A Jamaican Feast
Many moons ago Betsy and I went over to one of her law school friends’ house for a dinner party (Hi Nyasha!). Her friend happens to be Jamaican and she made a lot of traditional Jamaican cuisine for the party. Pretty much everything that was served at the party was completely new to me. It was also very tasty so I asked if she wanted to come over and reveal her Jamaican secrets to me (and you).
Sometimes I get into a food rut and it’s things like this that can totally snap me out of it. We used some ingredients and techniques that were completely new to me. I’ll do my best to describe them all for you and give you some pointers in case you want to venture into the Jamaican cuisine world.
HINT: You do want to venture into the Jamaican cuisine world.
The dish we decided to make, and by “we” I mean “her”, was a dish called “Ackee.”
Ackee with Salt Cod
– 1 can ackee fruit, drained but don’t rinse it
– 1/3 pound salt cod, boiled and shredded
– 1 sweet pepper (I used a yellow pepper), sliced
– 1 onion, sliced
– 2 very ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
– 3 cloves garlic, minced
– 1-2 habanero peppers, minced (be sure to wash your hands when you’re done or use gloves while chopping)
– Fritters with salt cod
– Fried Bammy
– Fried bread fruit
A World of New Ingredients
There were a few things required for this meal that I’d never used. Actually, some of them I had never even heard of before.
Salt Cod – This is just cod fish that has been salted and dried. It’s very popular in Caribbean cuisine and also Northern areas like Canada. I found this really nice quality salt cod that had already been boned (a task which Nyasha confirmed can be a bit tiresome).
Plus it came in this awesome looking box which I’m pretty sure was 90% marketing.
You should be able to find salt cod in a number of stores. I know they sell it at my local Safeway. It’s also very popular at Latino markets.
I must say that I was completely intimidated by this stuff having never used it before. When you unwrap it, it’s just this huge block of salt and fish. See?
Ackee – Ackee is a Jamaican fruit. It’s very popular there but rarely seen here in the States. Apparently this has to do with the fact that the fruit is pretty poisonous if not picked and handled correctly and can actually kill you. The U.S. Government was hesitant to allow it to be imported into the country for many years, but it’s now strictly regulated and allowed in.
You should be able to find it in Jamaican markets or maybe at Latino markets as well. I think you can also order it online but it might be a bit pricey.
Here’s the can along with some other ingredients we used for the meal.
When the can is opened and drained, the little fruits resemble, well, small brains. They’re extremely soft so I was reminded to handle them gently. You don’t want to break them up at all. Definitely don’t rinse them after you pour them out of the can.
The Bammy – When my Jamaican cooking instructor told me she was “bringing the bammy” I had no idea what she was talking about. Some sort of kitchen tool? Booze? I really had no idea.
Turns out Bammy is a cassava root product that’s been pressed. It’s usually soaked in milk (or coconut milk) and then deep fried. This was my first mess up of the night. Apparently it’s usually chopped into triangles. When Nyasha asked me to chop it up though, I chopped them into strips.
Luckily they still tasted good fried!
Salt Cod Fritters – We also mixed up some fritters from the box below, which you can find at most supermarkets. We basically just followed the recipe on the box but added about 1/4 Cup of salt cod and 1 minced habanero to the batter.
Breadfruit – So this was the one thing that Nyasha told me you probably won’t be able to find in the U.S. unfortunately. She dug into her private stash for this meal. I didn’t take a picture of it on its own, but its the fried stuff that looks kind of like pineapple in the first photo. It’s very light and pre-cooked, I swear, it tastes like bread. After you fry it, it’s almost sweet and tastes great with the salty ackee dish.
Cooking the Meal
There’s nothing too difficult about this meal. I think the hardest part for most people will be finding the Ackee. To start, just chop up your pepper and onions into strips and mince your garlic like this.
Dealing with the Salt Cod
The salt cod was pretty intimidating to me at first, but it’s actually really easy to prepare. Just peel off as much as you need for the meal and add it to a pot with enough cold water to cover it by about an inch. Then bring it to a simmer and let it simmer for a minute or two.
Take it off the heat, drain it, and do the same thing again. You need to boil it twice to rinse off all the salt that’s in the fish. The fish will still be pretty salty so you shouldn’t need to add any extra salt to the meal.
Once it’s done cooking a second time, use two forks to shred it up.
There were three fried things in this meal and basically you can fry everything at 350 degrees. Everything should be fried until it’s golden brown. We fried some breadfruit, the fritters, and these bammy sticks. The bammy we soaked in a tiny bit of milk before frying.
The Ackee Dish
The Ackee are actually already cooked so you don’t really need to cook them. You do need to cook your veggies though. Add them to a skillet with a bit of oil and saute them until they are soft but not browned.
Then add the habanero peppers, the tomato wedges, and your shredded salt cod.
This will need to simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes cook down a bit. At the very end, gently fold in your drained ackee fruit, being careful not to break them up.
Then serve it up hot with the assortment of fried things!
Apparently this is traditionally a breakfast dish but I found it to be plenty satisfying for dinner. The ackee has a very soft texture, almost like scrambled eggs, and the dish is spicy and salty and savory. The softness of the ackee goes very well with all of the crunchy fried items.
Making this dish and learning about some new foods was a ton of fun.
Has anyone tried this meal before?