Someday I’ll have my dream. Of opening a pop-up restaurant.
I’ll call it ‘Sweet Smoke Square’.
Because of Jollof rice and ‘bottom pot’.
And because I totally heart smoke.
It’ll have the finest food South of the Sahara, under the canopy of the Savannah.
It’ll be an ode to my epiphany. My recent epiphany on imbuing the finest rice, with the deepest, smokiest of flavours.
It’ll be fodder to my obsession with CANI. Constant And Never-ending Improvement. The Japanese concept of Kaizen.
…refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, and business management. It has been applied in healthcare,psychotherapy, life-coaching, government, banking, and other industries.
“I dare say ‘food’ should be included in the applications, for that is essentially what we cooks do – we build on, we improve, we make progress….”
An eternal desire to ‘make better’.
Stir-fried. Oven-baked. With Vermicelli noodles.
It’ll be my celebration of the joys of firewood….accomplished on a stove top. It’ll be what you’d want to come and feast on. In my kitchen.
Twas on Christmas day I finally cracked the ‘code’. As in found the answer to an age-old question. Let me just say, it has to do with a very burnt pot. Stainless steel.
As you know, I’m no stranger to burnt things….for the good of food and science.
Smoky Jollof is very much associated with ‘party cooking’ in Nigeria. – food cooked in large pots, over firewood for special occasions in which the smoke and rice become one. This isn’t something I do…often. Or have ever done as a matter of fact as woman of my own home. When I was a child, I saw many a pot being cooked at home though….and am well aware of how delicious ‘party food’ is.
I’ve known for a while too that lots of people accomplish it on the stovetop but had never been able to get my brain to progress the thought sufficiently.
Till the Sunday before Christmas. I’m at my friend’s and her mom is cooking Jollof Rice. I comment on how dry her tomato sauce is….she talks about how she uses just enough sauce and then cooks the rice on low heat to steam it. So it doesn’t burn. The next thing she says stays with me ‘….and I always use a non-stick pot, this way it never burns….’.
Expressed in plain English, this means that a single moment of insight is the result of thinking that happens before it
–often, the authors state, due to reorganizing or restructuring of the elements of a situation or problem.
This echoes the favored Fast Company definition of creativity, that it’s finding the connections between seemingly unrelated things.
On Christmas day, I turned that statement on its head.
I ditched my non-stick pot in preference of my stainless.
‘Bottom pot’ connotes one thing in my home country – Flavour. And smoke. Which is flavour too. Like the Spanish socarrat, treasured in Paella.
Socarrat, a seductive caramelization of the bottom layer of rice.
“Socarrat (Catalan), quintessence of the perfect paella and for which the restaurant is named, is the delectable, sensuous crust that forms on the bottom of the paella pan when the liquid is rendered and the rice reaches its peak of succulence.”
I took her advice. I made a thick sauce. I cooked my rice on super low heat so it steamed ….then….and here’s the genius, my genius….I set the pot on high heat once the rice was cooked for 5 minutes……and ladies and gentlemen…..Perfection cannot describe what ensued.
Flaky grains of rice and vermicelli noodles, sweet, smoky, spicy flavours in the Jollof Stick Rice ….and a very happy me.
And I know your’re wondering what Stick Rice is. And I will tell. It’s a combination of long-grained rice and vermicelli noodles, which can be ‘fried’ or jollofed. Bear with me.
So I’m blessed with the best friends ever. That’s a fact.
Blessed not only because they love me….but because most of them also happen to love food :-)!
Take my friends TJ and FW. My friends from when I was but a girl. And care-free. When I had short hair and was ‘cute’, some might even say.
Friends I have to thanks for this Stick Rice recipe. A recipe that I’ve been obsessed with for upwards of fifteen years since I first tasted it at theirs in London, way back when….
So this is what you ought to imagine. Student me, living in a house with 15 other people in the heart of Liverpool. Not loving football or any such thing. Me. Homesick, longing for family and friends…and me heading to London to see my BFFs for the weekend. And it was that FW’s big sister, T had made a pot of Stick Rice. Which I am proud to say I worked my way through that weekend. Without shame. Without shame. Yes, without shame.
For 15 years I’ve wanted to re-create this recipe.
For 15 years I hadn’t.
For months I’ve been harassing TJ for the recipe.
And finally…the day before Christmas, we talked. We caught up. Exchanged virtual hugs.
Said how much we loved each other.
And I got the recipe from my BFF.
A sure sign that 2014 will be well for our friendship.
Let me just say the results were OUTSTANDING.
How do I judge? Apart from mere tasting?
As in what are the CSFs, Critical Success Factors?
Well, lets just say that if the daughters approve and Daughter #2 says its good, hangs around the table from ‘Lundin’ to past dinner time, than you know………….
Then you know………….that it is the Bees Knees.
For Daughter #2 is my litmus test. The one I want to prove many a food thing to….not in an ‘I told you so’ way…but in ‘I’m glad you like it, I didn’t think you would’ manner. She’s the one most like me pre- age 9. When I hated food and loved sugar.
But……….but……………..she is WAY beyond what I ever was.
She eats SO SO SO well….but still, a mother needs a challenge and I’ve found mine.
So when the day after, she’s craving stick rice still… when she rejoices that I’ve set out a batch for lunch on day 3 (after Christmas), I know I’ve arrived.
I know I’ve succeeded.
On many levels. On achieving smoke. On getting a long-lusted after recipe. In satisfying my child.
Here goes everything babes….everything.
Nigerian Jollof Stick Rice
Yield: feeds a crowd!
Ingredients1 kg Basmati/ Long-grain rice, about 6 scant cups 400g Thai or Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Noodles (Not Indian Rice Vermicelli) 3 cups tomato mixture, cooked 3 cups stock, vegetable, beef or chicken 2 cups mixed vegetables, diced: I used fresh carrots, green beans and green bell peppers Curry powder, to taste Dried Thyme, to taste Stock cubes, optional Salt, to taste Canola or vegetable oil
Prepare Rice & Noodles
If using basmati, soak it in cold water for 20 – 30 minutes, prior to cooking.
Then strain water out, put rice in a pot, cover with just enough water and par-boil for 10 – 12 minutes.
To prepare the noodles, soak them in cold water for up to 5 minutes, till they soften.
Once soft, drain the water off, and using a pair of kitchen scissors, cut up the noodles into small bits, about 3-4 centimetres in length.
Prepare the Vegetables
Set a sautee or frying pan on low heat. Add a couple of teaspoons of cooking oil, then add the chopped mixed vegetables.
Season to taste with curry powder, dried thyme and a pinch of salt.
Cook, till colour brightens – not till the vegetables soften, as they’ll get a good chance to cook through in the final assembly of the rice.
Cook Stick Rice
In a large pot, combine parboiled rice, tomato sauce, stock and vegetables.
Stir well to combine all the ingredients, put a lid on the pot and set it to cook on the lowest heat, so the rice ‘steams’.
After 10 – 15 minutes, gently stir, adjust seasoning and allow cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes, or till rice is to your taste.
I like the fact that the basmati grains stay separate.
Once the rice is cooked, add the chopped up, softened vermicelli noodles.
Stir well to combine and let cook for another 5 minutes, covered.
Then….and here’s my genius, turn the fire on high and let the rice cook….and smoke. You should smell it. Turn off the heat when you get persistent smokiness coming through, about 5 minutes.
Set aside, and leave to ‘hot-smoke’.
Serve with any manner of things you see fit. On any day.
When you get to the bottom of the matter, this is the smoky heaven goodness you’ll see.
Yes a plain to clean up….but nothing an overnight soak, and some super scourers won’t resolve.
My pot is almost back to normal :-). Like my spoon.
And thank God for great friends. And great recipes. And smoke!
Happy Feasting this holidays!