Hey folks, it’s the last weekend of the month and it’s time to party. By which I mean it’s time to replicate a dish that I discovered at an afro-caribbean birthday barbecue.
That’s right, if you couldn’t tell from the title, this week’s recipe is the mildly smoked “party rice” version of west africa’s traditional “jollof”. A heavily spiced rice dish made for sharing, that can be the side for your main meal but, more often, acts as the ballast alongside a tonne of fried plantain, jerk chicken and coleslaw. To name just a few of its common accompaniments.
It can be served warm or cold at just about any time of the day and, while not exactly hot, it carries a wonderful tomato, thyme and scotch bonnet taste that makes it all but impossible to mistake its native region.
To make it, you will need:
400g long-grain rice
1 tin of tomatoes (~350g)
100g tomato purée
500ml stock (chicken or veg)
400ml warm water
1 medium-sized onion
1 scotch bonnet (Red or MoA)
1 tablespoon of thyme
2 cloves of garlic
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
6 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
And a large frying pan with a lid to cook in.
To start, as always, we’re going to chop the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli nice and finely, removing the pepper’s seeds and placenta. From there on, though, things might start to seem a little backwards.
Unlike in european cooking, we’re not going to start with the onions and garlic. We’re going to begin with the tomato, in order to tame its acidity and bring out the umami that lurks within the fruit.
So we warm up our oil on a medium heat, then chuck in both the tinned tomato and the purée, stirring until a single thick sauce has formed and begun to bubble.
From there, the stirring continues, now rather more occasionally, for a full ten minutes. And do make sure to scrape down any tomato that sticks to the sides.
Once ten minutes have passed, we can drop the heat to low and add the onions but not the garlic. That comes later, once the onions have softened and turned somewhat translucent.
Honestly, I find their translucency a little hard to judge, in amongst all the red in my pan, but here’s a shot of what they should look like, after ten to fifteen minutes:
At which point, we can finally add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Mix them in with the onions and go for just five minutes more, so that their flavours become less raw and truly permeate the dish.
Then remove everything from the heat and blend it with the stock. And actually blend the results, until they form what can only be described as orangey nigerian soup.
This will be the water that we cook our rice in and, with it all one smooth liquid, it should soak up perfectly. There’s just one thing to consider: Are you serving it with meat or veg? Because that’s going to determine what stock you should be using.
Naturally, chicken stock will pair better with poultry, while veg stock will work slightly better for plantain, coleslaw and other non-meat sides. So, you know, keep that in mind as you’re making the soup base. Then return the results to your pan.
The resulting soup needs a little more liquid, though. The 400ml of water, listed in the ingredients, go in now, along with our thyme. Then the rice, specifically long-grain and not a short grain variety, like basmati or jasmine, so that it will hold together, despite all our broth.
Stir well and bring to a boil on a high heat. The cover, to keep the liquid from evaporating off.
After five minutes, remove the lid briefly, stir the liquid into the rice and then cover again for another five.
At this point you should be able to smell the rice on the bottom just starting to burn. Do not turn down the heat. Do not scrape it. This is entirely intentional and we still need to cook the rice for five minutes more to ensure full absorption of the soup.
You see, ordinary jollof may be a delicious spiced rice dish but this recipe won’t be settling for anything so standard. Instead, we’re going to take things a step further and fake “party rice” – A version of the dish cooked over old oil drums of blackened wood, rather than a kitchen stove, giving it a distinctive, smoky flavour. A smoky flavour that is, as it turns out, very easy to mimic at home.
Burnt rice and blackened wood give off a very similar smell, so simply using stainless steel cookware and burning the very bottom layer is enough to impart a true taste of afro-caribbean barbecue into the entire rest of the dish.
Of course, we wouldn’t want to burn too much and ruin the body of our jallof, so we do have to cool the pan as soon as we’re done.
Without removing the lid, take your pan over to the sink, angle it slightly and hold just the bottom edge under running water, turning it too cool all round. Be prepared for a lot of steam as you’re doing so.
And then leave it to sit for at least ten minutes, so that the smoke can really seep in.
When that’s done, it’s finally time to serve it up, along with whatever sides you’re into. Just don’t scrape the bottom or you’ll pick up the bitter, carbonised rice underneath. No-one wants that.
The rest, though? That I’m proud of!
It’s bold and savoury, with an earthiness to it but not the musty quality that can come from dried ginger. It definitely tastes of tomato, yet it lacks both sweetness and tang. It’s the chilli and rhizome, coming in a little later in the throat, that give this dish its zing and low
And, when the dark, almost charred taste of the smoke grows in, it compliments my red scotch bonnets beautifully.
As for the texture, the rice is soft yet firm. Moist, yet far from soggy. In other words, it’s just right. I really love how this dish turned out.
The only thing that I’d change, if I could, would be to try a fruitier version that swapped out the supermarket scotch bonnets for proper, homegrown, yellow, ministry of agriculture ones. Because I’d love to taste the difference that their tropical notes would bring.
Until next season, though, this is how I’m going to enjoy my jollof. And I’ll be enjoying it a lot.