Recipe/ West African Food

HOW TO MAKE PARTY JOLLOF RICE

Party Jollof Rice - My Burnt Orange

Party jollof rice is a term you will often hear in Nigeria, particularly in and around Lagos State. But what exactly is it and why the sensation surrounding this topic? We explored just that this week and came up with a few surprises.

Characteristics of Party Jollof Rice

A quick hop around the internet reveals 3 things. First, it is described as the classic version of Nigerian jollof rice. Secondly, it must be the distinctively smokey version. Finally, it is considered the ultimate of all West African Jollof, with an authentically rich taste. But what makes this version the best, or distinguished from other jollof rice recipes?

Pre-boil Or Par-boil?

We examined the cooking techniques employed. One conundrum we need to overcome is either pre-boiling the rice until al dente) or using parboiled rice. Par-boiled is pretty much Tastic or Uncle Bens style, a thicker more rubbery texture. It is parboiled in the husk, then dried; this results in a grain of rice that never really gets overcooked. I wonder whether something has been lost in translation over the years. I always understood Nigerian jollof rice to be cooked with the second version of parboiled rice, not literally pre-boiled. Ronke Edoho of 9jafoodie agrees with us.

Oh So Smokin’ Hot!

On tasting Nigerian jollof rice, honestly, it always tastes burnt to me, My Burnt Orange. Sorry! (Go Ghana Jollof! 😏) It is endearingly described by Nigerians as smokey, due to the bottom of the pot being allowed to… well… burn. Is that the delicious bottom pot taste everyone raves about? I wonder whether this is deliberate or a matter of mistakenly thinking that caterers are intentional about the smokiness?

They cook large vats of party jollof rice in traditional cast iron pots over firewood. That sort of heat can’t really be turned down to gas number 5. So it really begs the question as to whether authentic smokey party jollof rice is really original or serendipitous. I have to admit I haven’t yet explored our own chop bar-style Jollof, it could be just as smokey.

We however have our own bottom pot taste in Ghana. Any Jollof cooking process will result in a dense layer of caramelized brown and saucy rice at the bottom. It is very nice to chew, with all the flavours accentuated in every bite. According to my mother, her father used to refer to this as “de nyons.” I don’t think there is any relationship to olives noir de Nyons but the thought intrigues me. We don’t know what that word literally means but in our family, it is simply the bottom of the pot jollof rice.

Whose Is The Authentic Jollof?

The entire jollof rice topic is one that often attracts great discourse. I have asked one jollof expert about jollof rice. This is none other than my mother, a retired home economics teacher who spent over 30 years teaching in Botswana. She argues that a lot of jollof recipes published on the internet today are nothing more than savoury rice. 😏 For the record, I can say she only comments on what she knows about Ghanaian jollof rice. Let’s get back to Nigerian party jollof rice.

A Little History: How Was It Developed?

We turned to historical literature for this. A trip down memory lane finds books such as Nigeria’s Miss Williams Cookery book, published in 1957. I can’t get a hold of the book although Ozoz Sokoh has a copy. What a treasure! The book too. I would have loved to see what it unearthed. But at least we know a 60-year-old recipe exists.

Did the Portuguese have something to do with it?

Well, their use of tomatoes came only after discovering it in the 17th century. They started recording their own recipes around that time too. Mum mentioned savoury rice and I wanted to dig a little deeper. A search on savoury rice reveals a popular savoury tomato rice dish from Portugal, arroz de tomate. It is described as native and has sent my mind spinning.

The Portuguese have had a presence in West Africa since the 16th century and I imagine that influence flowed both ways. The early use of tomatoes in West African cuisine has not been definitively recorded. The Portuguese brought tomatoes and peppers in from the Americas. However, there is no evidence to support that tomatoes were planted in Africa before the 19th century. Similarly for the hot chilli peppers and red bell peppers or tatashe, a common ingredient in sauces and stews in Nigeria. We can conclude that their travels contributed to the dish we have today but who made it first? Until we have more information it shall remain a mystery.

The Spice Profile

Chilli peppers and capsicums are not the only important jollof rice spices. The use of curry powder either in the form of Jamaican or Indian curry is almost always cited as a necessary ingredient in party jollof. Yet this again is an external influence which came in through the spice trade and back from the Americas. Either way all clues are pointing towards jollof rice as a modern invention of say, less than 150 years old for argument sake. If that is the case, what could have been in the preceding rice dish? And what about rice itself?

The Rice Itself

Jollof as we know it today is made with rice of Asian origin. The good news is rice is also indigenous to Africa, particularly Oryza glaberrima. This has been cultivated in Africa for at least 3000 years. Portuguese explorers noted it as early as the 15th century.

How did our West African ancestors cook African rice for millennia? I have a hypothesis that a version of waakye or rice and peas existed as the most authentic rice dish. However, texts such as this one only record the presence of omo tuwon (Hausa style rice balls). All waakye ingredients; rice, cowpeas, and the red sorghum leaves which add colour, are indigenous African ingredients. We must therefore be cooking it today the same way we have for centuries.

Outside of this, it is widely accepted that the originator of jollof rice is Senegal’s theiboudienne. How do we go on to call thieboudienne jollof rice? The Jola or Djula people of Senegal employed a rice-growing technology that was to be admired at the time. Perhaps their fame as the rice-growing experts stuck so rice became associated with Djula. In the same way that Singapore noodles are not Singaporean if you get what I mean. Jollof much? Maybe.

What Can We Conclude?

When exactly jollof entered to become our own is still a mystery. However it has become a strong foundation in our West African food identity. It is a dish that tells many stories and in some ways it is a melting pot in itself. One thing is clear; the rice, the spice, the tomatoes, cooking techniques and varying degrees of a bottom pot burn make this dish the King of meals. I will make it as authentic as I want it to be, so can you. International jollof rice day approaches on August 22nd, and we want in on the action. So without further ado, I am giving you my own party jollof rice recipe, adapted from Ghana jollof.

References:

The History of African Rice – https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/4146.pdf

Find out more about how Senegal’s Jola people grow rice – http://www.pnas.org/content/99/25/16360

Updated 17 July 2020

HOW TO MAKE PARTY JOLLOF

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By Freda Muyambo Serves: 6

Party jollof rice is a term you will often hear in Nigeria, particularly in and around Lagos State. But what exactly is it and why the sensation surrounding this topic? We explored just that this week and came up with a few surprises. The spice, the burn, and arguably the way it steams makes all the difference.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 inch of ginger
  • 1 to 2 scotch bonnet peppers (ata rodo in Yoruba)
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 4 large fresh tomatoes/1 canned tomato
  • 1 seasoning cube
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 cups easy cook rice (dry parboiled rice, not pre-boiled)
  • 2 cups hot or boiling water

Instructions

1

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan.

2

2. Fry the onions until golden brown. Add the garlic and ginger a few seconds before adding your tomato puree. My mom always told me that I need to make sure the tomato puree fries for a good amount of time to reduce the acidic taste.

3

3. Add the curry, thyme and seasoning cube followed by the tomatoes and scotch bonnet peppers. (If your kitchen is equipped with a blender, you would have simply added the pepper and ginger to the tomatoes and blitzed them all together).

4

4. Now allow the stew base to simmer and reduce. Make sure you have a pot cover handy, as it often becomes very hot and messy whilst simmering the stew base. Do this for about 15 to 20 minutes, stir continuously to make sure it is not burning.

5

5. Wash the rice in the meantime then soak it in some boiled water until the tomato stew base is ready.

6

6. Strain the soaked rice and add it to the pot. Season to taste carefully.

7

7. Top up the pot with enough water for those with an experienced eye for rice. This would normally be about 500mls (2 cups), you may need to top up if the rice is still hard. Bring to the boil.

8

8. Once simmering nicely and the moisture has nearly all gone, cover with parchment paper right above the rice (to lock in moisture and add natural cooking pressure). Close with an air tight lid. Reduce the heat and simmer slowly.

9

9. Taste the rice and once the grains are cooked, raise the heat back to high for just 2 minutes, and allow the bottom of the pot to toast. Take off the heat and your rice is ready to eat!

Notes

I love serving this with goat or lamb stew and a side of freshly chopped, mildly dressed red cabbage salad.

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