The majority of Jamaicans love pork, with the exception of Rastafarians and Seventh Day Adventists because of their religious beliefs that it is an "unclean" meat. Outside of vegetarians and these groups, this white meat is quite popular. The ultimate would be jerked pork, a treasured dish created by the Maroons, marinated with hot peppers and spice-grilled over pimento wood. All over the world today, we could claim quite proudly that jerk has taken its rightful spot within global cuisine circles. Pork tends to be an inexpensive meat and therefore it can "stretch". Stewed pork is another local favourite as well as roast pork, the Chinese versions being a popular order for takeout. I love corned pork. This is one of the classic Jamaican methods of preserving this meat. The pork is brined with salt, pimentos and hot peppers to be "corned". It is delicious paired with ackee, the recipe of which I shall be sharing today.
Ackee is the main component of our national dish. Originally from West Africa, the ackee tree grows around the entire island. It is not uncommon to see these trees in most gardens, not only in the countryside but here in Kingston as well. Many privately owned land spaces have an ackee and a mango tree. When cooked, this yellow fruit somewhat resembles scrambled eggs, but the taste is uniquely its own. Ackee is most popularly paired with saltfish, but is also delicious with corned pork, by itself, as a spread, in a quiche, in pasta and pastry. One must be very careful when preparing ackee. It grows in pods and is only fit to eat when the pods are wide open. If not, it is poisonous. Jamaicans take pride in the ackee. I have had raw ackee from renowned vegan raw chef Dr. Aris Latham, and I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. This was a couple of years ago when I conducted a food tour for some overseas journalists.
Other popular classic Jamaican dishes include steamed fish, oxtail, curry goat and stew peas, even more retro, cow foot, tripe and beans. Our rice and peas is a delight. What amazes me about Jamaican food is with this tropical heat, you would think our cuisine would be lighter, but it's actually quite heavy and would be perfect in wintry climes. Look at our soups, for example, hearty beef, red peas and chicken with their pieces of yam, dumplings, pumpkin and other accoutrements.
Naturally all of this came about because the majority of our ancestors were hard labourers and needed meals which would sustain them for long hours. Jamaican cuisine is "salt of the earth" food. Rustic, simple, yet fresh and well seasoned. We took what we had from what was originally here and from the people who came, and we created a cuisine which is delicious and respected, but most important, uniquely Jamaican.
Ackee and Corned Pork
This classic dish is not as common as it used to be; such a pity as it is a delightful combination of what Jamaicans love. Corned pork used to be featured at big feasts during the colonial era. It is cured for a maximum of 21 days in a seasoned and salty brine. Serve this dish with dumplings, breadfruit and green banana for a hearty traditional repast.
A dozen ackees, seeds removed, cleaned, cooked and set aside
500g/ 1lb corned pork, cut into bitesize chunks
1 large onion, sliced
1 large garlic clove, chopped
2 stalks escallion, finely sliced
2 plummy tomatoes, chopped
1 green sweet pepper, deseeded and sliced
1 Scotch bonnet pepper, deseeded and chopped black pepper, to taste
Rinse corn pork to get rid of excess salt, place in a large pot of cold water and bring to a boil.
Boil meat until tender- this may take a couple of hours.
Drain the cooked pork, rinse again and pat dry.
Place a large frying pan over medium heat until the pan is hot.
Add pork pieces and fry for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. The pork renders its own fat.
Next add the onion, garlic, escallion, tomatoes, sweet pepper and Scotch bonnet, mix well and continue cooking for a couple of minutes.
Add the pre-boiled ackee and gently mix into the rest of ingredients. Season with some black pepper to taste and allow cooking for a few more minutes to cook.
Crunchy Fried Green Plantains
I'm weak for plantains in any form, fried, roasted or boiled. I am especially fond of salty fried green plantains with their nice crunch. Our Spanishspeaking neighbours do something similar called tostones, but I love the Jamaican rustic style even though it has no fancy name. There are no measurements for this dish, just follow the method.
Heat vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium heat
Peel plantains and slice into large chunks
Rub pieces all over with salt and add to pan
Fry all over until a light golden brown
Use a fork and squash pieces flat
Continue frying until a deep golden brown and crispy at the edges.
Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
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