Join twowildtides on the country challenge. Each week, we’re going to be heading to a new country (in spirit). Primarily, we’ll be cooking a meal from each country; but we’ll also be watching travel documentaries, reading travel blogs, and listening to music. During the global pandemic, travel is largely inaccessible. We want to reignite our wanderlust, satisfy our travel bug as much as we can, and learn some new things along the way. I have a feeling our bucket list will have a number of items added to it through this experience as well. We created a simple alphabetical spreadsheet with all the countries of the world, and each week we will draw a random number that corresponds with a country on the spreadsheet.
I was really excited about this week’s country as it’s quite literally on the top of my list for when the pandemic is over and international travel is accepted again. My friends and I will be on some of the earliest planes to this Caribbean country for a relaxing week of fun in the sun: Jamaica.
Jamaica is also an exciting country for us from a culinary perspective because Newfoundland cuisine shares a lot in common with Jamaica. Years ago, we traded our codfish with Jamaicans in exchange for their dark rum, which we called Screech. Screech has become an integral part of Newfoundland culture just as codfish is a staple in Jamaican cooking.
I honestly expected Jamaican jerk seasoning to be the most iconic and highly regarded ingredient during my research this week. It wasn’t even close. The national dish of Jamaica, and one that appears to be beloved by Jamaicans, is Ackee & Saltfish. We definitely wanted to try this knowing the history of Salted Cod from NL being imported to Jamaica (and because we happened to have some saltfish from home right in our freezer).
There are a number of interesting articles about how both elements of Jamaica’s national dish aren’t native to the country: “Ackee and Saltfish” by Jamaica-No-Problem.com, “Jamaica’s National Dish is an Immigrant to its Own Shores” by Saveur.com, “The History of Jamaica Tastes Like Ackee and Saltfish” by Vice, and “A Brief History of Ackee and Saltfish, Jamaica’s Staple Breakfast” by Culture Trip. According to Jamaicans.com, Ackee & Salt Fish ranks #2 on National Geographic’s list of top national dishes.
We followed this recipe by NationalFoods.org:
If you’re like me, the first thing you’re probably wondering is: what the heck are ackees? After some reading online, I quickly learned that ackees are a fruit from Africa that are now widely grown, consumed, and exported in Jamaica. They’re also extremely poisonous if not prepared properly. Great– we’ve tried lots of knew things since starting this challenge but not something that could kill us!
I determined that canned ackees from reputable brands are safe. I ordered a can of ackees from Grace Foods in Jamaica on Amazon. I won’t dive into all the interesting ackee facts here, but I highly recommend doing some Googling. It’s pretty fascinating.
When the ackees are removed from the can and drained, you’ll notice that there are no seeds (because these are poisonous) and no rinds (because these can also kill you). Just the succulent flesh of the ackee fruit, which surprisingly looks and feels like scrambled eggs. There is no strong smell to ackee and not much taste on their own. This is what they look like:
We prepared the dish, which was really simple and only required one pot and a cutting board. The spices smelled amazing and the cayenne pepper added an awesome kick. The recipe was easy to follow. The last step was to add the ackees. We served our Ackee & Saltfish with buttered white bread to sop up the extra sauce.
For us, this dish was like an amplified Fish & Brews. In this traditional NL dish, you have salt cod, potato, and soaked hard bread– it’s delicious, hearty, and comforting, but ultimately pretty bland. Ackee & Saltfish is like a more vibrant, spicy version where the ackees provide the same texture as the hard bread and helps to even out the flavour. This is also a really healthy dish. Ackees and codfish are high in good fats and omegas. The vegetables and spices in this dish also provide vitamins and nutrients and there are no processed ingredients.
We loved this dish and while we likely won’t be making ackees a staple in our diet (due to the cost, risk, and similarity to more accessible ingredients like egg or avocado), we’ll definitely prepare codfish the Jamaican way lots more in our future. Let us know if you try this dish!