Jollof rice is a West African staple consisting of rice cooked in a delicious, flavour-packed and often spicy tomato sauce. Though it seems simple enough to make, it’s actually pretty difficult to nail. From burning your jollof and making it bitter, to accidentally turning the rice to mush, there are so many things that can go wrong. Oven baking jollof rice isn’t traditional by any means. That said, it’s the most foolproof method I’ve found for nailing jollof rice every single time.

Oven vs. Stove

Traditionally, jollof rice is cooked over firewood or on the hob. In both these methods, all of the heat comes through the base of the pot and it makes its way up through the rice. This uneven heat distribution can result in jollof rice that’s burnt and/or mushy on the bottom and undercooked and/or dry on top. Now, some level of burning is good, as it creates a caramelised, roasted bottom that adds smokiness to the finished jollof rice. However, there’s a very fine line between smoky jollof and straight up burnt jollof, and achieving the former requires meticulous attention to detail and careful temperature management.

The oven-baked method takes out most of the guesswork. It offers a hands-off approach, making it easier to consistently nail jollof rice without the need for constant stirring and monitoring. Unlike the hob method, the oven’s radiant heat envelops the entire pot, ensuring even heat distribution. This minimises the risk of the rice sticking to the bottom of the pot or of any burnt spots forming.

Creating Smokiness Without Any Burning

As I mentioned above, one of the benefits of cooking jollof rice on the stove or over firewood is the charred, caramelised layer of rice at the bottom of the pot, which adds a lovely smoky note to the finished jollof rice. But as I also mentioned, the fine line between smoky jollof and burnt, bitter jollof can be very hard to navigate.

The oven method enables you to add smokiness to your jollof rice without any burning. This is achieved by roasting the vegetables that make up the stew base. For context, traditionally, tomatoes, bell peppers and scotch bonnet chillies are blended, boiled down and seasoned before the rice is added. Roasting the vegetables beforehand does two things. First, it concentrates their flavour without the hassle – anyone who’s ever made Nigerian stew will know just how messy it can be (it splatters everywhere!). Second, and perhaps more importantly, roasting the vegetables creates caramelised, charred edges that mimic the smoky flavour you’d get from burning the bottom of your jollof rice on the hob.

Key Ingredients

Jollof rice varies from family to family. For me, a good jollof rice must have:

  • Tomatoes: ripe red vine tomatoes work best.
  • Red bell pepper: it adds a very subtle sweetness that tames the natural acidity of the tomatoes.
  • Scotch bonnet: it doesn’t just add heat, it also contributes to the taste that characterises authentic jollof rice.
  • Onion: I’m partial to red onions but white/brown onions are fine, too.
  • Double concentrated tomato purée: this is what gives jollof rice its reddish hue. Additionally, its natural sugars caramelise as they cook, which adds a subtle sweetness that balances the savoury elements of jollof rice.
  • Rice: I’m partial to long-grain parboiled rice as it has the ability to absorb flavours while maintaining a firm texture.
  • Key seasonings: ginger, curry powder, dried thyme, bay leaves and stock cubes form the savoury backbone of jollof rice. Some people add garlic. Though I’m a garlic girl, I don’t think it belongs in jollof rice – I get that from my grandmother and her sisters.
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Oven-Baked Jollof Rice

Jollof rice is a West African staple consisting of rice cooked in a delicious, flavour-packed and often spicy tomato sauce. Though it seems simple enough to make, it’s actually pretty difficult to nail. From burning your jollof and making it bitter, to accidentally turning the rice to mush, there are so many things that can go wrong. Oven baking jollof rice isn’t traditional by any means. That said, it’s the most foolproof method I’ve found for nailing jollof rice every single time.

  • Author: zenak
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: 8 with leftovers 1x

Ingredients

Scale

For the stew base:

  • 4 medium vine tomatoes, halved and deseeded
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into large chunks
  • 1 onion, cut into large chunks
  • 1 red scotch bonnet chilli, stem removed (see Notes)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil (or any neutral oil)
  • 15g fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt

For the jollof rice: 

  • 600g parboiled long-grain rice (I use Ben’s Original)
  • 150ml vegetable oil (or any neutral oil)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 60g double concentrated tomato purée
  • 1 tbsp curry powder (mild, medium or hot, as preferred)
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 3 chicken or vegetable stock cubes
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 600ml boiling water

Instructions

  1. Heat your oven to 220℃ / fan 200℃.
  2. Place the tomatoes, red bell pepper, onion and scotch bonnet on a medium roasting tin. Add the vegetable oil, toss to coat. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened and charred at the edges.
  3. Leave to cool for 10 minutes and turn the oven down to 180℃ / fan 160℃.
  4. Transfer the roasted vegetables to a blender. Add the fresh ginger and salt and blitz until smooth. Set aside.
  5. Thoroughly wash the long-grain rice with cold water until the water runs clear, then drain. Please don’t rush this step. The goal is to remove as much of the starch as possible, which is what is going to give you separate, non-sticky cooked grains of rice. Leave to drain in a sieve until ready to use.
  6. Heat the vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven set over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes.
  7. Add the double concentrated tomato purée and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to darken, 3 to 5 minutes.
  8. Add the blended stew, stir to combine, partially cover the pot with the lid and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the oil separates from the stew, around 5 minutes.
  9. Add the curry powder and dried thyme and cook, stirring almost constantly for 1 minute, then add the stock cubes, bay leaves and water. Whisk well to dissolve the stock cubes.
  10. Add the washed and drained rice and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the salt level to your liking – the liquid should be well-seasoned.
  11. Once the rice begins to gurgle, cover with the lid and transfer the Dutch oven to the oven. Bake for 45 minutes.
  12. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, transfer the contents of the pot to a large, deep roasting tin. Add an extra 50ml of boiling water, cover very tightly with 3 layers of foil and bake for 45 minutes.
  13. Remove the pot from the oven and leave it covered for 15 minutes – the steam will finish cooking the rice.
  14. Remove the bay leaves, give the rice a stir and you’re ready to serve, preferably with grilled chicken and fried plantain – enjoy!

Notes

I generally use 2 scotch bonnets, which yields what I would call a spicy jollof rice. For a mild jollof rice, use ½. For a medium jollof rice, use 1. For a blow-your-head-off spicy jollof rice, use 3 or more (at your own risk!)

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a comment below and share a photo on Instagram, tagging @zenaskitchen. I can’t wait to see what you’ve made!

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rae
1 month ago

this was really delicious! unfortunately i was unable to find scotch bonnet at the grocery store and had to use habanero but that still worked well.

had coleslaw and chicken on the side and really enjoyed this meal. thanks for sharing it!

Last edited 1 month ago by rae
David
26 days ago

Hey, I want to try this! I have a quick question…. Once the stew and oil has separated, am I spooning off the oil? Or is the separation just a point of “heads up, I’m ready, time for the next step”?

David
8 days ago
Reply to  zenak

Awesome, thanks!

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