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Poulet Yassa recipe

A Lerato Umah-Shaylor recipe

From the book, Africana: Treasured recipes and stories from across the continent

Grilled chicken in caramelised onion & lemon sauce

Escape to Senegal with Poulet Yassa, a dish that is pure sunshine on a plate. It’s one of the most popular dishes at Lerato’s feasts and cookery classes, and is especially easy to cook, with readily available ingredients. 

Poulet; Chicken in Senegalese
Yassa: Stew flavoured with lemon

When teaching, Lerato usually encourages cooks to taste the raw sauce at the very beginning (before adding the chicken), and then taste it again after cooking. This dish is full of surprises transforming from lip-puckering tartness, to sweet, spicy, zingy and balanced.

Using a combination of sweeter lemons and tart limes, the yassa can be as mild or as fiery as you wish.

Finely mince the scotch bonnet for lots of heat, or pierce the chilli and tuck it into the sauce to release its warming and fragrant oils for less heat. You can also omit the scotch bonnet entirely or swap it for other chillies, and play around with it in different ways. But that tingling heat is a big part of the rousing West African experience.

Lerato Umah-Shaylor sitting at a table in the Living Space with her cook book


Serves 4-6

  • 1kg chicken legs and thighs, bone in and skin on
  • 1st fine sea salt
  • 3 tbsp rapeseed, peanut or neutral vegetable oil, plus more for brushing

For the marinade

  • 1  medium brown onion peeled and roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1sp cayenne pepper
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon 
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard

For the sauce

  • 3 tsp rapeseed, peanut or vegetable oil
  • 3 medium brown onions, peeled, halved and sliced (just under 1cm thick) 
  • 1 red Romano or bell pepper, deseeded and sliced (just under 1cm thick
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and grated
  • Juice of 4 limes or 2 lemons, or a combination of both
  • 2tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 300ml chicken stock
  • 6 sprigs of thyme or 1 tsp dried
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper, pierced and left whole
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1.2 freshly ground black pepper


To serve

Honey if needed
Handful of parsley, leaves plucked

1. Cut a few slashes diagonally across the chicken skin, season with the fine sea salt and massage it into the chicken. Place in a wide bowl.

2. Combine the marinade ingredients in a food processor and blend to a smooth paste. Tip the paste onto the chicken, add 2 tablespoons of the oil and massage thoroughly, carefully tucking some of the marinade under the skin and into the slashes. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight for a more flavourful marinade and to tenderise tougher poultry.

3. Remove the chicken from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking, to allow it to come up to room temperature. Preheat the grill to medium-high.

4. Drizzle the chicken with the remaining oil. Toss well and arrange in one layer on an oiled grilling tray or rack with thighs skin-side up. Reserve any marinade left in the bowl. Grill each side for 10 minutes, until browned with a nice char on the skin. Set aside to finish cooking in the sauce.

5. Meanwhile, to make the sauce, heat the oil in a wide saucepan and add the onions and any leftover marinade. Sprinkle with a pinch of fine sea salt, cover with a lid and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are translucent. Remove the lid and continue cooking uncovered for another 15–20 minutes, until the onions begin to brown and eventually caramelise in their natural sugars. Add a splash of water, if needed, to prevent burning.

6. Add the pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic until fragrant. Pour in the lime or lemon juice and add the Dijon mustard, chicken stock, thyme, bay leaf and scotch bonnet. Season with the sea salt and freshly ground pepper and bring to a simmer.

7. Tuck the chicken, skin-side up, into the sauce. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is reduced and the chicken is cooked through.

8. Taste to check the seasoning. If you find the sauce too tart, scoop out 2 tablespoons of sauce into a small bowl and add ½ teaspoon of honey, mix well then pour back into your sauce. Gently stir and taste again. Repeat with another ½ teaspoon of honey, if needed.

9. Scatter with parsley and serve with simple sides, such as rice, steamed couscous, fonio or creamy mashed potatoes and green beans.

Learto Umah Shaylor On The Beach

“If Nigella Lawson and Beyoncé had a baby” is how Lerato Umah-Shaylor once described herself – and she’s certainly hard to pigeonhole. 

Lerato's cook book, Africana celebrates cooking from across the continent with personal stories and sunshine flavours, from Tunisian Tagine to Spice Island Coconut Fish Curry.

Buy the book

Discover more about Lerato

Lerato Umah Shaylor

Meet: Lerato Umah-Shaylor

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