Caribbean Food: Ackee & Saltfish, Orgasms & Oil Lamps
Ackee and Saltfish is delicious. Seriously delicious.
It has a light, meltingly-soft texture, an exquisite subtle taste, and is perfect to accompany more robust, strong, flavours. That is, as long as you get the balance right otherwise you can overpower and lose it. I find that the drier you cook it, within reason, the better it tastes. Nowadays it’s available, canned, in many supermarkets around the world.
But, fresh ackee is orgasmic!
My Grandma Liz lived in the hills of Jamaica. Hers was a little house with a verandah situated on a big hill with sheer drops on three sides; you could sit and admire spectacular views. Her yard was full of chickens bullying the cockeral who, in turn, harassed Bingo the guard dog.
The heavy heat in those hills, the animal noises, the smells and the tastes are forever ingrained deeply into my senses. So deep that i’m sure i’ve passed them onto my daughter in her DNA!
She had no electricity and used oil lamps. Liz even used an old victorian iron to press out clothes. Her ‘kitchen’ was a revelation. There was no oven; she cooked by wood fire but it produced the most exquisite food. I remember particularly her cocoa tea, split-pea puri and, of course, roti and curry . In addition, she grew all manner of exotica – breadfruit, jackfruit, cacao, and ackee to name a few.
As a girl I remember tasting, for the first time, her fresh ackee cooked with spices and saltfish. I nearly fainted with pleasure.
I wish I could take you to those hills and the waves of heat and smells. I can’t but I can give you a little taster, by having you try her traditional recipe for ackee and saltfish:
1 x 500g (1lb) tin of ackee
200g (6oz) dried salt cod
approx. 2tbs (30ml) sunflower cooking oil
2 medium onions (I prefer Shallots – nice flavour)
1 clove garlic
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1teas dried thyme
2 medium tomatoes
1/4 red scotch bonnet pepper
some crushed black peppercorns
In a jug pour 160ml ,6fl oz water
1tbs (15ml) malt or cider vinegar
pinch of salt
Half fill a large pot – approx. 25cm (10″) width – with water, add all of the vinegar and bring to the boil. Add fish. Boil for approx. 45 minutes changing the water half way through this process in order to remove as much excess salt as possible.
Drain and place in cold water to cool down. Remove bones and skin of the fish breaking it down into small pieces or flakes. Then set aside.
Slice the onions into small, thin, pieces. Crush, peel and slice the garlic clove. Wash and chop tomatoes. Cut the pepper into tiny strips. Set aside.
Carefully empty ackee into a large sieve, pour just boiled water over the ackee, gently giving it a shake as you don’t want it to disintigrate too much, place ackee into a deep dish sprinkle with a pinch of salt and add freshly boiled water. Set aside.
Over a med hot flame heat the oil in a frying pan, then add the onion. Once softened, add the thyme and lower to a med flame, add the tomatoes, garlic and scotch bonnet pepper, cook for approx. a minute.
Add the fish and 1/2 the water in the jug (approx. 80ml, 3fl oz).Cook down further for approx. 2-3mins,
Lower heat further, drain off ackee and gently add to the pan. Fold ackee into mixture adding the rest of water in the jug ,and heat through for aprox 4 mins.
Finally sprinkle some freshly crushed black peppercorns on top (to taste) and your dish is ready, it will serve 2 as a main course, or 4 as a starter.
At some point in the future i will make a video of this so you can see how i do it. I will also blog, sometime in the future, on what you can eat with ackee and saltfish. What to drink with it. And, also, different versions of this dish, using alternative ingredients.
My friends, that’s it. My first ever blog. If you like it please tell others about it. I’m new at this and it is only thro’ meeting some wonderful people on the internet asking me to write a blog that I decided to do so.
Love, Laughter & Food