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How to make the perfect jollof rice

Variations on this West African spiced rice dish abound, but slow cooking and a perfect base are key.

By Akwasi Brenya-Mensa
Published 1 Jul 2022, 06:04 BST
Bowl of Jollof rice.

Jollof rice can be enjoyed on its own or as a side dish with fish, meat or a stew.

Photograph by Shutterstock

Origins

This spiced rice dish is thought to have originated in Senegambia — a historical region spanning parts of modern-day Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania — during the Jolof Empire of the 14th-16th centuries. It remains popular across West Africa, with many regional variations.

Method

The base of the jollof is best made in advance, to allow the flavours to deepen and intensify. A mix of onions, tomatoes, ginger, scotch bonnet, peppers and herbs and spices is cooked low and slow; you should let it bubble away until the oil starts to separate and settle on the surface. 

Flavourings

Nigerian jollof tends to gain a spiciness from its base of obe ata dindin (a red pepper sauce), while Ghanaian jollof is said to be milder in comparison. I use half a scotch bonnet to create mild heat, while aromatic spices such as star anise add depth of flavour.

Rice

Basmati rice works best, as it’s relatively firm and the grains stay separate. Wash it a few times beforehand, until the water is fairly clear. Cover the pot with parchment paper or foil before putting the lid on; steam, rather than water, is what makes the rice fluffy.

Consistency

Consistency is key. The jollof shouldn’t be too saucy — the base should form a thin coating on the grains without drowning them. Before adding the base to the uncooked rice, I suggest putting some to one side. That way, you can gradually add more if needed.

Serving

Jollof rice can be enjoyed on its own or as a side dish with fish, meat or a stew. Alternatively, some versions involve cooking veg, meat or fish in with the rice as a one-pot meal. I like my jollof served with grilled chicken, red stew and fried plantains.

Published in Issue 16 (summer 2022) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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