Welcome to week 3 of this online cooking class. I am really happy to have you all here. By now, I expect you have watched the Egusi soup video, yes? good. What you will notice is the process of fat flavouring that happened there.
When it comes to a lot of dishes that use fat (like oils or butter), the best way of maximising flavour is infuse the fat, this is because fat already has a flavour of its own, and when infused with more flavours transfer all of that to the dish, also because fat can withstand temperatures past the boiling point of water, and at these temperatures is when things like meat, release sugars and brown, thus creating a depth of flavour.
Now, when it comes to flavouring your oil, especially for Nigerian soups, 3 ingredients are very important for me in flavouring Nigerian dishes:
RED BELL PEPPERS:
These provide sweetness. I am a big fan of savoury dishes that have that hint of sweetness. In Nigerian dishes, the answer to that is, in most cases, is red bell peppers; sweetness in Ẹ̀fọ́ riro? Red Bell peppers. Sweetness in Jollof rice? Red Bell peppers (and stock cubes if you use them). Have a taste of the Nigerian fried pepper stew; Ayamase (mostly done with green bell peppers), but there is another variety, which is called Ofada stew (but is the exact same thing as Ayamase, just done with red bell peppers instead). You will immediately realise that there is a deep savouriness with the stew done with green peppers but the red one is a lot sweeter. Why is that? It is very simple actually, red bell peppers are green peppers that have ripened, hence they have had time to develop a sweet fruitier flavour than the green pepper. Here is a fun fact: There are male and female bell peppers, the female bell peppers are more round and have 4 bumps at the bottom, they are sweeter and good for raw use, while the male, which has 3 bumps are better suited for cooking. Bell peppers are great for adding sweetness to your oil, which will then be transferred over and add sweetness to the overall dish.
DRIED SMOKED PRAWNS:
These are amazing, for 2 reasons; the smokiness adds a depth of flavour, while the prawns also act as a way of adding salt to the dish. Prawns contain about 224mg of salt per 100grams, which is about 10% of daily recommended intake. When dried, this prawns taste even saltier as they would have lost all water content. So an ingredient that adds smokiness, UMAMI and salt? TOSS IT IN QUICK! Adding this to your oil will boost flavour almost immediately, I can explain why, but I always prefer my students have a concrete way of knowing what I am talking about, so the next time you go to buy butter, which is also a fat like the palm oil used in making Nigerian soups, buy unsalted and salted butter, taste the two, and there ladies and gentlemen, is what the addition of salt does to fat. To understand the pure depth of dried smoke prawns, see if you can get your hands on smoked salted butter, and then compare that to the unsalted and salted butter, and you will understand just how much the addition of salt and smoke can improve a dish.
IRU (LOCUST BEANS):
This very tasty locust bean is very rich in umami, I sometimes described it as a very rich flavoured mushroom. Weirdly enough, it is one of the few ingredients I have come across where the dried version is actually somewhat weaker than the fresh version, and gets its strength pack when fried in fat, for that reason, I go with the fresh one when trying to infuse its flavours into my dish. Iru has a very savoury umami taste and it has that same flavour you expect from a rich demi-glace, or braised meat. So if you are not going to cook with any meat, be sure to use Iru to impact savoury meaty-like flavours, and if you are going to cook with meat, use it to add an even better flavour depth. I use it in stock making, as well as fat seasoning.
Try these 3 ingredients to infuse flavour into your oil if you are not already doing so and I GUARANTEE you will LOVE the results. Until next time, happy cooking everyone. :)