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Food

Jollof rice is the ultimate one-pot chicken dinner

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Serve this one-dish meal straight from the pan.
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

I met Adjoa when I was working at an NGO in Ghana during college and she hosted me in her home. Even before I crossed her doorway, she asked, “Have you eaten?”

Once inside, I caught the unmistakable scent of steaming rice that I associate with home. But laid over that aroma was sizzled chicken fat, browned onion, and saucy tomato. Adjoa handed me a deep bowl of crimson rice studded with spicy chicken and peppers, then opened a jar on the kitchen table and forked out a few pickled peppers on top.

She told me it was Ghanaian jollof rice — not Nigerian jollof rice (which is often all vegetable), or Senegalese (which often contains seafood) — and that her country’s was the best.

Despite her confidence in Ghana’s jollof, she confided, “I still want to make mine better.” I couldn’t imagine it more delicious, but I needed to know what could possibly improve. She told me her fiance, who had moved to Dallas to study dentistry, said American supermarkets sell chicken without bones — and that was her dream ingredient.

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As someone whose favorite chicken part is the nubby cartilage ends of bones, I questioned our burgeoning friendship. But Adjoa detailed her endless experiments with cooking bone-in chicken without overcooking the rice and I knew we were kindred spirits, not only in our aversion to mushy rice but in our excitement for getting a recipe just right.

I tried re-creating Adjoa’s recipe with bone-in chicken, but her intuition was right. The rice arrives at the ideal tenderness right when boneless chicken thighs transition from unpleasant pinkness to juicy goodness.

I can’t speak to whether this is better than any other take on jollof rice, but I know it’s my favorite because its technique is on point and because it tastes like a warm welcome into someone’s home.

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Serve more pickled peppers on the side.
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

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Kitchen Comforts: Ghanaian Jollof Rice

55 minutes. Serves 8.

Baking this one-pot rice dish ensures evenly cooked grains. You can prepare it all on the stovetop too: Instead of transferring the skillet to the oven, adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer while covered and cook until the rice has absorbed all the liquid, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Ingredients

  • 4 bell peppers, 1 thinly sliced, 3 diced
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried garlic chips
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne or other dried ground hot red pepper
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut in 2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 piece (1 inch) fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 cups jasmine rice, rinsed well and drained
  • ¼ cup tomato paste

Instructions

  1. Toss the sliced pepper with the vinegar and ½ teaspoon salt. Let stand. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine the dried garlic, thyme, cayenne and 1 bay leaf in a spice grinder and pulse until finely ground; reserve.
  3. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy large, wide skillet with an ovenproof lid over medium-high heat. Generously season the chicken with salt, then add to the hot oil. Cook, turning the pieces occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Don’t crowd the pan; work in batches if you have to.
  4. Add the onion and diced peppers and sprinkle with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften, about 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in the ginger, spice mixture and 2 teaspoons salt, then stir in the rice. Cook, stirring, until the rice is toasted, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring for 1 minute, then add 3 cups water and the remaining bay leaf and bring to a boil. Cover, transfer to the oven, and bake until the rice is tender and has absorbed all of the liquid, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.
  6. Uncover the rice and season to taste with salt. Drain the pepper slices and scatter over the hot rice and serve.

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