It’s amazing how food can tell a story – how traces of it can be found throughout a continent, showing the diaspora of people and the spread of cultures across thousands of miles.
Jollof rice is more of a concept than a recipe, because it’s found in various guises all over West Africa. Its other name is Benachin, which means “one pot” in the language of the Wolof people who invented it – evidently throwing lots of lovely food in a pan and letting the heat do its thing has always been a popular cheat.
The Wolof ruled an empire from what is now known as Senegal between 1360 to 1549. For a while they were a powerful and wealthy kingdom, even trading with Europe before it fell apart through infighting among the different states. By the time it disintegrated though, its travels, trades and conquests had spread its people and cultures right throughout the area. So it’s no surprise that Jollof rice springs up in the list of favourite dishes for Ghana, about 2,000km from their homeland in Senegal. In fact, it springs up all even further east, in countries such as Nigeria and Cameroon. Because of this distance, and all the differences in culture and climate, the ingredients vary wildly, but the principle is that you cook your rice in a tomato sauce, so it soaks up all the flavours.
As with all simple recipes, the devil is in the detail. So use the best ingredients you can afford, make sure you use long grain rice so it doesn’t go stodgy, and remember that the secret to great Jollof rice is investing in the flavours of the sauce. Some nations use coconut milk, others nutmeg or other earthy spices, some use partminger (an African basil leaf) and some even use Rooibos tea. Jamie has taken all these variations to heart and come up with his own kind of rice. It’s got lots of European twists in it to make it his own. That said, in Ghana it’s usually cooked using chicken and plenty of spice, so Jamie’s used chicken and 500g of seriously sweet roast tomatoes to give the rice that killer flavour – and a whole scotch bonnet chilli too, of course.
Mind you, the word Ghana means “warrior king”, so they can probably stand the heat.
Jamie’s twist on a Jollof rice recipe
8 chicken thighs
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground white pepper
600g cherry tomatoes, on the vine
4 onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, sliced
½ –1 scotch bonnet chilli, deseeded and chopped
A bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves chopped, stalks finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato purée
500g vine-ripe tomatoes, chopped
750ml chicken stock
500g long grain rice
1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. In a bowl, toss the chicken thighs with the ground coriander, white pepper and a pinch of salt. Add a glug of oil to a large saucepan and fry the chicken over a medium heat for 7–8 minutes, until browned all over. Transfer the chicken to a medium-sized roasting pan and cook in the oven for 30–40 minutes, until golden, adding the cherry tomatoes to the pan halfway through.
Meanwhile, using the same pan you browned the chicken in, add a splash of oil and sauté the onions, garlic, chilli and parsley stalks over a low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato purée and chopped tomatoes, then pour in the chicken stock. Bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the rice, pop the lid on and let it bubble away for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding water if it gets too dry. Finally, stir in the parsley leaves followed by the cooking juices and cherry tomatoes (discarding the stalk) from the roasting pan. Mix well, squashing the tomatoes into the rice.
Serve the rice with the chicken pieces on top and lemon wedges on the side for squeezing over.
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