Jamaica: Ackee & Saltfish Breakfast

My favourite part of visiting Jamaica is, of course, the food.

Being Jamaican, I enjoy many of the classic dishes at home, and there are many Caribbean spots opening around London for a little taste of sunshine. But nothing beats picking your ackee off the tree in the morning, and having it for breakfast within the hour.

My Aunty Patsy let me document her ackee & saltfish method to share here on the blog, and also teach me how to make it for myself really!

It’s quite easy, but there’s also a little balancing act of a few pans on the go at once. Whilst you’re getting used to making it, I’d suggest you follow the method I’ve written below. You’ll quickly work out the timings and manage a more simultaneous cooking process.

There’s not an exact ingredient list… or recipe. We’ll make this the Jamaican way – a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Everything we used besides the ackee and salted cod itself is pictured above. How many can you name?

Green banana
Onions
Spring onions
Yam
Tomato
Garlic
Fresh thyme
Avocado
Sweet pepper
Scotch bonnet pepper
Plantain

If you’re lucky enough to be in an ackee producing country, I am very jealous. In order to prepare ackee for safe consumption, the pink skin and veins must be removed, along with the black seeds. It must then be boiled for 5-10 minutes and can be placed to the side. However If you, like me, live somewhere you’ll only find ackee in a can then you don’t need to worry about this cleaning step as canned ackee comes ready to be added later in the recipe.

As for saltfish, you may also find this comes in a few forms where you live. You can purchase meaty chunks of salted cod like this in most local markets (Queens, Stratford indoor, Ridley Road etc.) or ethnic food shops around London. Aunty P removed the large bone spines and peeled the larger chunks of flesh away from the skin before covering with water and bringing to the boil. Boil until tender and easy to flake with a fork.  Once boiled, leave to cool slightly so you can remove the bones, flaking the flesh as you go. I’ve seen some methods that mention soaking the saltfish overnight but I’ve never known of this.

Whilst your saltfish is boiling, get started on the seasoning. This isn’t a Jamie Oliver pinch of salt and pepper job.

Soften two small onions, one sweet pepper, 3-4 spring onions, a handful of fresh thyme, and 2 cloves of garlic in 2 tbsp vegetable oil. After a few minutes also add 2 chopped tomatoes and your scotch bonnet pepper – as much as you can handle!

I did warn you this was a balancing act of a dish, so add another pot to the stove with some water for your hard food. Hard food, or provisions, is a mix of starchy foods that can accompany most Jamaican meals. In our case, we had yellow yam, green banana and plantain. You could also add dumplings, cassava and dasheen.

We popped outside for our green bananas, although I doubt you’ll be as lucky!

Top, tail and lightly score the green banana but leave the skin on. Peel the plantain completely and cut into large chunks – comparable to half your green banana. Place in a large pan of water and bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer for around 15-20 minutes. Aunty P recommends a few drops of oil in the water. The skins of the green bananas will darken as they boil – don’t be alarmed.

Into the softened onion, mix in the flaked saltfish and season heavily with black pepper. Continue to cook into the seasoning for a few minutes.

At this point, the hard food should be soft to pierce with a fork. Remove the green banana from the skins and drain the remaining food.

The very last step is to mix in the ackee, either drained from a can or boiled fresh. Canned ackee is in water, so is much softer than fresh. Be gentle when mixing so the ackee can hold as much of its shape and texture as possible.

Let’s plate up!

The strongest start to the day you’ll ever have. There’s no breakfast like this.

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Harleigh Reid

I write about food and eat a lot.

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