“Unfortunately, when it came to English food, Mum was a terrible cook – but everything that she cooked that was Nigerian was outstanding! Signature dishes were pounded yam with stew, plantain, jollof rice, my mum’s puff puff (which is a traditional West African doughnut) and moin moin, a Nigerian bean cake. We were not the most wealthy family, so the meat and fish Mum used tended to be secondary cuts, but the way it was treated made the flavours incredible.
“My favourite dish is jollof rice, which is basically a Nigerian biryani – a baked rice dish containing lots of spices, onions and meat or fish. The base of the rice flavour is an integral part of the dish: a reduction of tomatoes, scotch bonnet chilli, onion, red peppers, herbs and spice. The mixture is reduced and cooked down to intensify and sweeten the dish, then the rice is toasted and roasted into the stew base before covering it with a stock. Normally the stock used to cook the rice is taken from the protein that goes with it.
“For example, if serving with fried fish, make the stock from the fish: cover with water, add basic herbs – thyme, garlic, bay leaves – then strain it off. The stock is used to cover the rice and slowly cooks it. Jollof can be cooked with fish, chicken, goat or beef.
“It’s what I grew up with three times a week. My family was Christian-based, so my mum used to cook it for church gatherings, family parties – catering for everyone. It was lovely to see the joy on other family friends’ faces to know that my mum was cooking her famous jollof rice dish.
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“Nigerians like to cook with bay leaf, curry powder and thyme, but in Ghana they use different spices. In Nigeria, traditionally the rice is cooked with palm oil, which gives it the colour and flavour, but for ethical and nutritional value as well, we avoid using it at Akoko – standard olive or vegetable oil is substituted. You don’t need any special equipment to create this dish, just a pot and patience to really take time reducing the paste.
“At Akoko, we make our own stock for the base of the rice, but traditionally my mum would make her own, bring it to the boil, simmer it for a couple of hours and strain it. But, what you can do at home is pressure-cook the stock: you get a much more intense flavour. Pressure-cook for 90 minutes to two hours under full pressure, then strain all that loveliness off and get a gorgeous stock.”