How to cook the perfect pap
It’s the continent’s ultimate staple, if ever there was one. And because this dish is such a favourite, we’re sharing our hints and tips on perfecting pap.
The truth is in the water
It all comes down to water. Whether you’re making soft pap/maize meal porridge for breakfast or pap as a side dish for your braai, the difference is in the water. Obviously, soft pap will have more water while the latter will have less water, making it thicker, harder and ideal to eat with your hands. When it comes to dry pap (commonly called uphuthu in South Africa and enjoyed with maas/sour milk), be mindful to use a fork and not a spoon to stir. This creates that separate-ness in the pot and prevents it from developing into one mound of pap.
Mind your heat
After you’ve boiled water to add the maize meal, reduce the heat – you want to make sure that the pap simmers slowly without getting the charred smell that high heat or flames create with ground maize meal. If you’re cooking directly on flames and not a hot plate, be sure to place an enamel lid or plate on top of the flames to create a buffer zone between the fire and the pot, which will also help distribute the heat evenly.
For that creamy flavour, you can add butter to your pap after it has simmered and is ready to be served. When it comes to accompaniments, you can mix it up by enjoying it with egusi or fried plantain as enjoyed in west Africa, or eating it with okra or cassava leaves as they do in central Africa. If you’re a fan of eating with your hands as opposed to utensils, it’s always fun to play around with your pap and make pap balls.
Keep it locked in
Never make the mistake of leaving the lid slightly open. Because it’s maize meal, it needs to retain the heat within – if the vapour leaves the pot because of a slight opening, the pap will never reach that fully matured stage. How do you tell if the pap has simmered well and is now ready? If it starts to come away from the sides of the pot, it’s time to indulge. An old wives’ tale says that if it doesn’t stick to your palate like some unwanted gum, then it’s ready.
Because pap is such a simple meal to make, even the laziest of cooks can find joy in playing around with it in the kitchen. And remember, if you’re not sure you’ve perfected your bowl of pap, just make your accompanying dishes that much more delicious so your guests won’t be able to tell the difference.
Try the ultimate pap recipes