👨🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨🍳
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Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica and Ackee & Saltfish is arguably its national dish. You may have heard that parts of the plant can be toxic if improperly harvested and this fact might give you pause, so allow me to put your mind at ease: canned ackee is never poisonous and you just can’t get fresh ackee around these parts. (If you go foraging in Jamaica, you’re on your own!)
Straight out of the can, it looks a bit like scrambled eggs, but don’t let appearances deceive you; the texture is delicate and fragile and the flavor is mild, making it the perfect foil for the more robust saltfish.
Saltfish is cod that has been packed in salt and dried as a means of preserving it. I won’t go into a history lesson here but it’s been around for about a thousand years (the technique, not the fish itself). Alternate names are bacalao, bacalhau, or baccalà, in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian respectively – because I will always go into a language lesson here 😉. It’s readily available in neighborhoods where those languages can readily be heard; one of my favorites is the Ironbound section of Newark, NJ, largely but not exclusively Portuguese and Brazilian, where you’ll find stores that specialize in its many forms. But if you shop elsewhere, fret not: it’s usually obtainable in the fish section of refrigerator or freezer cases at a supermarket near you. And it’s incredibly versatile.
Not only is Ackee & Saltfish delicious, but it’s simple to prepare. Cover the saltfish with cold water and let it soak in the fridge for about three days (but at least 24 hours), changing the water periodically. If the water is clear and if you taste a tiny bit of the fish and it isn’t salty, it’s ready for prime time.
The basic recipe, abbreviated: Sauté diced bell peppers (red or green or both), onions, minced garlic, fresh thyme, Scotch bonnet peppers (to taste) and seasonings in oil (I use bacon fat), then in stages add diced tomato, chopped scallions, and the fish, broken into chunks. The final step is to gently fold in the ackee, attempting to keep it in large pieces (like I said, fragile).
I kick it up with Jamaican Pickapeppa sauce and it’s shown here with Guyanese mango achar simply because I had it on hand.
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️