Ackee and salt fish is one of my favorite childhood memories. We didn’t grow up eating it regularly–just when my Aunt Shirley would come to visit from Jamaica. She and her assistant Clinton would take the goods from their luggage and I would help unwrap the food. Bread fruit, rum cake, festival, escovitch fish, and ackee and salt fish would be piled on the table wrapped in newspaper and foil. The black plastic bags they crossed the sea in would quickly be rationed among the adults and stored away. Besides Clinton making festival every morning of their visit, unwrapping the food was my favorite part of their arrival.
For my 34th birthday, I took a solo trip to Jamaica. I had always wanted to go as a kid but there was no way I could. As we got older everyone moved from Jamaica to the states so there was no one to go see. I decided I wanted to go at some point anyway. And I did.
I will write extensively about that week in Jamaica in my book. It was a great moment of self discovery and firsts. But the most memorable things were the people and the food. Just being surrounded by Jamaicans made me feel at home. The accents were comforting and the food took me back to childhood. I ordered ackee and salt fish every morning from the chef. One morning, I asked if I could watch him make my breakfast. Of course, he said yes.
He explained to me the history of the dish. That slave owners would feed the salted fish (cod) to slaves as it was cheap and easy to transport. The salt was used as a preservative so there was no need to refrigerate. Salt fish was very cheap and continued to be the food of the poor over decades for that reason. Now, the cost of cod has risen greatly due to the demand so you may find pollock being paired with ackee instead.
Ackee is Jamaica’s national fruit. Until this trip, I had no idea it was a fruit. Native to West Africa, this Jamaican food also has roots in slavery. Clinton (yes this chef’s name is Clinton-I freaked out too) explained that it can only been eaten when it’s naturally opened by the sun and ripe. Eating a closed bud could be toxic and even deadly. This is also something I did not know. So he sorted each piece by hand, peeling off the orange shell and exposing the yellow fruit with black seed. It was one of my favorite moments on the trip.
If you want a taste of Jamaica, you don’t need to catch a flight. This recipe tastes just like the dishes I had in Ocho Rios. I didn’t make festival because it’s flour so I paired this with bammy. Bammy is made from cassava root. It’s not low carb but it has lower carbs than flour l so I made it for memories’ sake. I can have this every day, it’s that good.
- 1 lb dried salted cod
- 1 can of ackee drained
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 1 each red and green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1/2 scotch bonnet, stemmed seeded and finely chopped
- scallions to taste (optional)
- Put cod in cold water and bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes. Drain and repeat two more times for a total of 60 minutes of boiling.
- After the third round of boiling, drain and flake fish in a bowl. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a skillet on medium high heat. Add thyme, garlic, onion, tomato, tomatoes, peppers, and scotch bonnet, and cook. Stir occasionally until everything is soft (about 10 minutes.)
- Add the cod and scallions and gently fold in.
- Drain the ackee and add to pan. Stir gently in order to keep larger pieces for texture. Remove when warmed through.
- Serve with sprinkle of fresh thyme leaves.