Nigerian jollof rice is one of the well-known delicacies of West Africa. Amongst its counterpart, Jollof is from Senegal, Ghana, Liberia and other West African countries. There have been comical disputes on which country makes the best Jollof. I lean towards the side of Nigerian Jollof being the best. Within the varieties of this West African delicacy, Nigeria brings a more vast variation. Each country has its classic cooking method of Jollof but within Nigeria, there isn’t just one. Without the need to dive too deep I’ll just make a mention of the top three Nigerian Jollof:
The 1st and 3rd are similar but there are certain nuances that are not initially obvious. The basics of each style of Jollof follow similar principles but usually take a different turn in the cooking process.
Here is a brief outline of some essential ingredients that can make or break any Jollof rice recipe. Followed by some extras that can level up any Jollof from basic to exceptional.
- Fresh Tomatoes: It’s in the simple definition of the dish. ‘Rice cooked in tomato sauce. The first win for a good Jollof recipe is a good sauce base. Simply put, fresh ripe tomatoes will do the trick. However, canned tomatoes can also make some magic.
- Fresh Peppers/Chilli: Savoury Nigerian dishes are typically spicy. The standard chilli used is habanero or/and scotch bonnet peppers.
- Red Onions: Just like peppers and tomatoes, onions are a staple for many Nigerian sauces. Particularly red onions for their rich flavour and aroma.
- Seasoning (type A): Salt, dried thyme, curry powder and Maggi cubes were the basic seasonings in most traditional Jollof recipes.
- Oil: The sauce used in Jollof is oil-based. All of the above is fried up before the addition of rice.
- Rice: Another obvious item. However, the type of rice used adds or takes away 1 or 2 cooking steps. The original rice used in classic Nigerian cooking was the long grain. However, conventional recipes use mainly basmati rice, which in recent times has become most people’s personal preference, mine included.
- Stock/broth: Authentic Nigerian cooking typically uses fresh ingredients. We also believe nothing goes to waste and thus we like to kill two birds with one stone. A great example of this is pre-cooking the meat we intend to serve with a meal and then using the broth (stock, extra juice, liquid or whatever you want to call it) from the meat to cook the main dish. A nice plate of Jollof served with grilled chicken has most likely been cooked with the same chicken broth. Hence, its rich flavour pairs perfectly with the meat of choice. Similar to vegetarian Jollof which would be cooked with vegetable stock. Stocks could also be bought instead of homemade, either fresh, condensed or in stock cubes.
- Dried/Smoked Peppers/Chilli: Popularly known in Nigeria as ‘Tatashe’, these are sun-dried whole paprika peppers or red bell peppers. Not a requirement in cooking jollof rice, but when used it makes a whole lot of difference. Gives a richer smokey flavour that most people fail to achieve without its use. Another great addition is dried scotch bonnet peppers or habanero, popularly known as Cameroon pepper (name derived from a Cameroonian technique used in drying the peppers). My mum was the first person I saw use Cameroon pepper in Jollof and ever since my jollof rice game has never been the same.
- Fresh Ginger: Traditional Nigerian home cooks are often scared of using an additional spice to Jollof. However, ginger works well when combined with most peppers/chillies. whenever I’ve used it in my Jollof, people could just tell there’s something different but could never guess it was ginger, especially when used with the next ingredient on this list.
- Fresh Garlic: Most people are not fans of garlic, you either love it or hate it. As mentioned above, it simply takes the right combination of spices to create a distinct flavour that hides the cons (such as a pungent smell) and highlights its pros (such as a lush taste).
- Seasonings (type B): Finally, seasonings again. I classified this because I noticed a lot of people prefer name brand seasoning mixes. Which are great, but there is a lot of culinary magic that happens when you combine ordinary seasonings of nature.
Some of my favourite seasonings to use are:
- Paprika powder
- Herbs other than just thyme which is great, but oregano and bay leaf are special.
- Ginger and garlic powder (in addition to or as a substitute for fresh ginger and garlic)
And of course Salt. Come on! Don’t be scared to add salt to your Jollof, no need to panic if your Jollof is tasting a bit too salty when it’s still liquidy. However, by the time the rice soaks in all the sauce, the flavour will balance itself out. I know it seems easier said than done, but after a few tries, we all eventually get it right. Although I consider salt to be an essential ingredient, years of serving people have made me realise to some people it isn’t.
So tell me, are you a master at making jollof rice or was this an introduction for you? Got any tips and tricks you want to share, maybe something I should have mentioned. Additionally, here is an unconventional jollof rice recipe you might like: Jollof Risotto with Ossobuco and Plantain.