Party-Perfect Jollof Rice with Chicken

Jollof Rice/Jolof/Djolof/Benachin

Jollof rice” is one of the better-known classic West African dishes. It is amusing to read that this is the “national dish” of any specific West African country, since it belongs to the entire region, with many variations in name and ingredients. It is sometimes credited with originating among the Wolof people of Senegal and Gambia, but is now claimed by many other West African nations, including Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Senegal’s famous “ceebu jen” (from Wolof words for “rice” and “fish,” aka thiebou djenne) is a similar rice paella, but is not the same. Ghana’s jollof rice has a distinctive red color from the tomatoes and tomato paste used, not red palm oil as versions from Nigeria might. It is somewhat reminiscent of Spanish rice. Sometimes another one-pot in Ghana, “Gari Foto”, is called Gari Jollof.

Jollof has infinite variations. In this section we give you recipes for chicken, meat, vegetable, and seafood versions but in West Africa distinctions are not always meaningful, and meat, poultry, and seafood can also be combined in the same recipe. In Ghana of the 1970s, the protein source was cooked with the rice. Increasingly, unless being served in a buffet, the rice is cooked separately, with the protein served on the side. This may reflect Western influence and ideas of proper plating of food and protein serving sizes, but my preference continues to be with pieces of meat/poultry mixed into the rice.

Traditionally in Ghana chicken bones are chewed and provide welcome calcium to the diet. However, outside of Ghana, boneless chicken proves less messy and is easier to eat and cook. While in today’s Ghana it is difficult to imagine being served jollof without Maggi or Royco seasoning cubes used, I prefer stock and seasonings such as fresh garlic, fresh chili pepper, fresh ginger, etc. I also remove the chicken skin. One challenge when making jollof rice is preventing mushiness. Cooking it in the oven where the heat is evenly distributed eliminates that problem.

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Ingredients

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken, cubed; or 3 pounds skinless pieces with bones, cut into pieces with a heavy cleaver (for example, cut a thigh or drumstick into 2 pieces) (free range or roasting chickens are recommended)
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced or crushed fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons salt or seasoned salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black or white pepper (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon dried ground red pepper
  • 5 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil
  • 3 to 4 cups water or broth, or a combination (including up to 1 cup of drained juice from tomatoes)
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder or ½ teaspoon dried thyme (or to taste)
  • 2 cups grated or chopped fresh tomatoes, seeded and juices saved
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups long grain white rice (not parboiled)
  • 2 to 3 cups fresh chopped vegetables (such as carrots, green peas, bell peppers, green beans, corn) or frozen mixed vegetables

Method

Directions

Prepare chicken

  1. In a large bowl, mix together ¼ cup of the onion, 1 teaspoon of the garlic, 1 teaspoon of the ginger, ½ teaspoon salt, teaspoon black (or white) pepper, and teaspoon of the red pepper. Add the chicken pieces, toss to coat, and let marinate for 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet, add 2 tablespoons of the onion and sauté for 1 minute. Add half of the chicken pieces or enough to fill the pan without crowding, and brown on medium to medium-high heat. Remove the chicken pieces as they brown and put in a roaster or casserole dish (with a cover) large enough to hold the chicken, rice, and stock or water. Repeat the process with the remaining chicken, adding 2 more tablespoons of onion and 1 more tablespoon of oil if needed.

Prepare casserole

  1. While browning the chicken, put the 4 cups of stock/water/tomato juice into a saucepan with a bay leaf (if using) and heat to a boil, then keep warm until needed.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and make sure the oven rack is low enough to fit the covered roasting pan on it.
  3. After all the chicken is browned and in the roaster, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet and add the remaining onion, garlic, ginger, and the curry powder or thyme, if using, and stir-fry for a few minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and remaining pepper and salt. Add cups (reserving remaining ½ cup) of the heated liquid and stir to loosen the onion from the pan.
  4. Pour the rice into the roasting pan with the browned chicken. Then pour the tomato mixture into the roasting pan and stir.
  5. Cover pan and place in the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and check rice for doneness and to determine if more liquid is needed. Add reserved ½ cup of liquid, reheated, if needed. Stir the rice gently from the outside in as the outside edges will cook more quickly. Return to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes while preparing the vegetables.
  6. Cook the vegetables separately, either in a microwave or on the stovetop.
  7. When the rice is tender, remove the pan from the oven and gently toss in the vegetables (stirring too much will make it mushy) and allow to rest, covered, for a few minutes before serving.

Troubleshooting: If there is still liquid in the roaster once the rice is tender, uncover and let roaster sit in the oven for a few minutes to evaporate.

To serve

Serve with braised cabbage or other greens on the side and/or Ghanaian Basic Tomato Gravy or Shito.

Make ahead: This recipe tastes good reheated the next day and also freezes nicely. It is easily doubled or tripled for a party.

Variations

  • Add additional spices of choice, or increase amount of curry powder.
  • Alternatively, this may all be cooked in a large pot on the stovetop, avoiding burning the bottom but not stirring too often which would make the rice mushy.
  • The vegetables may be added directly to the rice while it is cooking, or stirred in during the final minutes of cooking.