Recipe #30: Simple Crockpot Shito (adapted from Gloria Mensah)
1/4 cup ground dried chili pepper (cayenne)
2 cups crushed canned tomatoes (I crushed 2 cups worth from a 28 oz or 800 g can of Italian plum tomatoes, lifting the tomatoes out of the liquid first and then squeezing them through my fingers into a small bowl)
2 cups (slightly less than one 15 oz or 425 g can) canned mackerel (or tuna), drained and blotted dry with paper towels, flaked
1 cup of dried shrimp (one 3.5 oz, or 100 g package), rinsed, blotted, and dried in a low (200 degree F) oven [NOTE: if dried shrimp are not available, substitute fresh shrimp, first dried in a slow oven]
2 large onions, peeled and cut into chunks for blending (or grated)
1/4 cup ginger paste (from blended fresh ginger or an Indian or international store)
1/4 cup garlic paste (from blended fresh garlic, or an Indian or international store)
1 cup of vegetable oil, such as canola
Prepare the canned mackerel. One of the secrets to making shito is to remove all the water, so I figure the less water you use in the beginning, the better. That's why I dried the drained canned mackerel with paper towels before using my fingers to flake it.
Similarly, I rinsed the dried shrimp before using them, blotted them dry with a paper towel, and then spread them out on a cookie sheet in a 200 degree F oven for an hour or so while I did the other prep work. Gloria says she can prepare this in 10 minutes, and then just has to be around to stir it from time to time! I'm guessing she doesn't bother with all the rinsing and blotting I did.
In a large bowl, add the 1/4 cup dried ground hot pepper to the flaked mackerel (remember that West African ground hot red pepper will be hotter than typical North American cayenne pepper). It may be cheaper to buy dried chili peppers and grind your own in a blender as I used to do, but this is a messy task that makes for a lot of sneezing! After making this once, you can adjust the pepper for a milder or spicier shito according to your preference (One could likely substitute paprika for some of the hot pepper to make a milder version).
Crush the 2 cups of tomatoes, and add 1 cup to the mackeral/pepper bowl. Use the second cup of tomatoes to blend the onions. I had to use a smaller food processor cup on my blender and do this in several batches. I'd bet, though, you could also just grate the onions into the bowl with the other ingredients.
In a couple of batches, grind the dried shrimps and add them to the bowl. A rubber spatula comes in helpful in getting all these ingredients out of the blender.
Stir in the 1/4 cup blended ginger and 1/4 blended garlic (those jars from the Indian section of our local international market were a huge time saver), and finally the 1 cup oil. According to Gloria's directions, you should be able to add everything to the crockpot, cover it and cook it on low for 12-18 hours, stirring every few hours. It didn't work that way for me, though.
When the shito is cooked, allow it to cool completely and store it in glass jars. See note below about oil. If you know any students from Ghana, a small jar of shito and a little bag of gari would likely make a far more welcome gift over the holidays than any candy cane or chocolate chip cookies! The flavor is wonderful (as I said yesterday, dried shrimp is favored in Asia for its umami flavor). I just wish I had some kenkey handy.
I'll post my own "classic" shito recipe soon, but not until after the Thanksgiving holidays. In the meantime, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and remember to share what you have with others.
I've always used tomato paste before, and when I asked Gloria why she uses crushed tomatoes she said one could substitute 1 cup of tomato paste for the canned tomatoes. Trusting her intuition, I asked her why she doesn't use tomato paste since it's simpler. She said that she finds the paste gives too "sweet" a flavor to the shito.
Shrimp: I have Ghanaian friends who skip the mackerel altogether and make shito using only flaked shrimp from Thailand. This is even easier, but I don't like the 2% sugar the Thai people add to their dried shrimp. We also have a vegetarian family locally who make a great shito using seaweed in place of the dried shrimp and fish.
Also, many Ghanaians nowadays will include shrimp or other seasoning cubes added to their shito. Oil: One of the reasons shito does not spoil is that there is usually a coating of oil on top of it. Therefore, you might like to keep this in the refrigerator, even though that would likely not be the case in Ghana. Or, increase the amount of oil.
And yes, this has a strong fish odor, so cook it near a fan (or, like Gloria, outside).I happen to like the smell. It reminds me of Ghana.