Chili Pepper and Shrimp Sambal

Shito/Shitor/Shito Din/Mako Tuntum

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

Appears in

The Ghana Cookbook

By Fran Osseo-Asare and Barbara Baëta

Published 2015

  • About

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.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried shrimp (from a 3.5-ounce/100-gram package)
  • 2 cups canned mackerel (from a 15-ounce/425-gram can)
  • ¼ cup dried ground red pepper (for medium-heat)
  • 2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes
  • 2 large onions, cut into chunks
  • ¼ cup ginger paste (from pureed fresh ginger or bought)
  • ¼ cup garlic paste (from pureed fresh garlic or bought)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
  • 1 to 2 cups vegetable oil, such as canola or peanut (not red palm oil)

Method

Directions

Optional Step

  1. Rinse the dried shrimp, blot them dry with a paper towel, then spread them out on a baking sheet in a 200 degree F oven for an hour while completing the other prep work.

Prepare the mackerel

  1. A crucial requirement in making shito is to remove all water. Dry and blot the drained canned mackerel with paper towels before flaking it with your fingers. Put the flaked mackerel in a large bowl and add the ground red pepper.

Prepare tomatoes

  1. Crush the Italian plum tomatoes by lifting the tomatoes out of the liquid first and then squeezing them through your fingers into a small bowl. If using already crushed canned tomatoes, drain off most of the liquid.

Assemble shito

  1. Mix 1 cup of the crushed tomatoes with the mackerel.
  2. Blend the second cup of tomatoes with the onions in a small blender or food processor and add to the mackerel mixture.
  3. Grind the dried shrimps in the electric blender and add them to the mixture. Stir in the ginger paste, garlic paste, and tomato paste, if using, and finally 1 cup of oil. Add up to 1 cup more oil for a moister, longer lasting shito.

Cook shito

  1. Put everything in a crockpot, cover and cook on low for 12 to 18 hours, stirring every few hours. The shito is ready when it is dark brown, but not burned (constant stirring and pressing is another trick to making shito), and all the water has cooked out. (This may not always work in the crockpot: some slow cookers may take longer, or it may need to be finished in a cast iron or nonstick heavy skillet on a stovetop. To finish on the stovetop, heat a skillet on medium heat, then lower to low and stir constantly for 30 to 45 minutes. It will continue to cook a little in the pan even after it is taken off the heat.)
  2. Allow the shito to cool completely and store in glass jars. When cooked very dry and covered with a generous coating of oil, shito keeps well at room temperature.

Variations

  • Some Ghanaians skip the mackerel altogether and make shito using only flaked dried shrimp from Thailand. This is even easier, but the Thai version has 2 percent sugar added to the dried shrimp.
  • A vegetarian family locally makes a great shito using seaweed in place of the dried shrimp and fish.
  • Many Ghanaians nowadays add shrimp-flavored or other seasoning cubes to their shito.
  • If dried shrimp aren’t available, substitute fresh shelled and deveined shrimp, dried in a slow oven.
  • Shito can also be cooked uncovered in a slow oven.
  • Substitute tuna for the mackerel.