So, Jollof rice. Where do I start, with Jollof rice? In the average Nigerian’s lifetime, Jollof rice would have been eaten in thousands of portions. Whatever number you can think of in your head, if you happen to live in Nigeria, double that number. Would you believe that Jollof rice did not originally come from Nigeria? No, it didn’t. Jollof rice actually has its origins in Senegal, from the Wolof ethnic group and it spread across West Africa. So, shout out to the people of the Senegambia region for giving us this dish.
Now, we have Jollof rice, then we have Party Jollof rice. Make no mistake, those two are not the same thing and their meaning can be transcribed from their tags. Party Jollof rice tends to be much more delicious with the added smokey burnt flavour. Fried rice (another party favourite) is usually not on par with Jollof rice, so when I attend parties I ask for only Jollof rice because I am sure of what I will get. That orange coloured rice cooked in a delicious tangy tomato sauce. I can smell Jollof rice cooking from a mile away, because its aroma is very distinct and oh so yummy. I have seen soooooooo many recipes for Jollof rice, some have updated my knowledge and some have made me downright mad. I saw a recipe on BBC Good Food and it included okra. You must be kidding me, I said to myself. Okro in Jollof rice? Who wrote that? On a BBC site for that matter. With the teeming population of West Africans in the UK, no one could be found to write an authentic recipe for Jollof rice. I have also seen recipes using leafy greens, cabbage, carrots, green beans, all sorts. Sacrilege in my personal opinion. Jollof rice is a legend, an establishment of its own, you don’t need to mess with it. Lol…
There are two schools of thought regarding cooking Jollof rice. Whichever camp you are in, I’ll like to let you know now that there is only one camp if you want to re-create Party Jollof rice in your home. Camp 1 will suggest, frying the sauce, dilute it to make a stock and pour in the uncooked rice. Let it boil in that stock till the rice is soft. Sure, this method works fine but I’m on Camp 2 which is pre-boil the rice – which already starts the cooking process and gets rid of the starch that causes the rice grains to clump together. Then you fry the sauce till it is thick, and combine both together with water and beef stock. You gauge the volume of liquid that you use and top up if necessary, so as to allow the Jollof rice burn a little to achieve that smokey flavour. There is also one last hint involving the use of plastic wraps which I will discuss below.
Jollof rice is rice cooked with a fried tomato sauce. My Aunt told me that if you want that party flavour, you have to use lots of tomato paste. No two ways about it. When you cook Jollof rice at home, most people blend pepper made up of tomatoes, onions and tatashe (red bell pepper). Some people even add ginger and/or garlic. A lot of people leave out the tomato paste and when they use it, only a small quantity is used. Stop that now. Lol……You know I always tell you readers the secret behind these dishes. You see, the food budget for a party is no small amount, and ingredients to make pepper doesn’t come cheap. So to augment, tomato paste is used, which also gives party Jollof rice a deep orange colour. To cook Jollof rice at home you would use pepper generously because hey it is only for a few people. When you want to cook for 500 – 1000 strong, you have to cut corners somewhere. I am the eldest child and my mum is from a region of Nigeria who love to throw parties so much, the tribe is synonymous for that – The Ijebus. So, I have watched Party Jollof rice being cooked more times than I can count. On the list of ingredients for Jollof rice are huge cans of tomato paste and it is used to fry a rich sauce. The composition of this sauce also leaves out ginger, garlic and all those extras that we use at home. Believe it or not, party Jollof rice is very basic and therein lies its awesomeness. The simplicity of the ingredients is key, and they are:
- Long grain rice
- Red Onions
- Tatashe (red bell pepper)
- Ata Rodo – scotch bonnet/habanero pepper
- Tomato Paste
- Olive oil
- Curry Powder
- Dried Thyme
- Seasoning cube
- Beef Stock
- White Pepper
1. Blend the tomatoes, onions, tatashe (red bell pepper) and ata rodo (scotch bonnet/habanero pepper) to a smooth paste. Heat it in a pot to reduce the volume till you see small dots (bubbles) in the pepper. It is very important to achieve this, to boil out the water content.
2. Pre-boil the rice first. Remember I wrote above that the rice is combined with a fried tomato sauce. To do this, you have to pre-boil the rice to start the cooking process. To pre-boil the rice, pour the rice unwashed into a pot with a lot of water. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: I will explain later why unwashed. Let the rice come to a boil till you can see the creamy starch floating on top of the water and the rice has now the white colour of boiled rice. Taste the rice and make sure it is al dente before taking it off the heat. Al dente is Italian for cooked to be firm but not hard. Be careful now, any more cooking and you will make baby food Jollof rice and not Party Jollof rice.
3. Once the rice is al dente, pour out all the water and then proceed to wash the rice. By washing the rice at this point with cold water you are stopping the cooking process. Many times I watched the women hired to cook for the party do this and I didn’t understand why. I found out the reason why when I got older and I watched a cooking show, on how to blanch tomatoes. This is a very common process with cooking vegetables, especially green veggies such as asparagus, runner beans and even corn. As they are larger food items, you pour into a bowl filled with ice cubes but with rice, simply decant the hot water into the sink and open the tap to maximum flooding the pot with cold water to stop the cooking process so the rice retains its al denteness (pardon my french, lol).
4. While the rice is pre-cooking, fry the tomato sauce with 4 – 5 cooking spoons of olive oil. You need this much to fry the pepper properly. To fry the tomato sauce chop at least 1 red onion, (2 if you are making a large quantity of jollof rice) and fry lightly in your choice of oil. Once the onions are translucent add the reduced pepper from step 1. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: If you have boiled the pepper properly, the frying process will start immediately. If not the pepper will boil instead and prolong the cooking time. Add curry powder and dried thyme in tablespoon increments, and taste every few minutes. Let your taste buds and personal preference decide if you want to add more. Be careful though you don’t want the spices to overpower the sauce.
5. At the beginning the oil will combine well with the pepper. You will know it has fried when the oil floats to the top and the colour has changed from golden to deep orange. Now add the tomato paste. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: You don’t want to add the tomato paste at the beginning because it will thicken the reduced pepper and burn. Add the tomato paste – lots of it (a ratio of 60% mixed pepper – 40% tomato paste) and add beef stock.
Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: The stock is to help thin out the paste to reduce the chance of burning and to also provide salt and seasoning. If you add the paste straight from the can it will definitely burn.
6. Let the tomato paste fry with the pepper till it thickens and small bubbles form in the pepper which gives it a curdled look. Taste for salt and seasoning. If it needs more, add more. Now it is time to add the pre-cooked rice to the pot followed by more beef stock and then stir.
Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: Old wives tale alert – the hired party cooks say stir with a wooden spoon and not a metal spoon to prevent the rice from clumping. How true this is, I don’t know but erm, I do it. Lol. Keep adding the stock till it just slightly covers the rice. Cover the pot midway and watch the rice closely. Once it has absorbed the stock, tear the seams of a supermarket plastic bag to make it flat or use a large piece of foil paper, place on top of the rice and seal the edges where the plastic bag/foil touches the pot. it is important that you seal the edges so no steam escapes. Then you cover the pot properly.
Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: this is to enable the rice cook in its own steam, so you will not need additional stock or water which is the main reason behind soggy jollof rice which ironically also burns. This is a tip I learnt from those hired party cooks. It will burn a little for sure, and you want that anyway to create a smokey flavour.
7. After a few minutes, check the rice and stir. If some bits have burnt, no problem, just try not to scrape the bottom of the pot harshly while you stir. Taste the rice for softness. If it is still too firm, add a little stock, and I mean a little. You may never need to top up. If you do, you will probably need to do this only once. Cover again with the plastic or foil wrap and let it cook till the rice is totally soft. Stir, again to allow the sauce to combine with all the bits of the rice.
The chief guest of honour – the one and only Party Jollof rice
……….and that’s it. Party Jollof rice served with Dodo Gizzard and Fried Chicken tossed in a rich tomato sauce. Bon Appetite………….
I put this up because I was cooking for my friend’s party this past weekend. Unfortunately when you are cooking for a party, there are no opportunities to take pictures, so please pardon me this time for the lack of step by step pictures. I hope I have been descriptive enough.
Dooney’s Kitchen Extra Hints and Tips
Don’t cook this in a non stick pot or heavy metal based pots that prevent food from burning. This is party Jollof rice people, you want it to burn a little.
Keep some of that rich fried tomato sauce. You will need it for your fried/grilled chicken, meats and fish plus dodo gizzard which I will discuss in another post.