally, has many of the same ingredients that were going into the doro wot anyways, so we made sure to add each ingredient in greater proportion to the stew.
For the doro wot, the amount of berbere you use can vary based on personal preference, but do keep in mind that the berbere is directly proportional to how fragrant and spicy the doro wot will turn out. Our particular recipe was just the right balance for us, but we would caution that you reduce the amount of berbere for yourself if you’re not too keen on spicy.
Finally, one particular ingredient that we happened to chance across as a majorly successful add was club soda of all things. We found that, for our own recipe tests, those batches that had club soda added to them (versus regular water) came out with a more even flavor and less condensed bites of berbere. The sweet spot for adding this club soda, we believe, was whenever the onion and berbere simmering together would become a bit more dense, it was club soda that did the trick and benefitted the greater doro wot.
Other than that, this recipe is very straightforward to make and will be well worth the delicious taste in the end. All it needs is a tender, loving cooking touch to it, and you’ll have a beautiful wholesome meal that will have your guests raving… and feeling respected.
Trying to freeze stew? Read our other article on best way to freeze stew and how long they last for.
How much berbere do you put in your doro wot? Comment below!