Monday, 31 January 2011
Pollock Yassa – A Blast of West African Sunshine in Icy Gothenburg
The weather in Sweden right now is about as grizzly as a vagabond bear. The snow has temporarily melted leaving behind a palimpsest of grit, dark ice and illicit glimpses of pavement. In many ways I prefer Gothenburg when it’s properly cold rather than just in this manky in-between phase. Bleak conditions whip up cravings for warm memories.
One dish that never ceases to bring me comfort is Poulet Yassa, which I first had on a scorching hot day in a ramshackle restaurant in Accra. The memory of the sticky-sweet-sour, onion, lemon and mustard sauce that coated the charred chicken flesh makes my stomach smile just thinking about it. It’s the polar opposite to the taste of Gothenburg’s wintry blues.
Poulet Yassa apparently originates from the Portuguese region of Senegal, Casamance, and can be found on menus and plates across Africa from The Republic of Congo to the Gold Coast. It supposedly hails form either Portuguese or French colonialists who used the acidic lemon juice to tenderize the tough local chicken flesh and the Dijon mustard to counteract the sharpness. It offers a welcome sweet and sour tang in contrast to some of the more savoury dishes you encounter West Africa.
I decided to experiment with pollock rather than chicken and was very pleased with the results. The flavour of the sauce is gargantuan, so pollock comes into its own. And rather than rice, I thought some bulgur wheat would give the dish a more Swedish feel. The recipe below is adapted from the Congo Cookbook which is without question one of my favourite recipe websites. If you have a moment, I encourage you to lose yourself in the astounding collection of stories and recipes. But don't blame me if you stumble across some dishes requiring hippo or elephant meat.
1 piece of pollock
2 onions roughly chopped
Juice of 3 lemons
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
1 dessert spoon of honey
1 dessert spoon of fish stock
2 cloves of garlic
Splash of cider vinegar
Red chilli minced
Sunflower or groundnut oil
Sauté the onions slowly until they softened. Add the minced garlic and chilli once the onions have turned translucent. Sweat for a bit and then add the mustard, fish stock and juice of 3 lemons.
Heat and stir until it thickens and resembles a sauce. Add the honey, salt and cider vinegar to taste. You are looking for a sweet, sour, spicy amalgam that makes your mouth come alive.
Boil the bulgur wheat and take the sauce off the heat. Season the fish skin and sear flesh side up in a very hot pan. Once the skin has crisped up turn the heat down and add the sauce to the pan. Cook the fish in the yassa sauce until the fish is on the verge of being done. Then slosh it all on a plate and tuck in with a bottle of Star Lager. Bliss.
All it was missing was a side order of chilli fried plantain otherwise known as kelly welly. You can also add olives and switch the fish for either chicken thighs or some fatty pork.