Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Great Grilling: Recipes #58 (Grilled Tilipia) and #59 (Grilled Prawns/Shrimp), and a plea to African entrepreneurs

Grilling over wood or charcoal is a basic cooking technique in much of Sub-Saharan Africa, and Ghana is no exception.  Today's recipes features 2 favorites.

But first, an aside for all of you African culinary entrepreneurs, including farmers in or out-side of the U.S. seeking ideas for the next big thing: I spent a good part of yesterday trying unsuccessfully to locate several ingredients that are not available locally, and that stimulated me to offer some more ideas for new products ( I'd be happy to serve as a consultant):

1. A bottled dry spice mixture for authentic kelewele (just add fresh grated ginger and onion).
2. A frozen version of the complete kelewele spice mixture that could be defrosted and used directly with ripe plantains.
3. Kpakpo shito seeds: I've already had several offers from local organic farmers to grow them for me if I can find any that have been legally exported). Kpakpo shito refers to the small green roundish peppers located in the center of the photo to the left, which features peppers common in Ghana. This pepper's spicy yet sweet flavor is impossible to duplicate with the chiles readily available in the U.S. There is one online company that markets and lists these as a variety of capsicum chinense, but I'd rather trust a Ghanaian to know a proper kpakpo shito. BTW, this is the Ga name. I've also seen it called a "scented" or "krona pepper," or a variation of mako ("mako" means pepper in Twi and Fanti: opapomako or makohuam, or ghatadi in Ewe) Also, I'm looking for a traditional one that is not a hybrid. Please let me know how I can buy some to grow in the U.S. (and not just sneak possibly contaminated seeds into the U.S. without declaring them!)
4. Same thing for agushi (egusi) melon seeds. I substitute pumpkin seeds in North America when I cannot get to an African market, but wish we could grow our own.  As I've mentioned before, the book on the so-called Lost Crops of Africa, Volume II, has a wonderful section on  egusi/agushi (pp. 154-171). Also, see the most recent issue of John Hopkins Magazine for an update of the books and their impact.
5. Same thing for bambara beans (pp. 52-73).

Okay, now for the recipes:

Recipe #58: Ghana-style Grilled Tilapia

As I explained in "We Eat First With Our Eyes: On Ghanaian Cuisine," the most common fresh-water fish in Ghana is tilapia, and Ghanaians have also practiced small-scale fish farming for many decades, harvesting  fish from streams, rivers, lagoons and fish farms. Tilapia consumption has also been growing in popularity in the U.S.

Perhaps the favored way to eat grilled tilapia in Ghana is with banku (for more information and recipes, see 1 and 2), shito, and fresh pepper sauce (I'll post some recipes as soon as I recover from my grief at not having any kpakpo shito), as in this photo I snapped at the African Village restaurant at La Palm in Ghana. You'll notice that the head and tail are both left on the fish. As Barbara Baeta explains: "Ghanaians feel cheated if you don't leave the head on. . . We eat all bones--fish bones, chicken bones, meat bones. Maybe that's why we have such healthy teeth."

For 4 medium-sized tilapia

equipment you'll need:
  • a grill and charcoal, obviously
  • a fine grater [or grinding stone ;-)]
  • a sharp knife
  • a brush for basting
  • a cutting board or plate
  • a blender,  food processor,or grinding bowl (asanka
  • a fish basket for turning the fish, if you have one (optional)
ingredients you'll need:
To season 4 medium tilapia (about half a pound each, or about 2 pounds total), mix together in a bowl:

  • 2 Tablespoons grated shallots or onion
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil, like canola (plus you will need several more Tablespoons for basting)
  • ~a teaspoon of salt (Note: people in Ghana will often use a crushed shrimp-flavored seasoning cube as in the photo on the left, but I omit this. I use a little extra seasoning salt and spice mixtur
    e (e.g., some dried ground crayfish and/or garlic, no-salt seasoning mixes).
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot ground cayenne pepper or to taste
  • about 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) of fresh chili pepper (kpakpo shito if available), ground. To reduce hotness, use a mild chili.
  • ~ 1/2 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
    Either before you make the seasoning, or while you are preparing and seasoning the fish, light the charcoal (about 2 pounds) and allow it to burn down for about half an hour, fanning it if necessary.
    To prepare the fish:
    •  Clean and wash the fish, and descale it if necessary. Leave on the heads, but remove the gill covering and hard fins. Please note that this, like pounding fufu, is not as easy as many Ghanaian women make it look. It requires a very sharp knife, patience, and care. Even so, I often end up defacing (can you deface a fish?) the fish head and removing the gills, fin, and numerous bones while I'm preparing an already scaled and gutted fish. Not to worry. It will still taste great.
    • Cut 2 diagonal slits of each side of each of the fish.
    • If you have "strong" hands, use them to stuff and rub the seasoning mixture all over the fish, rubbing it into the slits and also inside the fish. Otherwise, you may need to use a spoon or gloves. Do not discard the dregs left in the bowl.
    • Leave the marinade on the fish for at least 5 to 15 minutes (5 minutes only for a milder flavor)
    • Brush the grill with oil, and place it almost directly on top of the coals (about an inch above them). Baste the fish with a little oil to keep it soft and moist. After 3-5 minutes, turn over the fish and baste this side with a little oil as well.
    • Add a couple of tablespoons of oil into the bowl that held the seasoning mixture. Using your hands or the brush, shake the oil over the fish (don not try to brush it on, however) until all the seasoning mixture is used, as you continue to turn the fish every few minutes. Depending on the thickness of the fish and the heat of the fire, it should cook in about 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful not to burn the tail of the fish (a little foil on it near the end of the grilling might be in order).
      Voila! Ghana-style grilled fish.  Enjoy. In the interests of full disclosure, and because I think we can learn from our mistakes, let me confess that I was breaking in a new grill today and failed to properly oil it, so the skin on my tilapia stuck to the grill and burned (that's it next to the grilled fish on the plate below). Also, please notice that these recipes are quite flexible, as is much Ghanaian cooking: I could only find one large tilapia, weighing about 1.5 pounds, so I substituted that for 4 small ones, so I made 3 slits in it instead of only 2. Also, it had already lost most of its tail to the butcher.
      Recipe #59: Ghana-style Grilled Prawns/Shrimp     
      Many delicious crustaceans are found along West Africa's coast and in its rivers, including Ghana's. And grilling is a favored way of preparing them, as in this recipe which is reminiscent of southern Africa's peri-peri (or piri piri) prawns or shrimp.
      One tends to see a lot of grilled prawns being sold along the roadside near the coast in Ghana. They may also be served in buffets with other dishes, or, as an upscale party appetizer.
      The photo above was taken in Ghana, where fresh prawns  are abundant, but today I've had to substitute frozen tiger shrimp. In Ghana, one leaves the head and tail on, but unfortunately the only large shrimp I could find in State College have all been beheaded. This detracts from the fabulous presentation, but, as my husband is fond of saying "such is life."
      Allow 2- 3 of these shrimp per serving (I'm cooking  6 today). As with the recipe above, remember to start the charcoal ahead of time (about  30-45 minutes before you need it) so it will be ready by the time you have the prawns/shrimp prepared for the grill. Also, if you are using wooden skewers, put them in water to soak for an hour or so before you use them on the grill.
      To prepare about 2 pounds (or a kilo, which is 2.25 pounds) of large shrimp or prawns in a bowl prepare a mixture similar to the one used with the tilapia above, but with garlic and fish spice:
      • 1/4 cup grated shallots or onion
      • 1 heaping teaspoon fresh ground or grated ginger
      • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic ground/grated/crushed
      • 1 teaspoon salt or seasoning salt (or more to taste)
      • 2 teaspoons of dried ground red pepper (more or less to taste)
      • 1 heaping teaspoon fish spice (may include salt, pepper, celery, thyme, sage, etc.) {I like to use  a fish masala}
      • 4 Tablespoons white vegetable oil (canola or similar) 

        Prepare the shrimp by deveining them (that means make a cut along the back and remove the thick vein. I find I sometimes I need to devein the underside as well.) You may need to rinse them as you go along).  Leave the head on (if you can get shrimp or prawns with them still attached) and the tail.  Leave the last piece of shell next to the tail so that it stays attached. If the head falls off while grilling, it can simply be slipped back on. (Another way to prepare them is to butterfly some or all of them, which increases the surface coated by the spicy seasonings.)
        You also need
        • a lemon or two
        Rinse, then cut the lemon(s) in half and squeeze the juice into a bowl (I use an asanka), straining out the seeds with your hands or a strainer. Add about 3 cups of water to the bowl. Put the shrimp/prawns into the water, mixing them well to coat all parts of them. Set them aside to drain (I use a paper towel.) Stir the marinade, then gently add the shrimp/prawns to it, making sure all parts of them are well coated. Leave them in the marinade about 10 minutes. Remove and place them on skewers, beginning at the tail and working up to the head (if there is one). This prevents the shrimp/prawns from curling up as they cook. Brush the grill well with oil and have it close to the coals. Drizzle a little oil over each skewer, turning it over so both sides are coated. Turn the skewers every couple of minutes so they do not burn. Add more oil if necessary.
            They should cook in about 5-8 minutes, depending on the size of the prawns.
              These grilled shrimp/prawns can be eaten with plain boiled (or coconut) rice, a standard tomato gravy (a basic staple of Ghanaian cuisine), vegetables, yakayake (another recipe to post later), yam, abolo (yet another recipe coming) or served as an appetizer.
              Here are the shrimp I grilled today:
              Now it's time to eat.


              Seafox said...

              A humorous, informed and most readable set of receipes and commentary. I really enjoyed it and would like to get in touch with the author. I'm involved in new tourist activities in Ghana.

              Many thanks,

              Michael Flannery

              Kwadwo Osseo-Asare said...
              This comment has been removed by the author.
              Fran said...

              Mr. Flannery, you can reach me at