Yassa is African Soul Food. It is also our Founder, Jainaba’s signature dish – earning her the moniker “Yassa Queen” within her immediate family. This recipe was written to transport you directly to the Sahel region of West Africa. It is authentic, true to its roots and embodies the flavor essence that makes Yassa an international sensation. Every bite is a delight – sharp, boldly seasoned, spicy, and hinted with a faint sweetness. You will not find a better recipe.
Ingredients for marinade
- 4-lbs whole chicken, cut-up and skinned
- 4-lbs whole chicken, cut-up and skinned
- ½ of a large lime cut into chunks (with peel)
- ½ of a large lemon cut into chunks (with peel)
- 2 Tbsp. high quality fish sauce
- 2 Tbsp. regular soy sauce
- 1 – 2 habanero peppers (optional, but recommended)
- 3 Tbsp. African Jerk Paste Marinade (any heat level)
- 6 large garlic cloves (or 8 medium)
- 2-inch peeled ginger root cut into chunks
- 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
- 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
- ¼ cup + 2 Tbsp. Oil.
- 3 large dry bay leaves crumbled (or 4 medium)
- 1 Tbsp. regular soy sauce
- 3 – 4 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1 cup whole, unpitted green olives
- Salt (to taste)
Step One – Marinating the Chicken
- Add ¼ cup oil and all the other ingredients (except the jerk marinade paste) to a food processor. Process until just smooth.
- Pour into a bowl – use a spatula to scrape any remaining marinade clinging to the bowl, add the jerk paste, and stir together until combined.
- Place chicken in a large non-reactive bowl and pat dry with paper towels to remove excess water. Repeat this process a few times to get the chicken as dry as possible. Optionally, you may score the surface of the chicken pieces with a sharp knife in 3 or 4 places, to help the marinade penetrate.
- Measure ½ cup + 2 Tbsp. of the marinade and pour it over the chicken along with the remaining 2 Tbsp oil (keep remaining marinade in fridge). Massage the marinade into the chicken until it coats the pieces evenly. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge overnight. We recommend marinating the chicken for at least 24 hours (and up to 7 days in the coldest part of the refrigerator).
Step Two – Cooking the Chicken
- Remove chicken from the marinade. Reserve the liquid from the marinade – do not discard it.
- Cooking the chicken over charcoal or a gas grill is more traditional. Alternatively, you could also broil it in the oven.
- If using charcoal or a gas grill, preheat to high and cook the chicken on each side until charred but not cooked through; about 6-8 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil and set aside for later.
- If using an oven, preheat the broiler to high. Place the chicken onto a wire rack with a drip tray lined with aluminum foil. Cook the chicken on each side until charred but not cooked through; about 6-8 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil and set aside for later.
Step Three – Making the Sauce
- In a large heavy-bottomed pan, add the oil and heat to medium-high. Add the onions and cook stirring occasionally until brown and caramelized – about 15 -20 minutes.
- Empty jar of yassa sauce into the pan. Rinse the jar with ½ cup of the water and add it to the pan. Pour the remaining 1 cup water in the reserved marinade bowl, swirl the bowl around to release any tidbits clinging to it; add the liquid to the pan. Stir to combine.
- Add marinade, fish and soy sauce to pan; stir to combine. Add the chicken along with any juices accumulated on the plate to the pan. Stir to mix well. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer. Simmer covered for 25 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces over and simmer for an additional 20-30 minutes with lid slightly askew.
- Stir in lime juice and sugar. Scatter olives on top and mix to combine. Taste test for salt; add a pinch only if needed.
Step Four – How to Serve
- Growing up in The Gambia, when yassa was cooked for lunch it was typically served over fluffy cooked jasmine rice (sometimes couscous) with kaani sauce tableside and extra lime wedges. Pair with a cooling side such as coleslaw or fried plantains to balance and offset the heat. Do not forget the grilled corn, too! So good.
- For dinner-style yassa in The Gambia, rice is replaced with artisan breads such as ciabatta or French, and paired with a side salad, crispy fries and either coleslaw or potato salad (or both).Grilled corn works with this combo, too!
- For the seafood version called Yassa Djeune, replace chicken with whole firm-fleshed fish such as red snapper, wild-caught tilapia, tile fish, amberjack, porgy, grouper, sheepshead, etc. Salmon fillets are also a great alternative. Marinate for a couple of hours or up to 24 hours. Shorten the simmering time accordingly.
- Bottled lime or lemon juice not recommended. Use fresh squeezed lime juice for an authentic touch. Yassa has a sharp tang to it; add between 2 – 4 Tbsp of fresh lime at the end of cooking. Feel free to tailor quantity to your preference.
- Do not underestimate the importance of the marinating process – it truly is part of the cooking process and makes a marked difference in the final dish. The chicken must be as flavorful as the sauce it is simmered in.
- If you prefer an onion-heavy yassa (I prefer the saucier, less onion heavy version), use 2-3 large onions.
- In the household I grew up in, chicken was always skinned before prepared for cooking. Feel free to omit this step if you so desire.
- Do not be tempted to cook the chicken by pan-frying on the stovetop. This method will yield an inferior and inauthentic result. There are some recipes online that advocate this. Do not do it.
- Increase water by an additional ¼ to ½ cup for a looser consistency. Be sure to adjust the seasoning and add more lime juice if needed. Yassa is characterized by bright flavors and bold notes. Add additional pinch of sugar for balance.
- Yellow or brown mustard will not work in this recipe. If you live close to a Trader Joe’s, buy their Dijon mustard, it is the best.
- Simmer uncovered to thicken to your desired consistency
- Other side vegetables to pair with chicken yassa – green beans, sugar snap peas, roasted potatoes, or cauliflower.
- Use the leftover marinade to season shrimp, chicken, tofu, or fish.