Gambian Chicken Yassa
A little while ago I went on holidays. Yep, the first holiday longer than four days in three years, so we said we’d be a little adventurous. However, needless to say our budget and our aspirations were very far away from each other.
Into the breach stepped @Gastromama, who is so unbelievably adept at sourcing, pricing and arranging everything that we’ve always – only half jokingly – said she should be PA to Bill Gates. She found a holiday in a beachfront luxury hotel with breakfast included on the west coast of Africa, including four flights, for the same price as a weekend in Dublin. We said thank you very much Mummy and toddled off to The Gambia for two weeks.
The weather there was amazing at 36C every day, but the food was even better…oh wow, the food….lots of delicious fresh meaty white fish, huge prawns and chunks of fillet beef, all accompanied by fragrant rice. Whilst there I took a cooking lesson of sorts. I say of sorts, because the lady in charge of the class was clearly immensely accomplished at her craft, deftly preparing her ingredients and mixing them together in a huge pot over a white-hot charcoal fire. However, she was a little shy and so didn’t give us any actual directions.
There’s a bit of guesswork involved here so, and the recipes for Yassa online barely resemble what the lady did in The Gambia, so I was reluctant to follow them. Instead, the below is what I could garner from watching intently, and the results of my efforts were pronounced to be “exactly the same” by my fellow traveller, the perpetually hungry OH.
This dish calls for about four cups of chicken stock, which I chose to make myself as the recipe leaves you with two chicken carcasses and I resent the high salt levels of stock cubes. This dish tastes much better if the chicken and mixture is marinaded from the night before, so you might as well make your own stock the night before too if you’ve the energy / inclination after a long day’s work. If not, no problem, just use stock cubes – this is what the lady in The Gambia did!
- 2 Medium Sized Chickens
- 1 cup of lemon/lime juice + ½ cup vinegar + ½ cup vegetable oil + 4 cups chicken stock (see below)
- 1 tbsp mustard powder + 1 tbsp mustard seeds + pinch salt + 2 tbsp freshly milled black pepper + 3 bay leaves
- 1 green chilli, finely chopped + 1-2 scotch bonnet chillies, whole + 1 large onion, sliced + handful chopped green / red peppers
- In a bowl, mix the sliced onions, mustard seeds and powder, lemon / lime juice, black pepper, chillies, vinegar and drop of olive oil. This is your marinade.
- Section the chickens into eight pieces each. This is actually very easy and is just about making sure you get the knife right into the joint and separate both parts rather than attempting to cut through bone. I was taught this skill by a lovely butcher when I worked for his shop from ages 12 to 16 (oh the glamour!), but if you’re unsure, there is of course a YouTube video right here. Pop the chicken pieces into the marinade.
- Leave chicken and marinade for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight.
- Optional Step: if you’re making your own stock for this dish, you might want to make a much plainer one than usual because this recipe is all about the simplicity of the citrus and black pepper flavours, so you have to keep the hands away from the usual favourite herbs and spices. I simply popped both chicken carcasses into a big deep pot with two cloves of garlic and one chopped onion with light salt and pepper seasoning and filled up with water. I then brought the water to boiling point and simmered for a few hours, skimming the fat off the top regularly. When there’s only about three or four cupfuls left, strain and leave in the fridge for use the next day with the marinaded meat.
- The next day (or later that afternoon) take the marinaded mixture from the fridge, remove the chicken, allow it to rest for a few minutes so it’s not too cold, and then either fry in a little oil or grill until golden brown (I saw it done both ways).
- When that’s done, set it aside and fry off the remaining mixture. When softened (the citrus juice will prevent it from browning) remove and add to the chicken.
- Add chicken and marinade mixture to cold stock and heat gently, allowing to simmer for about forty minutes until stock is reduced. Turn off the heat and add the peppers, so that they cook but remain crunchy.
- Serve with lovely fluffy rice, or wholegrain like me if you’re still keeping up the farce of healthy eating in 2012.
PS, as tweeted earlier in the week, I made a rather strange discovery when I took the marinade out of the fridge the next morning. The lemon juice had ‘cured’ the chicken, meaning it looked and felt ‘cooked’. Pink had turned white as you can see from the photo to the right. And no, I didn’t taste it just to make sure. Not that brave.
This too is a cheap recipe – depending on how you like to buy your chickens (free range or otherwise), that is pretty much the only major expense. The combined total of the other ingredients is only a couple of euro, so this dish could be cooked for as little as €12 but will feed eight people. We could learn a lot from the Gambians!
- Mustard seeds me eye – if you only have powder, or the spreadable stuff, just add that in instead, it’s just about getting the taste of it in there.
- If you have delicate Irish palates, simply remove the chillies from the recipe, the black pepper is the most important spice, so that on its own will be fine.
- I made this for our lunch for the week as it’s a great one-pot jobbie which is cheap, low-calories, and when combined with brown rice, gives me enough energy to get through yet. another. endless. January. day.