Introduction to Ackee and Saltfish
My name is Jade, I’m from Bristol and I identify as a British- Jamaican.
Now I know, the first thing you may be wondering is “what is Ackee”?
Ackee is a fruit with a savory taste. Its kind of like marmite, you either like it or you hate it!
Don’t be fooled by its appearance. It may look yellow and pretty and fluffy but ackee has a dark side. Something to be aware of when cooking is that ackee contain toxins, and if its not prepared properly, it can be potentially poisonous! The skin has to be naturally open before picking from the tree. But don’t let that discourage you from giving it try!
This is the Jamaican national dish traditionally served as breakfast. I usually have this every other Sunday. This dish pays testimony to Jamaicans multicultural roots.
The ackee plant is native to west Africa specifically Ghana, but was brought to Jamaica in the mid-1700s, along with enslaved Africans. Its botanical name “Bligahia sapida” was given as a tribute to captain William Bligh of “mutiny on the bounty” who first took the plant of the fruit to England from Jamaica.
Saltfish is the staple to almost all Caribbean cuisines as is formed part of the Triangular trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas. It originated from Northern Europe and Eastern Canada. Codfish alone could not stand the warm waters of the Caribbean, so they were imported from Canada. Salting the fish was a way of preserving it and this meant that it could withstand the journey and last longer, feeding masses of people.
The West Indian slave owners in the Caribbean heavily relied on imported salted cod and ackee as a cheap form of protein and nourishment for slaves working in the sugar plantation. Ackee and saltfish is traditionally served with bread fruit. This was imported from new guinea as another inexpensive way to feed slaves, as its full of carbs and fibers.
This then became a staple dish among Jamaicans. To Jamaica, ackee and saltfish is not just a healthy breakfast, but it more symbolizes their history. And reclaiming the dish was a way of taking back their power by giving it a new meaning.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ME?
The reason why Saltfish and Ackee is so important to me is because this was the first Jamaican dish my mum ever gave to me. This was the first insight I had into my Jamaican heritage and culture and Caribbean cuisine overall. Being in the UK makes it a lot harder for us to indulge in Caribbean cruise and sometimes I feel like there is a disconnect from my Jamaican roots because of the lack of Caribbean food and supplies here. A majority of my early childhood meals were very British. But that was all I knew. Spagbol on a Wednesday battered fish and chips on a Friday, and roast dinner on a Sunday. So, when my mum gained a bit more motivation in trying to make more Jamaican food, it was really hard for me to adjust to it. But I eventually did and its now a lifestyle that I don’t think I can live without! Don’t get me wrong, I still love my bangers and mash, but Jamaican curry chicken still holds a place in my heart!
And as I got older and educated myself more on the history behind the dish, I also became more and more aware of my ancestry and the journey it took for me and my distant brothers and sisters to be here today. The dish is symbolic of the creativity that permeates through Jamaican history in creating something beautiful from pain and struggle. It’s a weird combination, but one that works amazingly.
Although I never really liked this dish at first, as I’m sure there are still many British Jamaicans that feel the same, this dish is a reminder of my growth in terms of being more in touch with my heritage and my culture.
-1 can of Ackee
-salt fish-salted cod
-2 cloves of garlic- you could also use garlic puree.
-1 bell peppers
-Scallion (spring onion)
-1 /4 tablespoon of ground pimento (Jamaican all spice). This is optional though I don’t usually do with pimento, but some would.
-1tbs of salt
You can serve this with either fried dumpling, fried plantain, green banana, hard dough bread, crackers, or breadfruit.
- Start organizing your equipment.
So you’re going to need a pot and a frying pan. The frying pan it going to cook the ackee and the pot will be used to boil the salt fish.
- Start breaking apart the saltfish-
You may want to wash off some of the salt because its quite strong. Then you want to put the saltfish in the pot of hot water to boil off for about 15 minutes
You also want to wash and drain the ackee. If you buy them in a tin, they should already be removed from the black pods looking something like this…
Boil the ackee for about 15 minutes until they become soft and turn a bright yellow. Again, if you are buying them in a can there’s NO NEED TO BOIL THEM!
- In the meantime, start cutting up the peppers, the spring onions, the onions, Tomatoes, and Fresh thyme into little chunks along with 1 crushed clove of garlic.
- For the frying pan, put 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil- my mum likes to use coconut oil. Then Put the vegetables in the frying pan for 3-4 minutes. Stir the vegetables to avoid burning. The frying pan should be at medium heat (Do this during the time you would boil the saltfish).
While in the pan, sprinkle a generous amount of ground black pepper on the vegetables, then some chill powder, half a teaspoon of salt and then throw in a scotch bonnet pepper. Continue stirring the vegetables.
- Once you finished boiling the fish, pour the water out. You then want to add the saltfish to the pan of frying vegetables.
- You now want to put the ackee into the into the mixture of saltfish ad vegetables. Turn the stove down low and let it cook for 2-3 more minutes.
Ready to serve.