Chicken yassa, also known as poulet yassa, is a mildly spicy dish prepared with an abundance of onions. The onions are traditionally marinated in Dijon mustard, lemon juice, and herbs and spices such as cayenne pepper, parsley, and garlic then its cooked into a thick comforting stew with grilled or fried chicken.
This dish originates in Senegal, however yassa is now eaten among many West African countries and can also be prepared using other meats like lamb, beef, or fish in place of chicken. It’s considered a hearty stew and also one of Senegal's most recognized comfort foods.
The caramelized onions in this dish provide a sweet, mildly spicy yet creamy sauce to spoon over your chicken. When you take your first bite, you’ll taste citrus notes from the lemons, heat from cayenne pepper, and sweet and earthy notes from the slow cooked onions. The olives that are added to the dish gives it a lightly earthy bitter taste that marries so well with the onions, mustard and lemon juice.
In regards to the spice level in this dish, how mild or spicy you want it is totally up to you. Some people include scotch bonnet peppers or add additional cayenne pepper to the yassa stew to give it an extra kick. Feel free to adjust by adding more or less cayenne, especially if you’re making this dish to entertain a family-friendly crowd.
This dish is typically served with white rice, however it's just as pleasurable to have with other grains like quinoa, couscous, or bulgur wheat. Other options include having it with regular, sweet potato, or a yam mash.
A Chicken Yassa Recipe That’s Quick, Easy, and Healthy
The recipe I created is a quicker and healthier version of the traditional chicken yassa. It’s also less hassle and does not require you to hang around over the stove for hours on end.
Traditionally this is a one pot dish where the chicken is first marinated in onions, lemon juice, and mustard for anywhere between 30 minutes to 1 hour. The chicken is then taken out from the onion mixture, then pan or deep fried in some canola oil, while the marinated onions are cooked in a different pan, caramelized until golden before the fried chicken is added back in with the onions and all the flavors are perfectly combined together.
For this recipe, we will be roasting chicken quarters, however you can use any part of the chicken that you wish, even boneless chicken breast would work perfectly. This will be roasted in the oven (which requires less oil!).
This is a much healthier way of cooking this as the original recipe would call for the chicken to be deep fried. While we make our caramelized onion mustard sauce on the stovetop. I find that this method is so much less labor intensive and less time consuming—it makes this a perfect weeknight evening meal. You’ll have dinner on the table in one hour from start to finish (yes, that even includes prep).
After a long day at work or a busy day with the kids, this is a vibrant and satisfying comfort meal that will allow you to end your day with a full and happy stomach.
A Quick 10 Minute Rub
Even though this is a quick and easy weeknight meal we still want to impart as much flavor as possible so we’re doing a quick 10-minute rub for this dish. The rub for this chicken is very simple: Garlic granules or garlic powder, salt, black pepper, dried parsley, and some cayenne pepper for heat! Rubbing the meat with the spices and leaving it to sit for a short time will help the seasoning seep into the meat better, thus giving it more flavor.
Making a Finger Licking Good Caramelized Onion Mustard Sauce
The star of the dish is ultimately the rich onion mustard sauce. The best thing about this mustard sauce is just how simple it is to create—you won’t believe it!
The sauce is made with caramelized onions that have been generously coated in Dijon mustard, combined with a splash of lemon juice, fresh garlic, herbs, and spices. The onion mixture is then cooked down in a pan, and once they have begun to caramelize, add chicken broth or a stock cube and water to create a thick and rich sauce.
And for those who are not a huge fan of mustard, I can confidently say that it really doesn't have a sharp mustardy taste at all as it is cooked down in the onions and the chicken along with the stock provides an overall sweet taste.
Tips and Tricks for Making Chicken Yassa
Although this recipe is pretty simple to make, there are some things you should do to ensure you make the optimum version!
- You need good quality Dijon mustard. The mustard is what brings the sauce together and so the quality of the mustard used is very important, I prefer to use the French brand Maille.
- Don't be shy with onions. The amount of sliced onions before you start cooking may seem daunting and your first thought might be “I surely do not need so much onion!” Wrong! Use all the onions because they’ll end up shrinking as they cook (similar to mushrooms or spinach).
- Cook your onions low and slow! This is a must—you may feel tempted to rush the onions but making sure they caramelize properly this will bring out the natural sweetness.
- Score the chicken. This is to ensure that the seasoning gets through the meat as the chicken is not left to marinate for very long.
Make Ahead and Storage
This recipe is suitable to be made in advance, preferably just the day before and warmed up when ready to be eaten. In fact, I find that all the flavors in the sauce intensify overnight and most of the time it tastes even better the next day.
To reheat, you can simply use a microwave to heat the yassa, alternatively add it to a deep pan with a splash of water (no more than 3-4 tablespoons) and allow to steam cook on low heat for about 5-7 minutes.
For storing, this can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 4 to 5 days, otherwise I recommend that you freeze the yassa. It can be kept in the freezer for up to 2 months. Once taken out of the freezer this can be defrosted in the fridge overnight or left at out room temperature if you want to eat it within the next 3-4 hours.
Easy Chicken Yassa
- 4 chicken quarters (thighs and legs attached)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic granules or garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper, divided
- 2 teaspoons of dried parsley, divided
- 4 large onions, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup green olives
- To serve
- Cooked white rice
Preheat the oven to 400°F
Score the chicken:
To do this, make two slits in the chicken. One on the leg end and another on the thigh end. This allows for the flavor of seasoning to penetrate deeper into the chicken.
Season and marinate the chicken:
In a small mixing bowl combine the salt, cayenne pepper, garlic granules, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 teaspoon dried parsley.
In a large bowl, season the chicken on both sides with the spice mix. Cover with some plastic wrap, set aside and let marinade for 10 minutes.
Prepare the onions:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the onions, garlic, Dijon mustard, remaining 1 teaspoon dried parsley, remaining 1 teaspoon black pepper, and lemon juice.
Roast the chicken:
Place the chicken quarters on a sheet pan and bake at 400°F for 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown and crispy. If you insert a fork near to the joints you should have clear juices flowing out. If you have an instant read thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the chicken and it should read between 165°F-175°F.
Make the onion mustard sauce:
In a large pan over medium-heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the onion mustard mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. The onions should be translucent and start to take on a golden-brown color.
Add the chicken stock, bay leaves, and olives to the onions. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. The onions should be golden and caramelized and the stock should have thickened slightly.
Add cooked chicken to onion mustard sauce:
Once the chicken is done, using tongs, nestle the chicken quarters into the onion mustard sauce. Let the chicken simmer in the sauce for another 5-7 minutes then turn the heat off. now you have what looks like a rich stew.
Serve the chicken yassa with white rice or any other grain of your choosing.
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