If chicken and onions don’t sound like inspired ingredients for a crave-worthy dish, you haven’t yet had Chicken Yassa, Senegalese-Braised Chicken with Onions and Lime. It’s one of a handful of bold but simple dishes that Christopher Kimball tried on a recent trip to Dakar with chef Pierre Thiam, and a weeknight meal we suggest you add to your repertoire now.
On the latest episode of Milk Street TV, Milk Street Cook Lynn Clark shows Kimball how to prepare the dish right here at Milk Street. Watch the show and just try to resist putting it on the menu for dinner next week.
The heavyweight ingredient in the dish is, indeed, yellow onions—three of them sliced thin, to be exact. On the show, Kimball explains that why this variety is the best. White onions are mild when raw, but bland and a bit watery when cooked. Red onions taste slightly muddy when cooked and don’t get very sweet either; they remain pretty astringent. Vidalia, although sweet when raw and cooked, don’t offer any bite to balance out the dish. Yellow onions, on the other hand, are pungent when raw and sweet when cooked, with a nice texture, so they’re the best onions for this dish.
But it’s not all about the onions. A paste of peanut oil, grated lime zest, habanero pepper, lime juice and chicken bouillon concentrate makes a marinade that infuses the chicken with flavor, and also serves as the base of the sauce for the final dish. (Habanero is a cousin of the Scotch bonnet peppers often found in Senegalese cooking, and it’s a little less spicy.)
When you make the marinade, you reserve two tablespoons to stir into the sauce at the end. That final touch, which goes uncooked and retains the fresh, zesty lime flavor, is the secret for brightening this sweet and savory dish. The chicken marinates for one hour at room temperature, or two in the refrigerator, but because you cut the chicken breasts in half, they cook fast. Bonus: Cutting the breasts in half also means more surface area for the marinade to penetrate.
The final result is a balanced dish that hits all the right notes: the onions lend sweetness, the marinade brightness and acidity, the peppers a touch of heat and the browned chicken breasts a deep savory quality that rounds it all out.
Serve this Chicken Yassa with the Senegalese Avocado and Mango Salad with lime juice dressing that Milk Street Food Editor Matthew Card shows off later in this episode (watch him demonstrate a clever way to cut an avocado), and you’ve got a meal worthy of a dinner party that’s simple enough for a weeknight.
Watch the episode to see how it's done. You may also leave ready to plan a trip to Dakar.