This spicy recipe comes courtesy of my friend Kafui who is Ghanaian, but works for USAID's West Africa Trade Hub, based in Dakar, Senegal. Kafui and I worked together on the Taste of Africa cookbook, which was one of the best international cooking experiences I've ever had. Thanks to her, I'm able to bring you an authentic Senegalese meal that I hope does justice to both the beautiful country and the people tonight's dinner represents. A traditional dish from the Casamance region of Senegal, Poulet Yassa (Chicken Yassa), is best marinated overnight to produce a tender, spicy dish that is enjoyed in traditional Senegalese homes and restaurants. Thank you, Kafui - you are a wonderful and generous wealth of information!
Just a quick word about this post....yesterday as I was preparing the marinade for the chicken, and about to photograph the process, we lost our electricity due to Hurricane Irene that swept up the East Coast, taking down trees and power lines in her wake. Therefore, I didn't have enough light to photograph the process as I ordinarily would have. Hopefully, there's enough here that you'll still get the picture - so to speak.
Located in the westernmost region of the African continent, Senegal is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea Bissau and Guinea. The southern region of Casamance shares its border with The Gambia...all countries I've cooked in thus far! Due to a long French presence in the country, from which it gained independence in 1960, along with a lengthy tradition of trade with North African and Arab countries, Senegal has many foreign influences, but maintains its own rich and colorful traditions, evidenced by its unique customs and cuisine. A hot, tropical climate, Sengal boasts some of the most beautiful beaches and coral reefs in the world. Dakar, the capital of the country, is a sophisticated and diverse city that is home to many Senegalese ethnic groups, Europeans, Lebanese, Mauritanians, Moroccans, Chinese and Cape Verdeans (by no means a complete list). Food processing, mining, textile, petroleum refineries and tourism are intrinsic to the country's economy. Exports such as fish, chemicals, cotton, groundnuts and calcium phosphate make Senegal an important player in t e global economy.
Cuisine in Senegal has French, Portuguese and North African influences. From chatting with Kafui, I have a feeling much of the food can be very hot and spicy...I'm pretty sure she would have added many more hot peppers and cayenne to this dish than my western taste buds are used to! Fish, chicken, lamb (stewed and/or marinated) and eggs are all good sources of protein, but as Senegal has a very large Islamic population, pork is not eaten. Peanuts, couscous, white rice, sweet potatoes, lentils, black eyed peas, tomatoes and onions all also commonly eaten. Bissap, ginger, mango buy (fruit from the baobab tree), along with plantains are also staple foods. Maybe someday I'll get to go to Senegal and have the honor and pleasure of sharing an authentic Senegalese meal with Kafui...until then, my attempt at recreating Poulet Yassa will have to suffice!
The basics for the the marinade
Poulet Yassa (Chicken Yassa) (Adapted from The Congo Cookbook)
1/2 cup cooking oil
1 chicken, cut up into serving-sized pieces
four (or more onions), cut up
8 Tbsp. lemon juice
8 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 bay leaf
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard (optional)
1-1 Tbsp. chicken bouillon or base
1 chili pepper, cleaned and finely chopped
cayenne or red pepper, black pepper and salt to taste
1 small cabbage, cut into chunks (optional)
a few carrots, cut into chunks (optional)
Mix all ingredients (except optional vegetables), the more onions the better, and allow chicken to marinate in a glass dish in the refrigerator for a few hour or overnight. Remove chicken from the marinade, reserving marinade. Cook chicken according to one of the following methods:
- Grill over a charcoal or gas grill until chicken is lightly browned, but not done.
- Saute chicken for a few minutes on each side in a hot frying pan until brown.
Add chicken to the sauce, cover and simmer until chicken is done - about 45 minutes- 1 hour depending how well you browned the chicken before adding it to the pot.
Serve with rice or couscous, mixed with chick peas and raisins.
Ginger beer or green tea make a nice accompaniment.
Final Assessment: Wow! This will be a regularly featured dish in our house. Because the chicken marinated overnight, it fell off the bones once cooked through. I highly recommend browning it on the grill it if you can. The blend of lemons, garlic, onions, peppers and mustard was terrific. I served it with couscous, mixed with a handful of raisins and chickpeas...A+