Who else needs to know about jollof?!
…who else needs to learn about this West African classic?! Do you? I often wonder. That warming one pot many a West African grew up devouring, loving and greedily seeking in the homes of family and friends, at parties, weddings, funerals, and anywhere there was food, has become so popular across the world that I often feel the need to shift the focus to other recipes from the continent. After sharing the recipe video on my instagram reels, and with reactions of such ecstatic greed, the answer once again became clear. You do need to know about jollof! For some it might be the first time, and for others uncountable times since. And when you think you know it well, when you think you have tried it all, from a proper smoky party jollof in Lagos to Jamie Oliver’s (oyibo rendition) — which I was more perplexed than mad at, at least he tried), a recipe, like my Roasted Lamb Jollof, will inspire you with the magic of African one pots, and the infinite possibilities and pleasures the most simple of combinations can create.
We use slangs to cut through cultural differences and languages in Africa. You will notice some of these slangs, including African lingo, vernacular & words from several languages in this and future newsletters. I’ll pop the words and meanings in the LINGO section at the end of the newsletter. Feel free to share yours too, any you pick up from friends or on your travels!
How many more ways can you cook jollof?
Despite its growing popularity, much of the world has not heard of, tasted or eaten jollof, so surely I can never tire of teaching, serving and sharing recipes from the classics to my ever growing variations. I have eaten Jollof and it’s many delectable guises from across the continent, from the smoky Nigerian, fishy Ghanaian and it’s big sister, the Sene-Gambian Benachin & Tcheboujen. (More to come in future posts)
Any West African restaurant worth its salt will have Jollof on the menu, from the Michelin starspot with the chicest postcode to those who have been here serving the community for what feels like forever - well before this Africa risingthat we have have been experiencing lately. In its most basic essence, Jollof is rice in a rich sauce of tomato, sweet and hot peppers, aromatics and stock taken to varying heights with the choice and ratio of these ingredients - including the addition of meat or and vegetables. The method of cooking could be the traditional coal or fire wood for that inimitably smoky ‘party jollof’ also similar to the South African potjie style cooking (pronounced poi-kee), a stove top version easily cooked in most households, or a more ‘hands-free’ baked version as I have done here.
For those of us who won’t be stacking firewood like ‘Aunty’ or fanning coals, see some of my other recipes here, Jollof & Green Peas, Jollof Quinoa enjoyed at my cookery classes and another here, all with my favourite cheat for that smoky flavour.
I created this Roasted Lamb Jollof at Christmas when at first I wanted to cook roast beef jollof and then decided on lamb. My mission was clear; I wanted to maximise flavour from meat on-the-bone and to perfect a hands-free jollof that would be baked in the oven. It wasn’t about tweaking, or changing what I know already works, but creating a recipe that respects the essence of the classic while reaching for different and possibly greater heights in flavour. I wanted the best jollof ever and I didn’t want to sweat for it. This recipe is an absolute knock-out in flavour and ease. Sparing you those nail biting moments of staring at the pot, while resisting the urge to stir. The next time you attempt to stir your jollof, I hope you will feel my disproving glance somewhere behind you. I hope you enjoy this recipe, and while cooking, you can spend much of your precious time napping, enjoying a glass of what you love, meditating or googling your ex... Now bake this jollof!
Cooking Time: 1hr 30 minutes
1kg half leg of lamb (I used the more meaty top part of the leg also called the ‘sirloin part’)
700g passata (or 2x 400g can tomatoes)
1 large onion
1 large Romano pepper or 2 medium bell peppers, deseeded
1 scotch bonnet (optional if you’d rather chicken out! but wonderful!)
2 red chillies
5 fat cloves of garlic, peeled
5cm of ginger, peeled if the skin is coarse, otherwise just roughly chop
2 tsp fennel seeds (halved)
Rapeseed oil or coconut/groundnut oil/olive/sunflower
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
400g basmati rice, rinsed (I use Tilda)
300 ml hot stock (I used chicken stock & also relied on the lamb for its stock)
6 stalks of fresh thyme
Optional: 500 - 1kg Chicken, optional
Veggies: Carrots (finely chopped, cubed, or cut into rounds), or mushrooms for the most wonderful veg stock
You will need: A wide and oven-friendly casserole or a baking dish. I use a 30cm wide Le Creuset casserole pan with a cover. You can use any ovenproof pot, glass, or ceramic dish but this dish will need to be covered when the rice is added. I especially prefer to use wide pans to cook jollof, allowing for a larger surface area for the rice to cook, without the weight of being stacked and squashed in a smaller pan or pot.
Let’s get cooking
1. Make sure the lamb is at room temperate, and properly defrosted well in advance. Cut deep incisions all over the meat and set the lamb aside while you prepare the puree.
2. In a blender, combine the tomatoes, onion, red pepper, chillies, garlic, ginger, 1 tsp of fennel seeds and blend until smooth.
3. Pour 4 tbsp of oil into your casserole and place the lamb in the center of the pan. Pour the blended purée all over the lamb and around the casserole.
4. In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp of oil with the remaining 1 tsp of fennel seeds and all the dried herbs. Add 1 tsp of sea salt flakes or 1/2 tsp fine sea salt and give it a good mix. Rub or brush the herb mix all over the lamb and place the casserole in the oven to roast uncovered at 220C/ 200C Fan/ 392F for 30 minutes.
5. The fat on the top of the lamb will have rendered. Turn the lamb around. Add the rice and stock stock and season all over the lamb and rice with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tuck in the thyme stalks, cover and place in the middle of the oven to cook for up to 60 minutes.
6. You can check every 20 minutes to gently tuck the sides and add a little stock or water if needed (don’t stir otherwise your rice will turn to mush) Once cooked, the rice should be reddened, plumped and separated. Remove from the oven, takeout the lamb to rest on a board or serving plate. Fluff the grains with a fork and leave covered to stand for a few minutes before serving. Carve the lamb and serve alongside the rice.
See Cook’s Tip’s below which also includes answers to reader questions, many of which have come from instagram.
Cook's Tip: While in Nigeria and across West Africa we would most commonly use fresh tomatoes and often with the addition of tomato purée, in the UK I love to use the very best passata - a thick and smooth tomato sauce (not to be mistaken for pasta sauce), or I use canned tomatoes which can include chopped, plum, baby plum (Roma) or cherry tomatoes which are so wonderfully sweet! Because passata is so rich, and when using larger red peppers, I find it unnecessary to use tomato purée.
Chillies: I used both scotchies (scotch bonnets) and red chillies for their nuanced flavours. Feel free to use both, one or the other. Scotch bonnets are classically used in jollof for their warming and sweet heat.
Rice: I prefer the fragrant and longer grains of basmati over the more traditionally used long grain rice. This recipe has been tested and perfected with basmati. Years ago I tried it with long grain and after being so frustrated as it took forever to cook, I had to finish cooking the dish on the stove top. Perhaps I needed to par boil the long grain rice. I could not be bothered and subsequently gave up.
Stock: Using hot stock helps to maintain the temperature of your sauce, and to keep things moving quickly, but if you can’t be bothered to heat your stock, it isn’t the end of the world.
Chicken: If cooking with chicken, I prefer to use on-the-bone to maximise flavour from its stock and to maintain moistness, just add to step 5 along with the stock and rice.
Veggies: If using mushrooms and or carrots for a plant-based version, you can also add the veggies at step 5 to cook along with the stock and rice. Mix chestnut & shiitake mushrooms for a deeply enriched veg stock.
Choosing the right pan/dish: Because I used a heavy-based cast iron pot with its cover, this may have taken longer to heat in the oven, so please take note of chosen pan/dish - cast iron, stainless steel, glass, or ceramic which all conduct heat differently.
Wahala - trouble, bother
Scotchies - scotch bonnets. I heard this on the US version of food network many years ago and I loved it!
Aunty - in Nigeria every older woman is called aunty