Jamaica

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Bammies

Making bammies - photo by Richmond Talbot

Bammy, a descendant of an old indigenous Arawak indian food, nearly went extinct about 20 years ago. It was saved by the government of Jamaica with help from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and a handful of enterprising and hardworking Jamaican women. This in turn saved the livelihood of many Jamaican subsistence farmers who survived on their meager surplus of cassava root.

Bammies are a simple food, and as with many simple foods, ingredients and technique make all the difference. It was something of an adventure to work out the identity of the single ingredient... but then the technique beat me.

a bammy in the skillet

Here's what the recipes say, and how I did it, and how it worked. The recipes are pretty much in unanimous agreement with Enid's recipe, so I can't blame the recipe.

The technique is strange, but then I am not a 16th-century Arawak in Jamaica...maybe it would be common sense to them.

In the end I found the flavor great but the texture more suited to the heel of a work boot than as an accompaniment to Escoveitched Fish.

Read on and see what you think.

Rum Punch

Jamaican Rum Punch

The classic Jamaican rum punch recipe is recorded in this simple rhyme:

"One of sour, 
Two of sweet,
Three of strong, and
Four of weak"

It works like this:

Sour is usually lime juice, but lemon juice or a mix is OK. 

Sweet is simple syrup or sugar, or any sweet liqueur.

Strong is rum, usually amber, but white is OK.

Weak is water, seltzer, fruit juice, or soda.

It doesn't matter if you use ounces or hogsheads as long as the proportions stay the same.

Combine them all and serve in tall glasses over ice. Garnish with fruit. A 10-ounce serving (less than a can of Coke) has three ounces of rum, so it's an easy-drinking but potent potion.

Here is the formula that I made for John's Jamaican Birthday Dinner

Oxtail Stew

Oxtail in the pot

Another hearty classic of Jamaican cuisine that utilizes the "fifth quarter", those meats that were not good enough for the table in the Big House and so left to the slaves on the sugar cane plantations. 

I had a wonderful oxtail stew at the ritzy Jamaica Pegasus hotel for a mere $1350 (that's US$13.50) but this slave's dish is so rich that I felt like a millionaire eating it. They served it with a very finely shredded Scotch Bonnet Pepper, which I determined was a necessary, delicious, and somewhat incendiary addition. 

The thing about Oxtail Stew, as you can see in the photo, is that you get so much gelatin from the oxtail that it is very rich both in body and in flavor. The pepper stands up to that rich backbone and brings it to a whole new level. The rich stew tames the pepper a bit so even New Englanders can handle it.

Escoveitched Fish

Escoveitched Fish

Escoveitched Fish is eaten in Jamaica for breakfast, lunch, and supper. I saw it served at the Norman Manley Airport as I was waiting to board my morning flight home, but I had been admonished to wait for a better version on my next visit.

This simple recipe is a cook's delight because it is so amenable to modification both in preparation and in presentation. You can use different types of fish, vary the marinade ingredients, and dress it in any number of ways. 

It's strange, too, in that the fish is cooked and then marinated without refrigeration. That, of course, makes it an excellent choice for a picnic or for a lunch on the beach. I fully expect to prepare this again in the summertime.

Rice and Peas

Rice & Peas"Jamaica's Coat of Arms", Rice and Peas, is a delicious, easy, and substantial dish. It's quick enough to make (if you use canned beans) that I plan to add it to the weeknight repertoire. It was the surprise hit of the night at John's Jamaican Birthday Dinner!

But Rice and Peas has no peas at all - not by the language of New England cooks. By peas, the Jamaican cook is referring to red or green beans such as kidney beans.

Rice and Peas makes a fine accompaniment to many simple fish dishes such as broiled haddock or steamed cod, where the coconut milk lends an island flare.  

Ackee and Saltfish

Ackee and SaltfishThis uniquely Jamaican dish uses ackee, a tree fruit that is not uncommon in the islands, but that is cultivated for food only in Jamaica.

The ackee fruit is rare and expensive in New England markets. I got two cans for $9.99 each at Compare Foods Supermarket in Worcester, but I had to ask for it at the customer service counter.

Pepperpot Soup

Jamaican Pepperpot SoupThis hearty Jamaican classic has a thousand ingredients and it takes a long time to make, but it's bursting with flavor and well worth the effort!

Some of the ingredients are unusual in the typical New England kitchen. Be sure to read about Jamaican Ingredients before committing to this recipe. 

Note that this is not a dish for fussy eaters! If they don't balk at the unfamiliar ingredients, they'll surely shriek at the little bones or the unidentifiable bits of fatty meat from the pig tail. This was food for the slaves, not for the masters. But it is a wonderful mosaic of textures and flavors that will excite the palate of those not so easily intimidated by a bowl of soup!

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