Senegalese Thieboudienne (Cheh-boo-jen)
Ceebu jen (cheh-boo jen) is one of the most popular dishes in Senegal, especially along the coast. A Wolof term meaning “rice and fish,” ceebu jen is a tomatoey mix of fish, rice and cooked vegetables that shows a strong resemblance to Spanish paella and Creole jambalaya.
A wide variety of vegetables and fish can be used, making ceebu jen an extremely versatile dish. Also spelled thieboudienne, tiéboudienne, thiep bou dien, cep bu jën.
4 to 6 servings
• Whole fish (or fillets, see variations), cleaned — about 2 pounds
• Parsley, finely chopped — 1/4 cup
• Hot chile peppers, finely chopped — 2 or 3
• Garlic, minced — 2 or 3 cloves
• Salt and pepper — to season
• Peanut, red palm or vegetable oil — 1/4 cup
• Onions, chopped — 2
• Tomato paste — 1/4 cup
• Stock or water — 5 cups
• Carrots, cut into rounds – 3
• Cabbage, cut into wedges — 1/2 head
• Pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and cubed — 1/2 pound
• Eggplant, cubed — 1
• Rice — 2 cups
• Salt and pepper — to season
• Lemons, cut into wedges — 3
1. Rinse the fish inside and out with cool water and pat dry. Cut three diagonal slashes about 1/2 inch deep in each side of the fish. Mix the chopped parsley, chile peppers, garlic, salt and pepper and stuff the mixture (called roff) into the slashes on the fish.
2. Heat the oil in a large, deep pot over medium-high flame. Brown the fish on both sides in the hot oil and remove to a plate.
3. Add the chopped onions to the hot oil and saute until cooked through and just beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and about 1/4 cup of water and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Stir in the stock or water, carrots, cabbage, pumpkin and eggplant and simmer over medium heat for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through and tender. Add the browned fish and simmer for another 15 minutes or so. Remove the fish and vegetables and about 1 cup of the broth to a platter, cover and set in a warm oven.
5. Strain the remaining broth, discarding the solids. Add enough water to the broth to make 4 cups and return to heat. Bring the broth to a boil, stir in the rice and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through and tender.
6. Spread the cooked rice in a large serving platter, including any crispy bits (the xooñ) sticking to the bottom of the pan. Spread the vegetables over the center of the rice and top with the fish. Finally, pour the reserved broth over all. Serve with lemon wedges. Ceebu jen is traditionally eaten with the hands from a common serving dish.
Ceebu Jen Variations
• Fish: You can use whole fish or fish fillets. Any firm white-fleshed fish works well. If using fillets, try marinating the fillets in the parsley mixture (roff) instead of using it as a stuffing, then add the roff to the sauteing onions. Most Senegalese also add small amounts of smoked, dried fish (guedge) and fermented snails (yete) to ceebu jen. They add an incomparable, smoky flavor.
• Vegetables: Use any vegetables you have on hand. Try yams, cassava, potatoes, green beans, zucchini, okra or bell peppers. You can use any hot chile pepper for heat, but Scotch bonnet peppers come closest to those used in Senegal.
• Ceebu Yapp (Beef with rice and vegetables): Marinate 2 pounds of stewing beef in the roff mixture for at least 1 hour. Brown the meat in the hot oil and set aside. Brown the onions and roff in the oil, then stir in the tomato paste as indicated. Add the stock or water and return the beef to the pot, but don’t put in the vegetables yet. Simmer the beef for 1 to 1/2 hours. Then add the vegetables and 8 to 10 shelled hard-boiled eggs and simmer for 45 minutes. Continue with the recipe as indicated.
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