Chicken yassa (aka poulet yassa or yassa ganar) is my totemic dish. I first tasted it in Senegal in 1972 on my first trip to the African continent — and it was love at first bite. I describe it as a connector because the familiar and the unfamiliar: the dish that speaks to that kind of invisible — but sometimes intuited — umbilicus between the African continent and the American hemisphere. I consider it my good luck dish and have included a version of it in almost all my cookbooks.
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
- 4 large onions, cut into very thin slices
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon minced fresh habanero or other hot chile pepper
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 (3½-pound) whole chicken, gizzard discarded, cut into serving pieces
- 1 whole habanero chile pepper, pricked with the tines of a fork
- 1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed olives
- 4 carrots, trimmed and cut crosswise into thin slices
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- broken rice, for serving
Combine the lemon juice, onions, salt, pepper, minced habanero and 1/4 cup of the peanut oil in a gallon-size, resealable plastic bag (or nonreactive, sealable bowl). Add the chicken pieces and seal the bag; massage to coat evenly. Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.2.
Transfer the marinated chicken, skin-side down, to a preheated, seasoned grill pan. Cook the chicken, in batches, until brown on both sides (it will not be cooked through). Reserve the onions and marinade. Transfer the cooked chicken to a plate.3.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of peanut oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the reserved onions, shaking off as much of the marinade as possible, and cook for about 20 minutes, until they are translucent and tender. Add the remaining marinade and stir well; increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid comes to a low boil.4.
Add the grilled chicken pieces, pricked habanero, olives, carrots, mustard and 1/2 cup water, stirring to mix well. Once the liquid returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the chicken has cooked through. If the mixture looks too dry, add more water. Taste occasionally and remove the whole habanero when the desired spice level has been reached. Serve hot over broken rice.