No retrospective of traditional Jamaican cuisine would be complete without an entry on Jamaica’s official National Dish: Salt Fish and Ackee.
Elizabeth Ortiz might have missed the boat on jerk chicken in her seminal 1973 cook book The Complete Caribbean Cook Book, but she hit a home run documenting this immensely important dish from Jamaican heritage. Not only is ‘Salt Fish and Ackee’ the National Dish of Jamaica, ackee is itself the National fruit of Jamaica.
Prior to exploring Ortiz’s fascinating cook book, I had never heard of ackee. Needless to say, I didn’t find it at my local grocer. But I quick trip to my favorite Caribbean grocery store and I was able to source an ample supply of canned ackee. Which is what exactly?
Hailing from West Africa, ackee is fruit which is part of the same species as lychee and longan berries. It looks like a cross between scrambled eggs and brains but it has quite a velvety and creamy texture and flavour. It was introduced to Jamaica all the way back in the mid 1700s and so it’s had plenty of time to ingratiate itself into Jamaica’s gastronomical good graces.
Salted fish, like Cod, likewise has had centuries of history in the Caribbean, being a key trading good from Canada in exchange for rum and molasses beginning in the 16th century. So, I guess salt cod and ackee have had plenty of time to get acquainted. Lucky for us, it’s a marriage that has stood the test of time.
I’m not sure how much variation there is in Jamaica’s National dish. Ortiz’s recipe is pretty straightforward: sautéed bacon, onions and tomatoes lay the foundation for the salt fish ackee to operate. Salt fish and ackee is often a served as a breakfast dish. This makes perfect sense to me as the bacon and tomato create a familiar hearty breakfast palette with the ackee filling in for the eggs. Along with a good cup of black coffee, I’d be pretty happy to eat this dish for breakfast any given Sunday.
Piling the uber salty bacon on top of salt fish may seem like overkill and (I’m not going to lie) you ride a fine line in this dish. But, I would argue that the bacon is actually a pretty key flavour that ties the dish together. Just make sure to really rinse as much salt out of the cod as possible.
What you’re left with is something like down home cooking. Simple. Satisfying. This is something I could see people eating at 2 in the morning after a night of drinking with one last ice cold beer.
1 lb salt cod
1 can ackees
4 ounces (small package) salt pork
2 onions, finely chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 fresh red hot pepper, seeded & chopped
4 green onions, chopped
1/4 tsp thyme
- Soak Cod overnight. Rinse, place in a pot of fresh water and boil till tender.
- Mince salt pork and render in heavy pan until brown. Scoop out and keep.
- In the hot fat, sauté onions and pepper. Then, add hot pepper, green onions, thyme.
- Peel and chop 3 of the tomatoes and add.
- Next, add flaked salt cod, crisped salt pork, and ackees.
- Garnish with tomato slices, parsley, and bacon.