Caribbean Kitchen (Summer 1994)

Salt fish and ackee recipe from Jamaica, and roti recipe from Trinidad

  • Illustration by Russel Halfhide
  • Illustration by Russel Halfhide


This is Jamaica’s national dish, and the ackees — the essence of the dish — are the fruit of a tree that is West African in origin. The tree is found throughout the Caribbean and Central America, but only in Jamaica is the ackee cultivated as part of the country’s food supply. The edible portions of the ackee are called pegs. When cooked, they resemble scrambled eggs. Ackees are available fresh or canned in Jamaica. In the States you can find them canned in Hispanic and West Indian grocery stores. Some cooks prepare this recipe without the fish, substituting fried pork or other fried meat.

Yield: 4 servings

1 pound salted codfish (bacalao), preferably boned
1/4 pound diced salt pork or 6 bacon strips
1/4 cup coconut or vegetable oil
1 hot pepper, seeded and sliced
2 scallions, chopped
1 medium-sized tomato, finely chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 (19-ounce) can ackees or 2 dozen parboiled pegs*
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

*To parboil pegs of ackee, place in salted water to cover in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Then drain and set the ackee aside till you are ready for it.

Soak the codfish in cold water to cover for about 30 minutes. Drain and place the fish in 1 quart of water. Bring to a rolling boil, then drain the water. Remove any bones and skin from the codfish and flake the meat with a fork, then set aside.

Place the salt pork or bacon in a skillet and fry until crisp in its own oil. Reduce the heat and add the coconut oil, hot pepper, scallions, tomato and onion. Sauté until the onion is translucent.

Drain the ackees and stir into the skillet with flaked codfish. Sprinkle with the black pepper, cover, and cook over low heat for five minutes. Remove serving portions from the skillet with a slotted spoon to avoid the excess oil. Garnish with the sweet green pepper. Serve with boiled green bananas, roasted breadfruit slices, and dumplings.

ROTI RECIPE (Trinidad and Tobago)

Traditionally, rotis are cooked on a flat iron griddle called a tawa, but any heavy skillet or griddle can be used. If the rotis are to be filled with curried meat, shrimp or vegetables and used as a finger food, make 12-inch rotis. Place the filling in the centre and fold in the edges. When they are to be served as a bread to dip up curries, chutneys or gravies, prepare 8-inch rotis.

Yields 4-6 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Milk to mix
Vegetable oil

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Add enough milk to form a stiff dough. Knead the dough well on a lightly floured board, then form into 4 or more equal-sized balls. Roll out the dough thinly to form 8-inch or 12-inch circles. Then brush on a thin coating of vegetable oil. Roll into balls again, cover, and allow to stand for 15 minutes at room temperature.

Roll out the dough again and flatten to the original dimensions by patting lightly. Heat a cast-iron or heavy- bottomed frying pan so that, when tested with a drop of water, it sizzles. Place the rotis, one at a time, in the pan and cook for a minute. Turn, and spread a thin layer of vegetable oil on the surface of each roti; turn frequently until cooked (when brown flecks appear on the surface). Remove from the frying pan and pound between the palms of the hands till it becomes supple. Keep rotis warm and moist by covering with a towel.

Excerpted from Island Cooking: Recipes from the Caribbean by Dunstan A. Ham’s (The Crossing Press, Freedom, California 95019)