Nigerian smoky party-style Jollof rice
Smoky Party-Style Jollof Rice is the “crème de la crème” of all jollof rice dishes. There are various recipes for Nigerian jollof rice, but the fundamentals of a party jollof rice are one that has stood through the test of time. Parties such as weddings, grand birthday celebrations, baby naming ceremonies and the celebration of life (burial of someone who has lived a long and full life) are a huge part of the Nigerian culture. Thus, as with many cultures, food plays an important role.
A great occasion starts from the kitchen. Such as on the morning of a wedding celebration day, when either caterer, chefs, and/or renowned family cooks gather to prepare the dishes. Everyone has a role to play in preparing the varieties of dishes, such as soups, stews, meat dishes, yam dishes and rice dishes. The two main rice dishes for most wedding parties are Jollof rice and Fried rice. The jollof rice made for a celebration is richer, vibrant and more flavourful with a smokey aroma. The smoky aroma usually emanates from the dishes cooking over burning wood (a.k.a. firewood). However, there are various steps in the cooking process that creates this smokey aroma achievable in an indoor kitchen on a stovetop resulting in a perfect Smoky Party-Style Jollof Rice.
The tomato base
Jollof rice starts with a tomato base and there are various ways to make this. Unlike other styles of jollof rice, the tomato base for a Smoky Party-Style Jollof Rice has to be of a high concentrate. You can achieve this by pre-cooking the tomatoes with all other fresh vegetables. This process dries up the liquid and eliminates the possibility of a raw tomato taste. It also intensifies the flavour and results in vibrant red colour.
Growing up Nigerian Maggi cubes was the go-to seasoning for most dishes. I have never witnessed a Smoky Party-Style Jollof Rice being made without Maggi cubes or something similar. Although, in my adult years I have stayed away from it and other commercial seasonings. I generally prefer using fresh self-made seasonings. However, to stay true to this recipe which is a huge part of the Nigerian culture, I have included Maggi cubes.
As I mentioned in my Jollof 101 article, the type of rice used in cooking Jollof is important. Smoky Party-style Jollof rice is typically made with rice that has been parboiled. Originally the women cooking the rice would soak the rice in hot water. This helps to remove excess starch and also you add the rice into the stew base it doesn’t bring the temperature down. A consistent temperature prevents the rice from cooking unevenly. The rice that was typically used then were raw unprocessed rice, but these days you can find the already parboiled rice in shops. Hence, there is no need to soak and parboil, rather a quick rinse with warm water is enough.
Fresh meat stock
Accompaniments for Jollof rice are usually beef, chicken or fish. The twice-cooked method is the classic Nigerian way of cooking most meats. Beef, chicken or any other type of meat are boiled with seasonings and then fried, grilled or smoked. The leftover liquid from cooking the meat is then used as stock for cooking the main dish. Such as soups, stews and various rice dishes. Well-seasoned meat stock is not optional for a flavourful Smoky Party-Style Jollof Rice.
Double the onions
Onions are rich in flavour. Red onions are especially richer in flavour with more vibrant colour and aroma than white or yellow onions. Onions are used two ways in the Smoky Party-Style Jollof Rice. Firstly cooked with the tomato base, layering it into the core flavour of the dish. Then additional onion is fried to a nice brown crisp, almost burnt, which kicks off the charred smokey flavour. Aside from their flavour, red onions are the most cultivated type of onion in Nigeria. Hence why you will find it in every Nigerian market and kitchen.
Triple layer of seasoning
Smoky Party-Style Jollof Rice seasoning game is strong. Starting from the inclusion of fresh garlic and ginger in the tomato base. The browning of sliced onions together with the tomato paste and equal amounts of thyme, curry powder, ginger powder and paprika. Then the final seasoning mix of Maggi, dried thyme, curry and salt goes in with the rice. All of these layers make up the richness and vibrancy of the dish.
Concentrated tomato paste re-enforces the tomatoey flavour of the Smoky Party-Style Jollof Rice. It helps to elevate the smokey flavour when added to the fried onions and letting it brown together with some herbs spices.
Once the rice is cooked there are a few finishing touches that most Nigerian cooks, caterers or chefs would do. Such as melting a few cubes of butter into the rice to enhance the moisture. This is an optional step that adds a little oomph but however, it is not necessary especially if you’re just not keen on the additional calories. Furthermore, some slices of raw tomatoes and onions can be tossed into the rice as a garnish. Also, an optional step and not everyone likes the taste of raw onions or tomatoes in a cooked meal.
There are a variety of food items that pair really well with jollof rice. Everyone has their preference, here are some options:
- Plantain: Fried sweet plantain a.k.a. dodo or roasted sweet plantains a.k.a boli
- Moi-moi: Savoury and spicy bean pudding traditionally made with black-eyed beans, wrapped in leafs (i.e. plantain leafs) and cooked in a boiling water bath.
- Beef: A typical Nigerian way of cooking beef is the twice cooked method. Beef is boiled with various spices then deep fried, also often stewed in a red sauce. Another staple is beef suya (as pictured in this recipe “Nigerian Peanut Based Beef Suya Skewers“)
- Chicken: Also typically cooked and served in similar twice cooked or/and stewed method. Can be fried, grilled or roasted.
- Coleslaw salad: The typical Nigerian salad is richer than the average salad however its not as simple as a coleslaw. Hence why I’ve named it a “coleslaw salad”.
- Fish: Usually fried Tilapia but can also be any other type of fish (i.e. catfish) that is fried, grilled, roasted and/or stewed.
- Drinks: An ice-cold malt drink is the go to choice of refreshment for many Nigerians. It is also one of the most served non-alcoholic beverage at Nigerian drinks. However, any ice cold drink goes well with a plate of steaming hot jollof.
Take away / to-go / after party boxes
Finally, at a Nigerian party, you would have the option (or not optional) a to-go box with a variety of meals. The box would usually include a main dish (i.e. Jollof), a variety of sides and small chops or/and desserts.
Nigerian Smoky Party-style Jollof Rice
For the tomato base
- 900 g tomatoes (its important that the tomatoes are red, ripe and soft to the touch but not spoilt)
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1 large red/purple onions
- 2 red scotch bonnet pepper
- 2 garlic clove
- 1 thumbsize fresh ginger
- 1 tsp coarse salt
For the jollof rice:
- 2 ½ cups parboiled rice
- 2 cups meat stock
- 1 red/purple onions
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 Maggi cubes (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 1 tsp paprika powder
- 1 tbsp coarse salt
Optional for finishing steps:
- 15 g butter (roughly chopped)
- a few slices of onions and tomatoes
Steaming the fresh vegetables:
- Wash and roughly chop the tomatoes and bell peppers. Peel the onions and cut in quarters, peel the garlic and ginger. Place them in a pot with the tomatoes first at the bottom, also add the scotch bonnet peppers and a teaspoon of coarse salt.
- Place the pot over medium heat and cover with a lid. Do not add any liquid, the vegetables will produce their own liquid. Cook until all the liquid produced has dried up. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- Once cool, transfer the cooked vegetables into a blender and blitz into a paste.
Cooking the Jollof rice:
- Peel and finely chop the onions, then place a pot over medium-high heat and pour in the vegetable oil. Add the chopped onions and fry until lightly brown. Also, add the tomato paste, with one teaspoon each of dried thyme, curry powder, ginger powder and paprika. Then continually stir and sautee for about 2 minutes
- Pour in the blended tomato mixture (be careful as this will create a splatter, so I recommend you hold a lid close to the pot to prevent the hot oil or sauce from splashing unto you), stir and allow to fry for 5 minutes.
- Rinse the rice and add it to the pot. Also add the bay leaf, the remaining teaspoons of dried thyme and curry powder, Maggi cubes (if you choose), and salt. Then pour in the meat stock, stir all together and bring to a boil. Stir one more time, cover with a lid and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the excess liquid is reduced.
- Now remove the lid and stir the rice from the bottom up, then cover with a large piece of aluminium foil or baking paper (this will help trap in the steam). Cover again with the lid, reduce the heat and cook for another 10 minutes or until the rice is soft but still firm.
- For extra flavour and moisture, once the rice is cooked and still piping hot, throw in a few cubes of butter, allow it to melt, then give the rice one more stir. Serve hot.
- Just before serving the rice, you can also toss in some raw slices of onions and tomatoes.
This recipe is my contribution to a cookout in celebration of Juneteenth. Which marks the day on the 19th of June 1865 when the enslaved people in the United States received the announcement of their emancipation. Join in, share, and help us continue the legacy of celebrating progress. Several black food creators across the globe have contributed their recipes to mark this celebration. Join us in celebrating by checking out the list of some of the contributors down below. 40+ black creators contributed to this collaborative menu as a Freedom Day tribute. Additionally, you can easily follow each participant by using the hashtag #JuneteenthCookout2021 on Instagram.
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