Nigerians love our meat, there is no denying. Last week a friend called me and said Dunni help, I have a vegetarian coming for my sons’ 1 yr birthday party and I am at a complete loss regarding vegetarian options. I asked if the person was Nigerian (so I knew what to recommend) and we both laughed. Nigerian and Vegetarian is not something you see often. I told her to prepare a sauce with mushrooms and serve with Jollof or Fried rice made with vegetable stock. Apparently it went down very well with her Indian guest and she called the next day to say thank you. If you are at your wits end about a menu plan for your party, even if it’s just hosting a few friends. Drop me an email, and I’ll work with you.
So, this post is inspired by our love for meat especially as we tend to be one tracked with cooking our meats. We either chop a beautiful bird or slabs of meat into portions then proceed to boil, fry and toss in a delicious fried tomato sauce. Or we get out the barbecue and grill. Both options are delicious but have you ever thought of saving yourself the stress and using the oven? I mean, most kitchens have an oven. A lot of people don’t even use their ovens, except for those who bake. Your oven can be your kitchen ally once you master the art of roasting. So, the next time chicken or turkey is on the menu, preserve the whole bird and roast it instead. The next time you go meat shopping, even in local markets, buy a big slab of meat and roast it. Fish too? Of course you can bake it whole in the oven or use the grill rods in the oven.
You just need to purchase simple kitchen tools that you will use over and over
1. An Oven tray
2. A deep roasting pan – ceramic, glass or aluminium
3. A turkey baster
4. A roll of foil paper.
Turkey, Chicken, Duck, Pheasant or Guinea Fowl
Now, these all have different cooking times, so the size of the bird and the age of the bird will determine how long you need it in the oven for. As for the stuffing, its primary aim is to keep the bird moist internally so it doesn’t dry out. There are so many ingredients sitting in your fridge and freezer that you can use for stuffing, you don’t even need to look further for inspiration. The basic ingredients you need for stuffing are:
Herbs – thyme, basil, sage, coriander, parsley, tarragon (fresh or dry)
Garlic, Ata Rodo (scotch bonnet/habanero pepper)
Citrus components – lime, lemon, orange, clementines
Fruits – currants, cranberry
Bread – 1 or 2 day old bread, or breadcrumbs
Eggs, olive oil, butter
Dense vegetables – celery, aubergines, carrots, onions, cucumber,
Seasoning – seasoning cubes, cayenne pepper, black pepper, all spice
So, you see, you don’t have to look further than your kitchen pantry/store, fridge or freezer. Simply decide on what ingredients you are going to combine to make the stuffing, mix together in a bowl and set aside. In another small bowl mix your seasonings and salt with olive oil and coat the bird thoroughly inside and out (a little messy – remember to wash your hands afterwards) then fill with stuffing and tie the legs together with a piece of cooking string (please do not use a plastic string).
You can choose to roast a bird on its own, or accompany it with vegetables in the roasting pan that you can serve alongside the bird. This is also easy peasy too. Simple options like carrots, potatoes, onions, celery, spring onions, leeks, tomatoes, Tatashe (red bell pepper), Green pepper etc, I can list for days. So, why don’t you save yourself some trouble and let the oven do all the work for you. Roasting a bird takes an average of 30 minutes to 1 hour or more depending on the type of bird, the size and age of the bird. As it roasts, it will release its own juices into the pan, simply scoop this juice and baste the bird. Do this after the first 35 minutes for a large bird to prevent the bird from drying out. If you want to cook chicken breasts, just make a thin incision in the fleshy part and fill with your stuffing. A simple stuffing for chicken breasts can be garlic and herb butter or sausages combined with olive oil to keep the flesh moistened while it is in the oven
Lamb, Beef, Ham, or Pork
Oooh, one of my favourites to roast, but a little tricky because if you over cook it you would kick yourself for watching Tv while your gorgeous succulent meat turned to leather or in the case of Lamb, a texture only people with dentures will enjoy. Lol. The same principles apply with poultry, but unlike poultry, stuffing is usually optional. Personally I don’t bother. I simply prepare a fantastic rub and I make deep incisions in the meat and rub it in so the flavour goes deep into the meat.
Dooney’s Kitchen Rub comprises of:
Dry Pepper – cayenne pepper
Jumbo Seasoning – you can use Knorr Chicken cubes
Onion Powder or granules
Suya spice – optional: if you have otherwise the ingredients above will do just fine
Combine all this with Olive oil to form a thick paste and this will be your rub. If you are going to grill your meat on a hot barbecue this will rub will do great. Once you have applied this all over the meat, cover it in cling film or foil and let it marinade for 10 minutes before you put it in the oven.
Fish and Seafood – tilapia, crocker, catfish, shrimps, octopus, prawns, scallops, squid
The easiest to cook in an oven. For those who live in Nigeria, you must have eaten at “point and kill” joint before. You can do this at home yourself. Writing this brings back fond memories of Abacha Barracks in Abuja. Flaming grills of delicious fish dripping with a sauce of grilled onions and ata rodo that will make your eyes, nose and throat water. It is definitely not for the faint hearted. Those women must guard their recipe jealously, anyone who has the 411 on their spice rub, hit me up please.
With fish and seafood you have to be careful not to drown it in spice and seasoning. Keep it simple please so that the natural flavours can shine through. These ingredients help make that happen:
Citrus – lime, lemon and oranges work really well. It you have noticed, in restaurants fish is usually served with a wedge of lemon or lime
Herbs – parsley, coriander, basil or thyme
Salt – I use seasoning cubes sparingly when I put fish in the oven
So, what do you do? Simply place your whole fish in a bed of foil, score the fish – 2 or 3 incisions on each side of the fish. Coat with Olive oil, sprinkle the juice of half a lime or lemon over the fish, salt, seasoning cubes, and the herbs. On the sides of the fish place roughly chopped garlic, onions and ata rodo (scotch bonnet/habanero pepper) and loosely wrap the fish in foil and place on a grill pan and put in the oven. Why loosely wrap? So the steam will have space to circulate and cook the fish in its own juices.
So, I hope I have been able to give you ideas to put that oven to work. After all you paid for it, so use it. The best part of cooking meats or fish in the oven is the ease factor. You can do other things while the oven does all the work, or you can simply relax and just wait for the timer to ring. With roasting, always set the temperature to high for the entire duration so the meat can cook evenly. With fish, the timings are pretty brief. 15 – 20 minutes and most fish or seafood will be cooked because it is cooking under intense steam in a sealed environment, so it will cook faster.