Trelawny Gold: An Ode to Yam

Thursday, January 28, 2010    

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It's jazz this week and for the first time it will be held at the Greenfield Stadium in the parish of Trelawny. This region of Jamaica is popular for its world-famous son, Olympic and World Champion sprinter Usain Bolt, and for being the main producer of a favourite staple in our cuisine, yam. If there is one crop on our island which marks our African heritage, it is this food item. Like the potato, yam grows underground. Its appearance can be long, short, narrow or wide, depending on the species. In our local supermarkets and markets, knives are conveniently placed so that you can cut your preferred amount. I can't tell you the number of conversations I have had over the conditions of the yams on display.

Most yams have brown skins, which can be rough to the touch or smooth. There is one variety with a "hairy" look and a naughty name, which resembles a part of the female form. Textures and flavours vary according to type. In fact, I was astounded to discover when researching this crop that here on our island we produce 18 varieties of this tuber. Colours range from light tan, to bright white, pale yellow and even a purplish hue. Yams are known by various names in different parts of the island.

To be honest, I only knew about Renta, St Vincent, Negro, Lucea, yellow yam and the soft white yam. I was so off the mark. One learns something new all the time. The South Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) hosts the annual Trelawny Yam Festival. On the STEA website you can read about other local varieties such as Moonshine, Bitter Gashie, Mozzella, Taw and Negro, to name a few. This website also informs that Trelawny accounts for 60 per cent of Jamaica's yam production and half of our yam exports.

Africans, particularly those who reside in the West of the continent, consume the majority of the world's yams and in many of their dishes yam is a staple and no meal is complete without it. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, 97 per cent or 48.7 million tons of yam were produced in 2005 in sub-Saharan Africa. I can't count the times I have eaten fufu (pounded yam) with my Nigerian mates with some sort of spicy stew or soup. Here in Jamaica yam is a popular side typically prepared in a basic boiled fashion on its own or with other ground provisions, "food" as we say in local parlance. It features regularly in soups and is a roadside offering roasted with salt fish. Yams are rich in vitamin B6, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C and fibre, and is a healthier starch compared to the Irish potato.

Readers, I urge you to take another look at the humble yam and get more creative with this product, which forms the background of many informal small plots around the island, especially Trelawny. It is indeed a national treasure with many avenues of preparation we have yet to explore. Like many others, I am still waiting for the scientific evidence that yams make Jamaicans run so fast, but it sure is a fact that it plays a vital role in our culinary landscape!

Yam Chips

Thinly slice your chosen yam and fry in vegetable oil and drain on paper towels.

Sprinkle with sea salt and serve alone or with your choice of dips instead of regular chips, and share with family and friends with drinks.

Yam Mash -- Parts Two and Three

Today I share an alternative way to flavour your mashed yams. As you recall I had another which I used to accompany my braised oxtails. This one is delicious comfort food as yummy as mashed potatoes, but different. Using soft white yam, further lighten yet retain an element of creaminess with low-fat sour cream instead of butter, and top with bacon bits and the green bits of scallion or chives.

Another alternative, especially if you are a vegetarian: try mashing yam with a bit of nut milk and a drizzle of olive, chilli or herb-flavoured oil.

Yam Fish Pie

I had fun creating and testing this recipe. This is another comfort food recipe with a twist. A fond childhood favourite, English fisherman's pie was my inspiration but using Jamaican flavours. Instead of a potato topping I have used yellow yam which covers a creamy mix of tilapia, smoked marlin and local squash. Serve with a side of steamed green vegetables. Lovely with a glass of white wine if you wish to indulge.


500g tilapia, cut into chunks

250g smoked marlin, roughly torn

1 medium-sized zucchini (squash), diced

2 stalks escallion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

3 tbs chopped parsley

1 14oz can coconut milk

1 small lime, juiced

450g yellow yam, cut into chunks

100g mild Cheddar cheese, grated

3 tbs olive oil, divided

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 375ûF.

In a saucepan add the yellow yam and add enough water to cover and bring to a boil, simmer and cook until the yam is tender, then drain.

In a separate saucepan heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat and sauté the garlic.

Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil, and reduce liquid by half, add the tilapia and zucchini and cook for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lime juice and set aside.

Mash yam and add remaining 2 tbs of olive oil and grated cheese.

Add smoked marlin, escallion and parsley to the fish and mix well.

Pour fish mixture into a baking dish and layer over yam topping.

Bake for 20 minutes or more until golden brown.

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Bon Appetit!




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