Yassa au poulet has its origin in the southern Casamance region of Senegal. It is one of the traditional dishes of Senegal and is popular across West Africa. These days yassa’s fame has spread across the world and you will find it in many restaurants in all major cities.
If French onion soup and lemon chicken had a delicious baby… that would be yassa au poulet! The oniony, lemony, spicy sauce that the chicken is braised is so fragrant you will feel hungry right away. You can see some French influence, especially when you look at the caramelized onions. Not a surprise, as Senegal was under French rule from 1659 until 1960.
What is noteworthy about yassa is that it uses a limited number of ingredients. Onions – lots and lots of onions, lemons or limes, and mustard… these are the basics, the essentials. The rest is additions to enhance the flavor, that might vary based on the particular location it is cooked in.
The chicken is always bone-in, skin-on, with chicken thighs, legs, drumsticks being the general rule. You can also cut up a whole chicken and make a yassa out of it. The method of cooking the chicken is flexible: on the grill, on a grill pan or in a heavy skillet. Chicken is marinated for hours, and some recipes call for cooking it in the same marinade. I have opted for a simple marinade which is discarded later.
Though yassa au poulet (yassa chicken) is the most popular, yassa lamb and yassa poisson (yassa fish) and also common, especially in southern Senegal.
Yassa is often served with fonio, a kind of millet with a nutty flavor and similar to quinoa in appearance and texture. Is it poised to be the next great food find? Read about it here… Fonio: the grain that would defeat quinoa as king among foodies.
You can serve yassa with cooked white rice, couscous or fonio and sliced green olives.
Y is for Yassa au Poulet
- Combine the chopped scallions, thyme, vinegar, 1 tablespoon of oil, and half the lemon juice in a bowl. Add the chicken to the bowl and stir to coat. Cover the bowl and marinate in the fridge for 2 hours minimum and up to 24 hours.
- When time to cook, remove the chicken from the marinade and season with salt and pepper.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a cast iron or any other heavy skillet. Place the chicken pieces in the hot oil, skin side down. Brown the chicken on both sides, turning over as required, about 7 to 8 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and set aside.
- Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the pan. When the oil is hot, place the cut onions in the pan in one layer. Season with salt. Let the onions cook without stirring for 3 to 4 minutes. Continue cooking, turning them over with a spatula occasionally. If the onions start to stick to the bottom, you may have to add a bit more oil to the pan.
- When the onion is well browned and caramelized, add the cut green pepper, the habanero pepper, chopped ginger and garlic, bay leaves, and mustard. Stir and cook for 5 minutes.
- When the green pepper has wilted, add the remaining lemon juice to the pan and check the seasoning.
- Add the chicken pieces to the pan, dredging them under the onions. Add a cup of water to the pan, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover and cook. Check once in a while to make sure there is enough liquid in the pan. If not, add a bit of water.
- Continue cooking till the chicken is fully cooked, about 25 to 30 minutes.
- Serve with cooked rice, couscous or fonio.