Jollof rice (INVENTED IN NIGERIA… argue with yo mama) is a very easy dish to prepare but even easier to mess up if you don’t do it right. I have not included things like over cooking, undercooking and burnt offering type scenarios. That will be addressed in my “10 Reasons Why You Should Never Step into a Kitchen” article. Let me know if you’d like to read that.
So, without further ado here are my 10 reasons for your Jollof woes and my attempt to help you fix them:
You are not using enough tomato/pepper blend
You blend 2 pieces of tomatoes, 1 chili pepper, 1 red bell pepper and half an onion and hope to make enough rice for a small wedding. Ko le werk. The key to an awesome Jollof rice experience is that each grain of rice is saturated in the delicious Jollof sauce.
Your tomato blend is rubbish
Your onion to tomato ratio is 1: 50, you can’t even be bothered to buy fresh pepper, so you use ata gungun, again, Ko le werk!
You are attempting to bulk up your rubbish tomato blend with tomato puree
Not only is your tomato blend sinful, the quantity is too small, so you attempt to bulk up with 19 sachets of tomato puree; and the fact that this will even make the rice neon red is a huge bonus for you abi? Epic fail! The acidity from tomato puree will murder you rice before it gets on the plate. Don’t do it!
You are too lazy to fry off the tartness from the tomato puree before adding other ingredients
By all means use tomato puree to help you get that extra redness and richness, but the tartness of the puree especially in large quantities will make it seem like you added a bucket of limes. Try frying off the puree in oil for a bit to get rid of the tartness. You will still get the lovely colour and richness without the sour taste.
Your seasoning / spices are incomplete or not enough
This should be taught in primary school; but for those that don’t know, the basic seasoning for Jollof rice are Curry Powder, Thyme, Bouillon cube(s) and “Bay leaves”. Bay leaves are not essential, but I think they should be. Anything else you add should be an enhancement based on your pallet. Hell, you can even add chocolate to make it extra special (please don’t).
Your insufficient seasoning and spices are bad
I once bought curry powder from an Asian store that was more orange than an orange, and yep it tasted reeeeeeeeeeally bad. But I was a cheapskate and felt I could compensate with other ingredients instead of tossing it out. It didn’t work. Jollof rice spice brands are like good bras. Once you find a brand that works for you, DO NOT GET ADVENTOROUS. Stick with what you know except someone highly recommends it, you have tasted it and know this to be true. And in case you were wondering, I did not toss it out I used it till the very end. My mother taught me wasting food is a sin (Are spices food?)
You don’t know what bay leaves are (or you do and wilfully choose not to use them)
This is open for debate, but do not debate with me except you have taken the pain to make two separate pots of Jollof with the exact same ingredients with one of them having bay leaves. Have you? Me neither I don’t have that kind of time but if I did I bet you the subtle difference in the taste with the Bay leaves batch will be a delight. Disclaimer if you dump a forest of bay leaves into a pot of Jollof rice with number 1 – 6 offences you will end up with a tasteless vegetable-Jollof hybrid.
You measured the rice to the last grain and can’t afford to allow a little burning
Another one for debate. Side eye to those who make Jollof in the oven (is gas free in your area?) The number one reason I’ve heard from people that make Jollof in the oven is that it doesn’t burn. My answer to that is remember when you were growing up; when your aunty was getting married; and all the women in the house cooked the food. Didn’t you fight with your siblings for the bottom of the pot because that was the most delicious part? No? Oh sorry I didn’t know you were Dangote’s offspring. Next!
You think your 3-month-old chicken stock will be magically better than water
Please if you do not have constant power supply (or at least gen supply for a few hours daily) toss out your old chicken stock. Do not use it for Jollof rice or any other thing for that matter. The fresher the better. If in doubt just use water.
You think people that allow their Jollof to rest for a few minutes before serving are hippies
O gbona feli feli should only be limited to Amala and other such type of food. I postulate that one of the reasons why party Jollof is so great apart from the infusion of the firewood smell is that it takes you a few hours before you actually get to eat it. The flavours would have had a chance to marry and infuse into one another making the Jollof taste like the national treasure it truly is. Give 10 – 20 minutes after cooking before serving. Good things come to those who wait. This, however, does not apply if you live in a Nigerian hostel or have flat mates; in that case, screw the waiting and get in there now. It might be your only chance!
(I am a food expert and I say this with confidence because I have the waistline to prove it.)