In my personal top-five list of Nigerian rice dishes, fried rice―a light-yellow hued rice dish strewn with vegetables―is vying for the top spot with white rice, jollof rice, coconut rice, and Ofada (a sweet fermented rice). Like jollof rice, this popular dish is cooked at home and at restaurants equally, and is ever present at parties and special events.
Nigerian fried rice looks, feels, and eats like a dish that’s a cross between golden turmeric Indian pilau and vegetable-studded Chinese fried rice. It isn’t surprising that Nigerian fried rice is an amalgam of influences; both Chinese and Indians have lived in Nigeria since the 1930s and 1970s respectively, and have contributed to Nigerian food culture, notably spring rolls and samosas, which are permanent fixtures in small chops, a collection of Nigerian appetizers served at parties and celebrations.
Choosing Your Tools
While its name may evoke images of fiery woks and smoky wok hei, those elements don’t come into play in Nigeria’s version, which instead uses a heavy-bottomed pot or sauté pan as the standard cooking vessel. Here, the desired result is more pilau than stir-fried: individual grains of rice that are cooked through but not mushy interspersed with tender, well-seasoned vegetables that hold their shape.
To accomplish this goal with ease, it’s crucial to start with the right kind of rice: converted, or parboiled, rice, like Uncle Ben’s Original rice or golden sella basmati. This kind of rice has been par-cooked and then cooled and dried. The par-cooking process fully gelatinizes the starch molecules in the rice grains, which is just a technical way of saying that the rice is cooked until the starch granules swell and soften. Once cooled and dried, the starch goes through a process called retrogradation, which is the same phenomenon that causes bread to turn stale. The result are dried grains of rice that cook up more separate and fluffy, with little to no stickiness, than their raw rice counterpart. This type of rice also does a great job of absorbing seasoning, a quality that lends itself well to taking on Nigerian fried rice’s signature golden hue.
For the vegetables, it’s common to add carrots, onions, bell peppers, green peas, green beans, sweet corn, or even mushrooms. While protein is not explicitly called for in Nigerian fried rice, I’ve enjoyed versions with diced chicken and thinly sliced beef. As for the cooking liquid, Nigerian stock is primarily used but one can also use water or even coconut milk for a pronounced coconut flavor. It’s typical to season the rice with curry powder and dried thyme, which add fragrant warming spices and color. Beyond this, there are no hard and fast rules and variations abound, from plain fried rice simply studded with onions, carrots, green beans, and peppers all the way to a surf and turf version starring small shrimp and fried cow liver.
When I was growing up, my mum made fried rice on Sundays. It was her famous ‘test kitchen’ dish that she loved to experiment with, trying out new tips and tricks she’d come across, like using different varieties of converted rice to toasting the rice beforehand, to staggering the addition of vegetables, and changing the spices. While no two pots were identical, her cooking method often stayed the same: She almost always softened the vegetables in hot oil and added a handful of chopped green bell pepper towards the end, which were left to steam in the final minutes of cooking. The peppers remained bright green and lent a fresh vegetal flavor and aroma to the finished dish.
This recipe is almost exactly like my mum’s, save for the coconut milk, a tip I learnt from watching my friend Timi make hers. It adds a hint of creaminess which my children like. Serve with dodo, moi moi, and fried or grilled chicken alongside.
In a large bowl, cover rice by 2 inches of cool water. Using your hands, vigorously swish rice until water turns cloudy, about 30 seconds. Using a fine-mesh strainer, drain the rice, discarding the cloudy soaking water. Refill the bowl with cool water, and repeat rinsing and draining process until rinsing water runs clear. Transfer drained rice to a small bowl.
Add 2 1/2 cups stock to a medium pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in drained rice. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to a very gentle simmer. Cover and cook until stock is absorbed and rice is half cooked, about 10 minutes. Transfer rice to a rimmed baking sheet, spread into an even layer, and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Using a fork, fluff rice to separate grains and set aside.
In a sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add carrots, onion, and green beans, season with salt, and cook until vegetables are coated in oil and shiny, about 2 minutes.
Add sliced scallion whites, red bell pepper, half of the green pepper, and corn. Cook vegetables until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in curry powder, thyme, black pepper, and bay leaves.
Add half-cooked rice and stir gently to combine. Add coconut milk and remaining 1 cup stock. Return to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until rice is cooked through, about 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If rice is too dry and grains are not soft or cooked through, add stock in 1/4 cup increments, and continue to cook, covered, until rice is soft and cooked through.
Stir in sliced scallion greens and remaining green bell pepper, cover, and cook until pepper brightens and softens slightly, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
If you prefer not to use coconut milk, replace it with an equal volume of stock. On the other hand, if you desire a pronounced coconut flavor, you can replace half of the stock with coconut milk.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Fried rice can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. You can reheat rice in a microwave or on the stovetop. To reheat on the stove, place rice in a pot. For every cup of rice, drizzle a tablespoon or two of water over the top. Set the pot over low heat and stir until the rice is warmed through.
Ozoz Sokoh September 23, 2022 at 12:13PM