Traditionally shito (SHE-toe) was as ubiquitous in Ghana as ketchup is in the U.S. Shito literally means “pepper” in the Ga language, and can refer to hot peppers or the hot sauce/condiment itself made from dried peppers, dried shrimps, and sometimes small dried herrings as well as onion, tomato, and other seasonings.
When I taught in Nungua, a Ga area, Ga Kenkey (aka komi) was commonly eaten with shito and fried fish (Kenam). I have always assumed that shito is a Ga invention. It is popular with boarding school students throughout the country, likely because it pairs well with both kenkey and gari, filling and inexpensive foods that do not require refrigeration, along with canned corned beef or sardines. In Twi, the word for “chili pepper” is mako, so shito is also called mako tuntum (black or dark pepper).
The recipe for shito has largely been an oral tradition until the past 20 years when it started appearing in some cookbooks. There are now a number of online recipes also. However, it deeply saddens me to see imported tabasco sauce frequently replacing shito on restaurant tables in Ghana.
Making shito is generally a complicated and time-consuming process, and also produces a strong “fishy” odor while cooking. Friend and colleague Gloria Mensah, a no-nonsense, efficient single mom and trained culinary professional skilled at adapting traditional recipes to the 21st century, sometimes bakes shito in large batches in her oven and substitutes readily available canned mackerel for the dried herrings. She has also adapted the recipe for a slow cooker. A slow cooker has the added advantage that in nice weather or a covered area it can sit outside for a day or a day-and-a-half while cooking so the powerful odor does not permeate the house. Along with substituting canned mackerel, Gloria also uses ginger paste and garlic paste from an Indian market to eliminate making them from scratch. Another time saver is the ability to purchase dried shrimp from a local international market rather than drying them in the oven before grinding them. This is a simplified step-by-step crockpot shito recipe adapted from Gloria Mensah’s version.