One of fonio’s greatest selling points is how quick and easy it is to cook. But like everything else that appears simple, cooking fonio is really detailed and nuanced.
For a company like Yolélé, basic cooking instructions are critical. Getting those across online and on our packaging was an important step in our July 2017 launch.
Now, we’ve cooked a lot of fonio in our day. And we’ve observed a lot of people cooking it too. You might think there would be general agreement on a few key principles. But there really isn’t!
That’s partly because the condition of your fonio makes a big difference.
- Is it clean, or does it need to be washed? (Yolélé fonio is clean – no need for washing before cooking.)
- Has it been pre-cooked, or is it raw? (Yolélé fonio is pre-cooked. That’s what allows it to cook up nice and fluffy, fast.)
- Not all fonio shares both of those conditions.
Okay, the subject for Yolélé is clean, pre-cooked fonio. Here are two basic techniques that work.
- Add cold water to fonio, stir well to break up clumps, bring it to a boil, cover and simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let it sit, covered, for 3 more minutes. (That works in the microwave too.)
- Add fonio to boiling water, stir, cover, turn off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes.
No matter how you choose to prepare your fonio, it’s good to know some details:
Use a saucepan that’s much bigger than what you think you’ll need. Fonio grows 5x after cooking and fluffing. If your pan is too small, you won’t be able to fluff properly.
Unlike rice, fonio lets you keep fidgeting until you get it just right.
- If your fonio looks soggy after sitting covered for a few minutes, cook it for another minute or two.
- If it comes out dry and undercooked, add a little water and cook again.
- It always recovers!
The object is to break apart individual grains that are adhering to one another with moist starch particles.
- Fluff when warm! It’s best to fluff while the fonio is still warm, before the grains have had a chance to adhere too strongly to one another.
- Use a fork or spoon. Whether using a fork or a spoon (not a wooden spoon – it’s too thick), use the thin edge to fluff rather than the broad face. Use a small surface area separates the moist grains instead of compressing them.
- Fluff back-and-forth. We’ve found that a brisk but delicate back and forth motion scraping just the top half-inch or so of the cooked fonio works to separate the top layer of grains without compressing the bottom layer.
- When making a fonio salad or pilaf, we get the fluffiest possible results by transferring the top layer of fluffed fonio to a wide sheet pan or a tray (if we plan to serve a bed of fonio under something juicy or saucy). Once the top layer is gone we fluff the next layer and then add it to the sheet pan or tray. Using that sheet pan or tray allows the fluffed fonio to cool down without recompressing, especially if you re-fluff after a few minutes.
For extra soft fonio, various people we know swear by each of these techniques to achieve pleasing softness of the fluffed fonio:
- Drizzle a little oil into your dry fonio and stir vigorously until all clumps have disappeared and the oil coats every grain. Then cook using one of the basic techniques.
- West African tradition: Add a pinch of dried baobab leaf powder to the cooked fonio before fluffing.
When we prepared final art for our fonio package labels, we had to settle on one technique. What do you think – did we pick the right one? Do you have your own tips to share? Please let us know! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We always respond!