This is a traditional chicken recipe that is believed to have originated in the Casamance region of Senegal (the part of Senegal south of The Gambia that has seen a lot of separatist movements pop up over the years). Today, chicken yassa can be found not only in Senegal, but most of West Africa and in Senegalese restaurants around the world. The most distinct part of the dish is the marinade that the chicken is soaked in prior to cooking. A similar marinade can be used with fish in coastal areas, and other types of meat such as lamb have also been used in place of chicken. Chicken though remains the most commonly used meat, as it is the cheapest and most available type of meat in Africa. In fact, Africa is beginning to develop . Some reports say that chicken accounts for almost half of all meat consumed in Africa. As demand rises, so too are prices, and many believe that a strong chicken industry is the key to both food security and reducing Africa’s dependence on imported goods. In fact, Bill Gates has estimated that breeding 5 hens could generate up to $1,000 a year in revenue (this is significant in a country where the poverty line is just $700 a year).
As chicken yassa has travelled to Europe and the United States alongside the West African diaspora, the dish has been experimented with and altered. The recipe posted below is an example of a fairly simple example of chicken yassa, something that someone is more likely to find in West Africa, but as different cultures have gotten their hands on the dish, they have added to it and given it their own variations. The recipe is a mixture of sweet and spicy, using seasonings such as bay leaf and garlic, onions (which due to their high levels of production are used regularly in West Africa as a condiment), lemon, and Dijon mustard, all ingredients that can be found in West Africa. Below is one recipe for Poulet (chicken) yassa that I found at congocookbook.com.
Recipe for Chicken Yassa
- one-half cup peanut oil (or any cooking oil)
- one chicken, cut into serving-sized pieces
- four (or six, or more!) onions, cut up
- eight tablespoons lemon juice
- eight tablespoons vinegar (cider vinegar is good)
- one bay leaf
- four cloves minced garlic
- two tablespoons Dijon mustard (optional)
- one or two tablespoons Arome Maggi® sauce (or Maggi® cubes and water), or soy sauce (optional)
- chile pepper, cleaned and finely chopped (optional)
- cayenne pepper or red pepper, black pepper, salt (to taste)
- a small cabbage, cut into chunks (optional)
- a few carrots, cut into chunks (optional)
- Mix all ingredients (except the optional vegetables), the more onions the better, and allow chicken to marinate in a glass dish in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. Remove chicken from the marinade, but save the marinade. Cook according to one of the following methods.
- Cooking method 1: Grill chicken over a charcoal fire (or bake it in a hot oven) until chicken is lightly browned but not done.
- Cooking method 2: Sauté chicken for a few minutes on each side in hot oil in a frypan.
- While chicken is browning: Remove onions from marinade and sauté them in a large saucepan for a few minutes. Add remaining marinade and the optional vegetables and bring to a slow boil and cook at a boil for ten minutes. Cook the marinade into a sauce. Reduce heat.
- Add chicken to the sauce, cover and simmer until chicken is done. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.
- Serve with Rice, Couscous (couscous with chickpeas and raisins is very good), or Fufu.
- Serve Ginger Beer or Green Tea with Mint with or after the meal.