Looking back, this was one of the first recipes that I posted. In fact, it was the second recipe on my Bella Naija BN Cuisine feature. When I look back at the pictures from that post, I can’t help but cringe for a few seconds and that feeling is replaced by pride and gratitude for how far I have come in this food blogosphere. This past weekend, I decided on a do over on one of my favourite stews till date. The Ijebu’s are known for very many wonderful things, of which Aya Mase is one of them. It should be our official tribe stew because of its fame and popularity.
I taught my flatmate to make this stew weeks ago, and while teaching him, I picked up a few new things myself and that pot was the best I have ever made. I made a mental note of all the new things I picked up and I wanted to prove to myself that it wasn’t just a fluke, so I recreated it on Saturday to take to a friend’s house for her daughter’s birthday party and BOOM!!!!, same result, just as good as that last pot. If you have tried my aya mase recipe in the past (recipe HERE) and loved it, this is even better. I think what clinched it for me was the duration of bleaching the palm oil. It was quite a coincidence that I came across this realisation. While he was prepping for the stew, I forgot to tell him to bleach the palm oil. I remembered at the last-minute, and I kept saying cripes, he should have been bleaching the palm oil while he chopped the meats, so cooking can start immediately. Nevertheless, he put the palm oil on the heat, and I could see that he was already tired from all the prepping. This is someone who barely cooks. He complained the entire time and said, he now understands why ofada sauce is expensive in restaurants, and he won’t begrudge them the price again. Hehehehehe.
I could sense that he had already had enough of the process, so roughly 10 minutes or even less, I told him to take it off the heat, with a caveat that the next time he makes it, he should let it bleach for much longer. I realised this was probably not correct, when the stew was done. Let me tell you why. Although we were not bleaching that much palm oil, but prior to that day, I would have bleached for at least 20 minutes. Now I know better, it is not necessary. Longer than 10 minutes, and that distinct villagey/local aya mase flavour is lost amongst the powering smokey flavour that you get from bleaching for a long time. I wrote villagey because once the stew was done, it tasted and smelled EXACTLY like the old woman who sold obe ata dudu (the local name for aya mase) in Iperu my mother’s village. As in, EXACTLY and it was down mostly to the Palm oil. From memory, I could now perceive that local aroma, and it was different from the other aya mase’s I have made, and I am really good at this stew. I also picked up two new key tips. Trust me, try this for Christmas and your guests will abandon whatever else you serve and descend on this. Here is how to:
You will need
1 cup of palm oil – roughly
6 -7 pieces of green bell pepper – basically green tatashe
3 pieces of ata rodo – scotch bonnet/habanero pepper
2 wraps of Iru – fermented locust beans
3 – 4 cups or more of chopped assorted meats
1 large onion
1 cooking spoon of ground crayfish
1. Blend the Green Pepper with the ata rodo and boil till it reduces and becomes thick. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: if you have been blending green pepper with onions and chilli, stop it now. Lol. You only need two ingredients for the pepper to get that local flavour
2. While the pepper is boiling, cover the pot and bleach the palm oil. This is roughly one cup. Be a little obsessive about this. Set the timer if possible. As soon as you start to approach the 8 – 10 minute mark, turn off the heat. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: if you have an electric cooker, just leave it there to absorb latent heat. If you have a gas cooker, as naked flame burns hotter than electric cookers, just turn off the heat and leave it undisturbed to cool. DO NOT OPEN THE POT, until the body feels totally warm.
A little Dooney’s Kitchen science behind it is this. You only need to bleach for a few minutes at first because remember, the palm oil will still continue bleaching along the entire cooking process. So, you only need to kick-start it for a couple of minutes at the beginning to darken it. No point burning the hell out of it (pardon my French) at the start, when it will still continue bleaching while you cook. I hope that explains it.
3. Once the pot has cooled, put it back on the heat and add chopped onions.
let it fry till it softens, and then add the iru and let both fry. The aroma wafting from the oil will let you know that you have got a winner right there
a new tip i picked up: let the onions and iru fry until bubbles of palm oil float to the top i.e. the onions and iru have absorbed some of the oil at the beginning. They release this oil once they have fried sufficiently, and it floats to the top. Make sure this happens before you add the meats. See below
4. Add the meats, stir and let it fry. At the beginning, the meats take over the pot, with time, as it fries, it will release the oil which will float to the top
see? after a few minutes, the oil is coming back up
when you get to this point where the oil is seeping through amongst the meats and also floating to the top, then you know your meats are ready for the pepper. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: doing it this way is key.
5. Add the boiled pepper and stir. Like above, let it fry until oil floats to the top
then you add stock, roughly 1 cup, stir and let it fry until you start to see patches of oil on top. If you have got very rich stock, you may not need to re-season with salt and seasoning cubes. If you need to, simply do.
see the patches of oil in the picture below? Oil floating to the top signals the end of a stage and the beginning of the next.
6. Add ground crayfish
another tip I want to share. Dooney’s Kitchen Tip: the addition of crayfish is more like an accent to this stew. Remember that in times past, seasoning cubes were not used, so crayfish is meant to replace that. What I am trying to say is, now we now use seasoning cubes, the flavour of crayfish in this stew should be mild i.e. it should not hit you the minute you smell or taste this stew like it would in our Nigerian soups. The flavour of crayfish is intense, so for this stew, you want it to play a minor role i.e. it should just be there in the background. Something your taste buds will pick up at the end. If you go overboard with crayfish you will miss that local flavour you have tried so hard to achieve in the previous steps.
7. Stir and let the crayfish cook and combine with the stew. Lower the heat, and let the stew gently fry till it releases the oil back up again. At this point, you can add boiled eggs, while you are letting it fry. Once the oil starts to float back up, taste again for salt and seasoning, and re-adjust accordingly.
Serve with ofada rice (unpolished rice), regular long grain rice or even perfumed rice like Basmati or Jasmine rice. I always enjoy it with fried plantain too (dodo).