This is the Gambian variation of jollof rice. My mother would chastise me for giving that sort of a description after all… who am I to name the food of another country which is not my own? Needless to say when we had this when I was young, I knew no differently, it just looked like jollof rice with a little something special added to it; dried, salted fish. It is intensely tasty. (lamb jollof is pictured above but they look similar). There are several Benachin recipes on the web, however for some reason, mom’s method seems to be the only one that uses the salted fish as a flavour enhancer, rather than the actual meat of the dish. In fact, mom notes that she learned the recipe from one of her Ghanaian friends who had lived in Gambia before. On a recent visit, Mom made benachin with goat meat, and added salt fish to enhance the flavour. I prefer if the fish is salt fillet fish rather than the boney fish as it then becomes impossible to indulge greedily in the dish without fear of choking!
My recipe is a simplified version of mom’s classic.
Tomato stew base (based on 1 x 400g can of tomatoes)
Salted fish (tilapia)
2 cups long grain rice
2 cups hot or boiling water
Wash and soak the salted fish in water to remove the excess salt. You may want to do this for at least an hour as the salt is present. Wash the rice then soak it in some boiled water. Whilst these are soaking, prepare your tomato stew base. Add the salted fish along with 1 and a half cups of water to the stew base and simmer for some time. Now strain the soaked rice and add it to the pot. Season to taste carefully because of the salt. I often use Basmati or easy cook. These rice varieties are particularly good as they are less likely to get soggy if too much water is used. Top up with enough water for those with an experienced eye for rice. This would normally be no more than 500mls (2 cups), you may need to use less or top up if the rice is still hard. Bring to the boil.
Once most of the wetness is soaked up by the rice, cover with parchment paper right above the rice (to lock in moisture and add natural cooking pressure) and an air tight lid. Reduce the heat. You need to stir with 2 fork prongs a couple of times just to make sure the heat is bring distributed evenly. I use the prongs as it prevents the rice from mashing up as in the case of using a spoon. Taste the rice (this is the fun part) and once you are satisfied with the cooked texture, you’re done!