Recipe: Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish

IMG_3684I remember reading about “ackee and saltfish” in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth – the character Clara was always cooking it. But until I moved to Brixton (a London neighborhood with a huge Afro-Caribbean influence) I had no idea what this dish actually was, and I certainly hadn’t tasted it.

After some googling, I found out that saltfish and ackee is actually the national dish of Jamaica, and it’s usually eaten for breakfast. Also, ackee is an exciting ingredient – apparently raw ackee is banned from the United States because parts of the plants are poisonous (the importation of canned ackee into the US is carefully regulated).

So, to kick off Jamaican cooking week we had ackee and saltfish for dinner tonight. It was great. The ackee isn’t particularly flavorful, but blends really well with the other ingredients.

Here’s Jon’s review: “This is delicious. It tastes like we’re having scrambled eggs for dinner, and I love scrambled eggs.”

Recipe:

Important Note – Unlike most of the recipes I blog about, this one is a bit time intensive. You have to soak the saltfish in cool water for 8 hours, or overnight before cooking. Some recipes skip this step, but it definitely eliminated a lot of the salt, and made the fish taste great.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of saltfish (the one I bought was 300 g, and the saltfish was skinned and de-boned. I used pollack, but cod saltfish would also work)
  • 1 can of ackee, drained
  • 1/2 scotch bonnet pepper
  • butter (for cooking)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 tomato
  • about 1 tsbp of fresh thyme.

Advance preparation: Rinse salt off the saltfish and put the fish in a tupperware container. Cover with cold water and let soak either overnight or for 8 hours. Change the water several times during the period to remove excess salt.

Drain the fish. Then, gently simmer in a pan of boiling water for 20 minutes. While the fish is cooking, chop the onion, green pepper, hot chili pepper and tomato. Put aside. Then after two minutes, remove the fish from the heat, drain the pan, and let cool. Afterward, remove the skin and bones of the fish (if there are any) and flake the fish.

Finally, onto the main cooking bit – Stir fry the onion, green pepper, the scotch bonnet  and thyme in a big saucepan or wok for a few minutes, until the green pepper looks nearly cooked. Then, add tomato and flaked fish and cook for about 10 more minutes. Next, add the drained ackee and continue to cook until the ackee is hot. Stir gently, as the ackee can be a bit delicate. Serve with plantains, rice, or potatoes.

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