This jollof rice and chicken recipe is bursting with so much flavour! It is aromatic, fluffy, delicious, and is bound to be loved by everyone!
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Jollof rice is a well-known West-African one-pot rice dish that is popular in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal. There are many claims to its origins, with the most popular theory being that it originated in the Senegambia region of West Africa. It is made by cooking long-grain rice in tomatoes, broth, peppers, and seasoning. Sometimes, protein such as beef, turkey, or chicken is added, other times, it is served with vegetables such as peas and carrots, or enjoyed plain.
It goes by different names such as Benachim in Gambia, and riz au gras in French speaking countries. And not that I dare forget the most important thing! I believe I would be met with cold stares if I didn't mention the great debate about which West-African country makes the best Jollof!
The name Jollof owes its origins to the Wolof people or the Jolof empire that ruled the Senegambian region in the 14th century. Just like Kenyan pilau, Jollof is the quintessential dish in any West African party. It is also well-known worldwide; according to Jenny Macarthur in the Oxford Companion to Food (2006), Jollof rice is 'possibly the best-known African dish outside Africa'.
My own experience making Jollof was in London as a student where my Nigerian friends made it. It was spicy like nothing you have ever tasted, yet extremely flavorful (I immediately knew I had to make my own). I later learned that the spice level is something you can adjust, according to your preference. Several tries later (and after eating numerous burned or uncooked rice), I have come up with my own perfect version.
smoky Jollof rice
When it comes to taste, Jollof has a spicy, savoury and smoky and delicious flavour. If you have been around long enough then you have probably heard of the term smoky Jollof rice. Is it even a thing and what is it exactly? Traditionally, it was cooked over an open fire, which resulted in the much-desired smoky flavour.
During parties, it is common to see women making several large pots of the dish over an open firewood; hence the term Party Jollof rice which if you ask me, has the best taste ever!
So how does one attain the smoky flavour without having to use an open fire? The secret is in first grilling the vegetables you will need to make the sauce in the oven, or over an open fire. The slightly charred vegetables create a smoky flavour, which also gets absorbed by the rice.
- While I made this recipe using golden Sella basmati rice, it can also be made using any long-grain rice variety. Par-boiled rice works wonderfully well too.
- Steaming the rice at a low heat is crucial in ensuring it cooks through. If you use too high a heat, the jollof rice will dry out before it has completely cooked.
- To get a lovely red colour in your rice, use more red bell peppers than tomato. And just in case you want to make this recipe as authentic as possible, then Nigerian tatashe peppers are the way to go.
- A little burning of the rice is okay as this helps with the smoky aroma. Just dont go overboard with it. Resist the temptation to keep stirring, rather, only stir in moderation to prevent excessive burning. Allow the rice time to steam. Use a heavy-based pot, and go non-stick if you can (even though this is not necessarily the conventional way)!
Jollof Rice and Chicken
To Cook the Chicken
- 2 kgs chicken (approximately 4 lbs) chopped into desired sizes (see notes)
- 1 small onion diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1½ inch ginger root peeled and minced·
- 1 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
- 1 chicken stock cube (or 1 teaspoon bouillon powder)
- 2 tsp curry powder
- 2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1-3 cups water (optional, use more water if necessary)
To make the blended sauce and cook the Jollof rice
- 3-4 medium-sized bell peppers (seeds discarded)·
- 3 Roma tomatoes (roughly chopped) – alternatively,use 500g/about 1 lbs of plum tomatoes·
- 1-2 scotch bonnet peppers (use more peppers if you prefer your Jollof rice extremely spicy)·
- 2 small to medium onions (chopped)
- 4 cups golden sella basmati or any long-grain rice (cleaned, see notes)·
- ½ cup vegetable cooking oil
- 4 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 seasoning cube (bouillon cubes)
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1½ teaspoon curry powder
- 1½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)·
- 5 bay leaves
- 5 cups chicken stock, water or a combination of both ( use stock reserved from boiling the chicken)
- a handful each of sliced onions and tomatoes optional (extras)
- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
Cook the Chicken
- Add the chicken, small onion, garlic, ginger, salt, stock cube, curry powder, and thyme to a pot. Combine, cover, and allow to simmer under medium heat, checking from time to time. For maximum flavour, allow the chicken to first simmer with the seasoning, before adding any water.
- Add water to the pot and allow the chicken to simmer under medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until tender, making sure to check if the chicken is cooked from time to time. Skip the boiling if the chicken you are using is of a tender variety and go straight ahead to the next step.
- Once cooked, set the pot aside, strain, and reserve the broth obtained from boiling the chicken for use later when making the rice.
- Heat oil in a pan and fry the boiled chicken on each side, until properly browned. You can also bake, or air fry the chicken to brown it, as well as dry out any excess liquid it may be having. Do not discard the oil, reserve it for use in cooking the rice.
Make the blended sauce and cook the Jollof Rice
- Add the bell peppers, raw tomatoes, scotch bonnet pepper, and an onion to a blender and process to a puree.
- Add the puree to a saucepan and allow it to cook for about 10-20 minutes, or until it has reduced and most of the water has evaporated. Once done, remove this from the heat and set it aside.
- Heat the previously reserved oil in a pot. Add the remaining onion and fry until fragrant. Next, add the tomato paste and season with the seasoning cube, thyme, curry powder, salt, and bay leaves. Allow this to cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring from time to time so it does not burn.
- Add the cooked blended peppers and tomatoes and allow everything to cook for about 5-10 minutes, or until cooked and the oil starts to float on top.
- Stir in the rice, add the chicken stock or water, and stir. Place a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper on top, and cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. This will help lock in the flavours as well as lock in the moisture, so the rice steams properly.
- Reduce the heat to a low, and allow the rice to cook in its own steam for 20-30 minutes, making sure to quickly check and turn mid-cooking. Feel free to add a small amount of water or stock if your Jollof dries out before it has properly cooked.
- 5 minutes before the cooking time is over, stir in a tablespoon of butter or margarine and a handful of sliced onions and tomatoes (this is an optional step). Tightly cover, remove the pot from the heat, and allow the vegetables to steam and soften up for the remaining time.
- Serve with steamed fried plantain, moi moi, or a side salad.
- For best results, use bone-in chicken cuts as this also lends flavour to the broth to be used in cooking the rice.
- Realised that your jollof rice has overcooked and want to prevent it from ending up mushy? Then quickly spread it out on a tray to stop the cooking process and allow it to cool.
- Keep leftovers in airtight containers in the fridge for 3-4 days and in the freezer for up to 4 months. To reheat, add two tablespoons of water per cup of rice and warm in the microwave on high, for one minute for each cup.