As many of you know, there’s been several “Ultimate” dishes I’ve shared in the past and I’d like to add this Ackee and Saltfish dish to that list of amazing meals. We were fortunate to have visited Jamaica a few weeks ago and even more lucky to have our friend’s mom cook us a traditional breakfast while we were at their home in Portmore. I have to confess that it was my first experience with ackee and saltfish and how quickly did I fall in love with this, the national dish of Jamaica
I don’t ever recall seeing any ackee trees or even hearing about eating it while growing up in Trinidad and Tobago (have to ask my dad the next time we chat), but I assure you that it would make a great addition to our rich landscape and I know it would quickly become a hit on many breakfast tables throughout the twin island republic.
In this recipe I’m using canned ackee, but I assure you that though it’s very delicious, it cannot compare to the fresh ackee that was prepared for us. (BTW, do you know that in Ontario, we pay in excess of $11 a can for ackee? That’s over $72 TT or $970 Jamaican dollars) Really have to go plant some trees and cash in on this.
1 can ackee (use fresh if you have – about 2 cups)
1/3 lb saltfish – boneless/skinless (salted cod or other)
1 medium onion sliced
1 habanero or scotch bonnet pepper
fresh thyme (couple sprigs)
1 medium tomato cubed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoon olive oil (see note below)
1/4 medium sweet bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
Note: I like using olive oil, but you can use vegetable oil or butter as I’ve seen some people do. Since we’ll be using salted fish, there’s no need for any salt in this dish. Finally, if using canned ackee as I did, do handle with care or it will break-up easily and become “mush”.
Start by putting the dry salted fish to boil in a pot on high heat, then simmer for about 20 minutes (you can also soak in cold water overnight before boiling if you wish). I try my best to get the boneless/skinless saltfish as it makes for less work. After boiling drain, rinse under cool water and squeeze dry. Now break apart into the size pieces you like. I’ve seen people use a fork to sort of shred the saltfish, but I find that I like the texture of large flakes. Also, this allows me to actually taste the saltfish when eating
While the saltfish was boiling to remove the excess salt that is was cured in (also re-hydrates and tenderizes the fish), I prepared the ingredients that we’ll be using in this dish
In a large sauce pan, heat the oil on medium heat (or if want you can use butter or margarine), I love the flavour the cold press extra virgin olive oil gives to this dish. Then add the garlic, sliced onions and scotch bonnet pepper. Allow that to cook for a couple minutes (until the onion softens up a bit), then add the sweet pepper (bell pepper) scallion, black pepper, and thyme. Allow this to cook for a couple minutes, then add the pieces of saltfish and cook for another 3-5 minutes. To prevent the tomato becoming too mushy, I now add it to the sauce pan and let it warm through for about a minute or two. Remember to stir, so all the ingredients get a chance to marry and explode with spectacular flavor
Now is time to add the star of the show. Now here’s the thing about canned ackee.. it’s VERY fragile. So after I open the can, I pour everything into a strainer and run cold water over it. Just to remove that liquid it’s been packed in. After this drains, I add it to the saucepan with everything else, but I DON’T stir with a spoon. I use two forks and gently toss it with the other ingredients. The trick is not to break it apart, or you’ll end up with a huge pot of mush. After adding the ackee, it takes a minute or two for it to heat through and absorb all those wonderful layers of flavor we built
It’s amazing how simple, yet tasty this dish is. Very similar to the tomato and saltfish they make in Trinbago, except you add the ackee which gives it a unique taste and texture. It looks very much like scrambled eggs, but I assure you that no scramble eggs will ever taste like this.
That lovely morning in portland we had boiled green banana (green fig), yam, dumplings and some of the best bread I’ve ever had (hard dough) and we washed it all down with a piping hot cup of Milo sweetened with my favorite… condensed milk