Suya started to occupy my thoughts a few years ago when I noticed a takeaway place in Peckham: Obalende Suya Express on the high street. To say the place looks ramshackle is putting it mildly – the sign is caked in pigeon shit and interior design consists of a few stick-legged metal chairs with scraps of fabric hanging off them. Obviously I went in, and I caught them on a good day; the suya was tender, smoky and like nothing I’d tasted before. Sadly the quality isn’t consistent. Boo. Thoughts turned to making my own.
A colleague of mine regularly travels to Nigeria and once, very kindly, she brought me back a package of suya spice. It came wrapped in someone’s bank statement. I tried it out at a friend’s BBQ but the results were a bit weird; the meat released a musty fug that smelled like Peckham down wind on a bad day. Rotting yams with a hint of fish and the dusty corners of an African back alley. That was several years ago, but recently I decided to have another crack at it.
Basically suya is either sliced beef, chicken or fish, rubbed in a mixture of (crucially) ground peanuts and a mixture of flavourings including paprika, onion powder and ginger, amongst others. This is called tankora. The meat is threaded onto skewers and cooked and as far as I can tell, the smoke flavour is essential. It is served with a pile of tankora at the side plus some sliced onions and tomatoes.
Cracking the BBQ out again this weekend seemed like a balls out banger opportunity to salve some psychological wounds and get back down with the suya. Obviously there’s no point doing things by halves so we decided upon a suya three way cook off: a home made version, vs. the scary Nigerian must-in-a-jar vs. a packet of ready made mix picked up on Rye Lane.
Suya spice from Nigeria…mild but musty
The Peckham blend…spicy
Home made version mixed with the peanuts
Making your own tankora is basically a case of grinding up the nuts but stopping before they become peanut butter, then mixing with the other flavours and smearing onto the meat. We did this right before cooking which worked very well; the meat is sliced so thinly that to marinate it seems less necessary.
Really tasty sirloin from Flock and Herd in Peckham
Three way taste off
As we were grinding up the nuts to make the home made marinade it occurred to me what had gone wrong with my first attempt – the spice mixes are sold to be mixed with peanuts, not used neat. No wonder it was a little *cough* intense. It turns out that the home made version was the most vibrant, as you would expect. Handy really, considering not everyone can get bank statement wrapped packages from Nigeria, or nip down to the local African shop.
It’s hot, this recipe, humming with chilli and ginger. The ground nuts add buttery textural intensity, which made the gloriously tender sirloin seem even more so. In short, it was bloody tasty. A new BBQ favourite.
600g sirloin steak, cut into slices about a cm thick (get the butcher to do this as it can be a bit tricky)
50g peanuts (salted is fine, just don’t add any extra salt to the mixture)
1 teaspoon chilli (grind up whatever you have, or use chilli powder)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder OR you can be a fly beeatch like me and use 1 teaspoon ground up crispy fried onions from a bag
Grind up the peanuts in a spice grinder or blender. Stop before they become peanut butter. Add all the other spices and smother with the paste. Grill over the direct heat on a BBQ, leaving the inside slightly pink. Serve with a pile of the spice mixture if you like, and some sliced tomatoes and onions.