Thursday, December 8, 2011

National Cuisines: Jamaica's Ackee and Salt Fish

Jamaican cuisine goes beyond the famous beef patty and rice and peas. Jerk, cowfoot soup, and a variety of curries and stewed meats characterize the island nation's food. The spice palette includes: allspice, thyme, scotch bonnet peppers, pepper, and lots of onion and garlic.

It was on second trip to the island that I discovered the national dish: ackee and saltfish. Ackee is a tropical fruit that is found in West Africa. Slaves brought it to Jamaica and it is found throughout the Caribbean and even Florida. You have to know what you're doing when you're cooking with ackee. It's poisonous in its unripened state. When it's picked at the right time, it has a soft texture that is reminiscent of eggs, with a mild flavor. The saltfish is dried codfish, which becomes something exciting when paired with ackee!

In the Kitchen with Eva visited Hopa Bailey's Jamaican restaurant, A Taste of Eden, located at 38 Norfolk Street in Dorchester, MA to see first-hand how to prepare ackee and saltfish.

Hopa has been a restaurant owner for the better part of 20 years or so and is quite knowledgeable about her country's food. She explained that ackee and saltfish are enjoyed throughout the day, but is traditionally eaten for breakfast.

The first step involves sauteing onions, tomatoes, minced garlic, green pepper, and -- if you're using them -- scotch bonnet peppers in butter until the mixture becomes soft and fragrant.

The next step is to add salted codfish that has been soaked overnight to remove the salt. Add black pepper and thyme. Hopa also sprinkled garlic powder over the mixture to reinforce the fresh garlic.

Let the mixture cook until the ingredients and flavors are combined -- about 10 minutes or so.

Ackee and saltfish is traditionally served with a variety of starches, such as fried ripe plantains, yams, green bananas, and homemade dumplings.

It;s filling, spicy, and flavorful! The starches are a great complement to the ackee and saltfish.

You can watch the video of Hopa making ackee and saltfish here:

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