Monday, May 07, 2007

Yam & Shitto

I have written about my home made Ghanaian chilli paste called SHITTO before. Here in China I have had not other choice then to eat my Shitto with fried pakora, sambosas, or kebabs. They do fine when there is no YAM available. I do not know what you call yam in English but that yam from Ghana is not like the yam in America. It is a large tuber that grows underground and is a staple in Ghana. It is kind of like UBI, which we get in Indonesia, but at the same time it is not. It is a lot larger and not at all sweet. I have never seen this type of yam growing anywhere except for Ghana. Therefore the only time I get to enjoy yam is when I go back to Ghana or when one of my visitors is gracious enough to carry one on. My buddy Doc, being he true hero that he is, did not only bring me one, but he brought me 5 tubers of yam!! These puppies way quite a bit and to ask a man on a business trip to lug around 5 tubers of yam is quite a favor. But he did it and for that I am thankful. This piece here is about a foot and a half long.

First I had to chop up the yam. It is not as easy as one would imagine chopping up a tuber of yam. The skin on the outside is very rough and hard, not to mention caked in dirt. No potato peeler would be up to this task. So I broke out the biggest knife I own and it worked surprisingly well. I have a really bad track record with sharp objects so I was especially careful and I came out of the experience without a scratch. But there were a few close calls when I tried to act like the cooks on TV.

I usually go for fat chip style sizes but I make some slices thick and others thicker. The texture of the yam is tough but easy to cut through, not like a potato, so the shapes really hold. As I am cutting up the pieces of yam I drop them into a bowl with cold water and salt. This keeps them clean and flavored. Chopping yam can be a bit of a messy process so be prepared for some post clean ups.

Yam can be eaten fried or boiled. I much prefer the fried method. I am a bit of a neat freak in the kitchen so I lay out my tray with tissues to absorb the oil in advance. There will be a lot of oil to absorb. A foot and a half of yam is quite a load.

Some people prefer to go with a deep frying dish but I rather use a pan gilled with only half an inch or so of oil. It is more of an effort to cook this way but I feel the food absorbs less of the oil and I have more control over how it is cooking.

Because of the small pan I can only cook the yam 2 handfuls at a time. Be very careful to drip off as much water from the yam before adding it to the oil. I almost started a huge ass fire the other day. I let the oil get really hot then set it to medium heat before adding the yam. This way it cooks nice and slow to a light brown color. If you are using the shallow oil pan then keep the yams moving so they do not burn or overcook on one side.

Whilst frying the yams on the left burner I can skillfully prepare my Shitto on the right burner. Having already chopped and blended the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers in advance, I just have to keep them moving in the pan so as not to stick. I was planning to eat this batch of shitto with yam, I made it super extra hot with more than 10 red hot chilli peppers in it!!! That kids, is what I call multi-tasking’.

Now we all know what a stickler for safety I am. DO NOT FUCK WITH HOT OIL! I have learned these lessons in the hardest way possible so while multi tasking do not leave your spatulas unattended. They can easily fall and spill drops of hot oil on your feet. Keep your senses about you above and below the cooking surface. I like to take my time cooking the yam, getting the color and texture just right before taking them out onto the cooling surface. Then you can carefully use a few to sample your Shitto and vice versa while you finish off the rest. I usually get quite a fill in the cooking process.

Yam and Shitto baby! That’s how you serve it up. These 2 dishes compliment each other perfectly and go down best with a glass of Jonnie Walker Black Label with soda and ice. Small chop does not get better than this. Spending a good hour pre dinner with friends and family over drinks and snacks like this really bring back memories of the ‘good old days’ growing up in Ghana. One of the things I love about food is how the simple flavors and aromas can stir up emotions and actually cause a person to feel safer. Safer in sense that I let my guard down and my mind can truly accept the fact that I am back amongst good friends. It was a great week fella’s, I am looking forward to doing this again in October.

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