Sunday, March 4, 2018

West African Jollof Rice and Fried Curry Chicken...

Jollof rice!! This beloved one-pot west African rice delicacy has become the most popular dish outside of Africa. I've read numerous regions in the country vigorously engage in debate over the geographical origins of Jollof rice, with the name derived from the Wolof people. Apparently, no stronger battle has gone on for centuries than the one about who makes the best tasting Jollof rice between Nigeria and Ghana. This competitiveness extends into organized contest shows for famous critics everywhere to taste, assess and meticulously judge the two regionally-cooked dishes. Social media has also been a huge platform for natives from both countries and fans alike to share pictures, videos and opinions over who serves it best.

Similar to red rice in US Southern cooking or called "Spanish rice" in the rest of the country, I have seen photos of this African dish but never tried it. Until, I attended a recent Toronto District School Board (TDSB) newcomers' culinary program at Beverley Heights Middle School with facilitator host Sho Bioseh who is Nigerian. She runs the lunch hour cooking session with a group of grades 6 to 8s, with the majority of African descent from Nigeria and Ghana. The students made Nigerian Jollof rice, and the week before, cooking it up, Ghanaian-style. Too bad I couldn't taste the two to formulate a preference, but I did wonder if the students would start a taste debate. They didn't.

There are many variations of Jollof Rice. Most common ingredients are rice, tomatoes and tomato paste, onion, salt, and red pepper spice. Beyond that, nearly any kind of meat, fish, vegetable, or combination of spices can be added. Sho shares with me that Ghanaian-style rice is spicier, tends to use perfume rice such as Jasmine and often includes smoked fish like mackerel; Nigerian-style uses parboil long grain rice, and a pureed tomato and pepper mixture to cook the rice. Due to time constraints, the students made a simplified Nigerian version-- no tomato and pepper puree.The tomato paste in the recipe was omitted as the can's content was molded- it must have had a small hole in it. Even without it, and the rice not cooked thoroughly (lunch time was over), it was just absolutely deelish- so aromatic and boldly flavourful served along fried-to-crunchy curry chicken drumsticks... Sooo goooood that it hasn't left my mind since. Talk about a MUST this weekend at my house!

Jollof Rice with Fried Curry Chicken

Culinary lunch program at Beverley Heights

Facilitor host Sho's simplified recipe for Nigerian Jollof Rice.

Deep-frying curry-cooked chicken drumsticks.

Stir-frying onions, tomatoes and spices in oil before adding the rice and water to cook. 

No tomato paste and rice needed some more cooking, but just so delicious!

My first attempt at Jollof rice combines ingredients and techniques from both Ghana and Nigeria, and my own adaptations to my family's taste. I used Jasmine rice and a pureed mixture of green and red peppers, and tomatoes. I added the spicy part at the end (my youngest does not fancy spicy- yet so forewent cooking with the red pepper powder). Finely chopped leftover jalapeno peppers served at the table for garnishing heat. 
Here's what I did:

Jollof Rice and Fried Curry Chicken Drumsticks
Makes 8 to 10 servings

To cook the chicken:
12 chicken drumsticks
6 cups water, or enough to cover
1/2 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. curry powder
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
potato starch for battering cooked chicken
Oil for frying

To cook the rice:
1/2 cup oil
2 red onions, (I hear the red onions gives the best flavour, not flat tasting like yellow onions)
1 green pepper, core and seeds removed
1 red pepper, core and seeds removed
4 - 5 tomatoes (I used 1 tomato, and three cups leftover grape tomatoes)
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 bay leaves (I added a few more as I had broken pieces)
1 Tbsp. dried thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. paprika powder
2 Tbsp. chicken seasoning powder (chicken bouillon for stock)-- Knorr is popular
2 tsp. red pepper powder or/ 1 or 2 jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped
salt to taste
4 cups Jasmine rice, wash and rinse until water runs clear to prevent stickiness; drain

Bring a heavy-based large pot of water to a boil. Add curry powder, salt and pepper, and chicken (I added some chopped red onions too). Bring back to a boil, then lower heat to a medium boil for twenty minutes until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken legs onto a plate to cool completely. Pour stock into a big bowl and let cool in fridge. I used the same pot to cook my rice- I gave it a rinse and wiped it down.

Rough chop one red onion, both peppers and tomatoes, and add into food processor. Add two cups of the cooled curry broth to facilitate blending. Pureeing until finely chopped or smooth. Fine chop remaining onion and set aside.

I used my mini food processor and blended until finely chopped in two batches.

Add oil to hot saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the fine chopped onions until translucent. Add the tomato paste, and stir, letting it cook for five minutes (this cooks off the bitterness in the paste). Pour in the pepper-tomato mixture and stir well; add your spices and mix to incorporate. Cover and let it hard simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.

Stir in the rice. Pour curry chicken broth just enough to cover the rice. Place the lid and cook on low simmer undisturbed for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the fried chicken.

Place one cup of potato starch in a shallow dish (this thin coating gives the chicken crispiness). Coat each cooled chicken drumstick evenly. Shake off excess starch. Heat oil in pot until hot. NOTE: A wooden skewer inserted in centre of oil should have tiny bubbles shooting up its side to indicate oil is ready. Fry chicken in batches until golden crispy, or cook longer until brown-golden and crunchy. Remove cooked chicken onto paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Remove the lid off rice after 20 minutes. Give it a stir, by lifting the bottom of rice contents upwards several times. Close lid and cook another 20 minutes. Depending on rice type it can cook fast or longer- check every 20 minute interval. Jasmine rice finished in 40 minutes total. Cook's NOTE: Bottom of rice touching pot may be burnt. That's ok. Some like to eat that crunchy part, and is why cooking must be done on low heat. Don't add more water or the rice will cook up mushy. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Voila! Jollof rice- my way with fried curry chicken drumsticks!
Beautiful and delicious, however next time I will use parboil long grain rice for a looser texture.

We served finely chopped jalapeno peppers on the side and for a dash of colour.

Nom Nom! 

Thank you for the inspiration to the lovely Sho and my friends over at Beverley Heights, 
for sharing your tasty food culture with me! Hope to cook with you all again!

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