Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Good Shito: Accra Heat

I'm not an Africanist, by any stretch of the imagination, and in fact, the very idea seems ridiculous. Africa is huge and mindbogglingly diverse. The idea that anyone could declare themselves to be an expert in an entire continent (except maybe Australia) is just stupid. Nonetheless, I've spent a decent amount of time bouncing around a few different African capitals - Lusaka, Kigali, Nairobi, Accra.

Accra, in particular, is a favorite location of mine. It's got a great mix of upbeat hustle and downtempo chill, and every time I go I get to see another side of the city that I missed before.

 One of the constants, however, is the food. I won't get into the Nigeria vs. Ghana shooting war over who makes the best jollof rice, but I will say that the diversity of cuisine available in Ghana is overwhelming. One time I had a bowl of Nkatenkwan (peanut soup) that included goat, smoked fish, peanuts, tomatoes, and scotch bonnet peppers, and the flavor combination was so good it just wrecked all of my assumptions about what you could do with soup. BLEW MY MIND. Despite my best efforts I've never been able to find that particular style of peanut soup again.

But there is one universal that's always on the Ghanaian dining table:


Despite the regrettable name, I have fallen hard for the iconic Ghanaian hot sauce known as shitor (aka shito or shitor din). It's spicy as hell and intensely savory. If chili oil and Thai fish sauce had a baby...

Oh mama, umami.

For the locals in Accra, it's a perennial necessity, like ketchup is for some Americans - I've seen men happily spread it on breakfast rolls like it was butter. But it's deep fire. Thick as lava, and just as demanding of your respect. Whenever I go to Ghana I have to bring a few jars back home with me.

The condiment ranges in color from an alarming red/orange to an ominous dark greenish black, and when you open the jar it sits under the glistening sheen of a half-inch layer of oil. The oil is as much packaging as it is anything else - it protects the shitor from spoiling by preventing it from coming in contact with the open air. (The label of one of my jars of shitor even says explicitly, "Always keep oil on surface to preserve freshness.")

So what is it?

The obvious main ingredient is a small colorful hot pepper that's probably something close to a scotch bonnet - not a pepper to be taken lightly. But then there's also a mix of crushed shrimp and fish that are stewed with garlic, tomato, and a variety of secondary spices and flavors. It's sort of like mole sauce or curry or ras al hanout - there are some common regional variations, but ultimately, every family has its own version.

A very basic version can be found here, and a somewhat more ambitious one is here. I won't presume to declare any of these to be authoritative, but this particular recipe appears to be very much based on the palate of someone who knows what a proper shitor should be.

But if you don't want to try and recreate the sauce without first knowing what you're shooting for, I did find two options on ye old Amazon dot com.

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