Chicken Yassa (Senegalese Braised Chicken With Car…

Why It Works

  • Marinating the chicken infuses its meat with flavor.
  • Citrus juice and hot pepper balance out the sweetness of the caramelized onions.

Growing up, I attended a Sufi mosque in South Carolina that served a community that was predominantly West African and African American. One of the benefits of this experience is that I was introduced to and fell in love with yassa at an early age. Despite eating it for years, I didn’t know it was called yassa until I got into professional cooking; I thought of it as a more citrus-forward version of the stewed and smothered chicken-and-onion dishes I knew from my own home, like Lowcountry stew chicken. The preparation is pretty similar: Yassa starts with a meat, frequently chicken, that’s marinated with onions and citrus juice, which is then braised in a rich onion base until the alliums are melted and caramelized.

I eventually did learn its name, and that it’s from the Casamance region of Southern Senegal. The dish also reflects the area’s history as a former French colony, since it’s known both as poulet yassa (in French) and yassa ganaar (in Wolof). Most of its flavor comes from the relatively large amount of caramelized onion, which provides considerable depth of flavor and color. It also gets a nice tang that helps round out and cut through the richness and sweetness of the onions with the addition of lemon and/or lime juice and a little mustard. My recipe is inspired by multiple versions I’ve cooked over the years, including recipes from Chef Pierre Thiam’s The Fonio Cookbook, cookbooks published by the food historian Jessica B. Harris, and others.

Jillian Atkinson

Originally, the chicken or other protein would be grilled over a wood fire, then braised. To brown the chicken at home, I find it easiest to sear it deeply in a pan, even if it lacks the smoky notes of a wood-burning fire.

The Scotch bonnet pepper is the real kicker here, adding heat to every bite that (to me) is just right—it’s not burn-your-face-off hot, but just enough to give a little tingle on the lips and make you want to eat more. Ingredients like olives, bell peppers, and carrot are also frequently added, so feel free to include them in the braise if they appeal to you. Yassa is often served with rice to sop up the braising liquid, but it’s also great with fonio, a traditional West African grain, or couscous.

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Post Author: MNS Master

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