Fish yassa with butter rice, olives and roasted sweet peppers

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This yassa recipe is the perfect introduction to West African cuisine. Pearly white cod fillets are cooked in a zesty onion sauce, with fragrant grains of paradise infusing it with their fantastic flavour. Served with buttered, lightly spiced rice and a sweet pepper and olive salad, it's a stunning dish that's ready to bring to the table in an hour.

First published in 2019

This dish is inspired by yassa, a Senegalese staple similar to the French sauce a l’onion. I have swapped typically fried fish for a succulent and healthier version cooked in the sauce to soak up this explosion of flavours with sweet caramelised onions, tangy lemon and spicy scotch bonnets. Use your favourite white fish – if it's still got the skin on, grill it for a few minutes to crisp it up before serving. My addition of buttery rice and the wondrous West African grains of paradise, with notes of black pepper and cardamon, makes a wonderful accompaniment. The salad of olives and roasted sweet peppers add texture and a sweetness that complements this vibrant dish.




Roasted peppers

Butter rice



Begin by charring the peppers. Use metal tongs to hold the peppers directly over an open flame on a gas stove. Carefully roast the pepper for about a minute on each side before turning and until all sides are blackened. Once blackened, pile all peppers onto a sheet of foil and wrap tightly so that the peppers continue to steam for 5 minutes
Once cool enough to handle, peel and discard the black skins, stems and seeds and finely slice. Mix into a bowl with the halved olives, a pinch of sea salt and a little lemon zest. Set aside to serve later
To cook the rice, wash in a colander with cold water and set aside. Carefully melt the butter over a low heat in a medium-sized saucepan, the crush the grains of paradise in a pestle and mortar and add to the melted butter, along with the grated ginger and garlic
Cook for 2 minutes before adding the rice to the spiced butter. Water will sizzle in hot oil, so drain the rice properly
Pour in 400ml of vegetable stock, 200ml of water and a teaspoon of sea salt. Bring the rice to the boil then turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Once cooked, fluff with a fork
To make the yassa, heat two tablespoons of oil in a sauté pan and add the onions. Sprinkle with a pinch or two of sea salt to extract moisture from the onions and cook for 10 minutes over a low-medium heat, stirring occasionally until softened and translucent. Once cooked, add the garlic, ginger and fragrant smoked paprika. Stir and cook for two minutes
Mix the lemon juice with the remaining lemon zest and Dijon mustard. Add to the sauté pan with fish stock, stir well and add the finely chopped (or pierced) scotch bonnet. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes to slightly thicken the sauce
Add sea salt and then carefully lower the fish into the sauce, with a few sprigs of lemon thyme and freshly ground grains of paradise. Cook covered on medium heat for 10 minutes. If using fish with skin, take out the fish after 5 minutes and grill in a preheated oven for the final 5 minutes to crisp it up
Serve the fish with the rice and pepper salad for a sweet, vibrant and lip-smacking West African feast!

Lerato is one of the strongest voices in African cuisine, known for her vibrant and wholesome food that explores the multiplicity of the rich African continent.

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