A common thread
Jollof rice is found in many countries in West Africa. The dish is a chord that runs throughout the regions cooking, with versions found in Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Gambia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Liberia. Particularly in Ghana and Nigeria, Jollof rice is considered a national dish to be proud of. Both countries consider their Jollof rice as the best in the West. So much so that there is great rivalry between chefs in these countries to prove who takes top spot. Even though the subject has been hotly debated, there has never been unanimity on who the crown should go to. Neither side is prepared to budge. To both Ghanaians and Nigerians, their own versions of Jollof rice are unbeatable
The primary difference between Ghanaian and Nigerian Jollof rice is the type of rice they use to make it.
In Nigeria, parboiled long grain rice is used. On the other hand, basmati rice (also known as Thai Jasmine rice) is used in Ghana. The basmati rice has more starch than the rice the Nigerians use. The basmati rice also has a characteristic aromatic spell
The different ways of preparing these rices for this dish leads to another difference between the two Jollof rices. In Ghana, the rice is not parboiled. Doing so would make the rice soggy. Instead, the Ghanaians first rinse the rice and then cook it in stock, and the tomato stew that forms the base of their dish. The Nigerians parboil the rice and then rinse it water before making their version of the dish.
Another difference is in the spiciness of the dishes. Ghanaian Jollof rice is spicier than Nigeria’s . The Ghanaians use Scotch bonnets, Chilli powder and Shito (an oily hot sauce made with Scotch bonnet Chillies, dried fish and crustaceans, garlic, and tomatoes) to spice their Jollof rice. The Nigerians however use bay leaves as a key ingredient (together with Scotch bonnet Chillies) to add pungency and spiciness to their version of the dish.
Making Ghanaian Jollof rice
An authentic recipe
Without coming out in favour of either the Nigerian or Ghanaian Jollof rice, I have decided today I will make the Ghanaian version. I have decided this for no other reason than it appeals more to me from a pungency perspective. I like spicy food,.
To make the dish, I will need 500 grams of long grain basmati rice (not easy to cook rice), one 400g tin of canned tomatoes, one large onion, a red bell pepper, 6 tablespoons of oil, a stalk of celery, one carrot, three cloves of garlic, a half thumb size piece of root ginger, two teaspoons of dried thyme, one whole Scotch bonnet Chilli (or Habanero), two tablespoons of Shito hot sauce, one bay leaf and 500 ml of chicken stock I will also need a teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, one teaspoon of ground sweet paprika, a teaspoon of ground nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice / pimento, 1 /2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper and ½ a teaspoon of ground black pepper.
Before starting the dish, I needed to do some preparation. I peeled and finely sliced the onions and ginger. I then removed the stalk and pith from the bell pepper sliced into quarters. Next, I peeled the carrot and sliced into half inch rounds. All that was left to do was cut the celery into bite-size pieces, make the chicken stock, and rinse the rice. I placed the rice in a colander and rinsed it five times under cold running water to remove any excess starch. I then placed the rice to one side (still in the colander) so it could dry
Making the dish
With the preprep done, it was time to start making the dish. The first step was to place the canned tomatoes and bell pepper quarters into a blender. I blitzed them until I had a smooth paste. Next, I heated the vegetable oil in a skillet until it was medium heat. I added the onions, carrot and celery and sautéed them for about five minutes. The onion had become translucent, so I added the garlic, ginger, and all the dry spices and herbs (thyme, cumin etc)
I stirred everything for about a minute until the spices started becoming fragrant. I then added three tablespoons of tomato paste out its tube. After mixing everything together, I added the rice. I ensured each grain was coated with mixture in the skillet and proceeded to toast the rice for about five minutes. I was careful to ensure that I didn’t burn the rice by stirring it continuously
Once this step had been completed, I added the tomato/bell pepper paste, the stock, bay leaf, salt and the whole Scotch bonnet. I made sure everything was well mixed, and then turned down the heat to a gentle simmer. I covered the skillet with its lid.
After about ten minutes, I gently stirred and folded the rice. I had to do this gently, otherwise the dish would have become stodgy. After that, I replaced the lid and cooked the rice for another ten minutes. Next, I spooned the Shito hot sauce over the rice and let the dish rest for ten minutes.
After the final ten minutes of resting, I was ready to serve. In this particular instance, I served the rice with Peri Per Chicken, but it would have also gone well with mains like grilled fish or chichinga (Ghanaian beef kebabs). For that matter, I could just have served it just as it was. It was certainly tasty enough.
So how did it taste?
This dish is definitely a winner. I will certainly have no problem serving it again in the future. By keeping the Scotch bonnet whole, I kept the heat levels on this dish to a tolerable level. If I had wanted the dish to be more pungent, I would have taken the Scotch bonnet out of the mix and mashed it, before reintroducing it back into the sauce.
A final note
Had I been making the Nigerian version of the dish, I would have parboiled the rise before rinsing it. My spices would have been similar, but I would also have added curry powder. I would have also added some smoke flavouring to the dish to emulate the taste of what is called party Jollof rice. In Nigeria, party Jollof rice is made by cooking the dish over a wood burning fire. This imparts a smokiness to the dish. I may also have added locust beans and ground crayfish for taste