Ackee and saltfish is the national dish of Jamaica. In Jamaica it is eaten as a breakfast dish, but I think it is perfect for any time of the day. Ackee is a fruit, and like in this dish, it is often cooked as a vegetable. When cooked it resembles and has the texture of scrambled eggs, but has a mild nutty and slightly sweet flavour. The saltfish is dried salted white fish, normally cod (but sometimes pollock or snapper), that has been soaked or boiled in water to rehydrate it and remove most of the salt it was preserved in to make it palatable. The preservation method definitely gives the saltfish a flavour that you cannot obtain from using fresh fish. When combined together the nutty sweetness of the ackee melds so well with the texture and flavour of the saltfish, and it’s so deliciously unique.
Ok, so by now if you were not already familiar with ackee and saltfish then you’re probably thinking of exploring the other parts of my blog or leaving my site completely, BUT PLEASE DON’T RUN AWAY! As exotic as ackee and saltfish seems, it is actually such an easy dish to cook. The ingredients can be found in the “World Foods” section in many of the larger UK supermarkets. And the flavour explosion you’ll have is definitely worth sticking around for.
Now, from my “About” page you may already know that I’m half Jamaican. I’m very proud of my Jamaican heritage, which is why I’d love to share a little bit more about the history and origin of this dish which is steeped in colonialism. I think ackee and saltfish is a perfect reflection of the history of the Jamaican people and is so fitting as a national dish.
Ackee is actually indigenous to West Africa and was brought over from Ghana to Jamaica in the eighteenth century. The fruit itself grows on trees and the closest thing I can liken it to in appearance is a sweet pepper (or bell pepper). As the fruit grows it changes colour from green, to red to orange and as it does this it splits open to reveal three black seeds, and this is how you know it is ripe and ready to be picked.
As for saltfish, this was introduced to the Caribbean in around the seventeenth century. It was brought over from North America in trade ships which would return from the Caribbean with delicacies of this era such as rum and sugar. The preservation method of the cod was ideal for preventing the fish from perishing during the long transatlantic journey. Due to the abundance of cod at the time saltfish was bought as an inexpensive source of protein for the enslaved people. It blows my mind to think about how people going through so much injustice, pain and sorrow could find the passion and creativity in their hearts to produce a dish as resplendent and flavoursome as ackee and saltfish. I’d like to imagine that when this dish was eaten it provided a moment of comfort and hope, even if it was just a fleeting moment.
Ackee and Saltfish Recipe
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 35-40 minutes
- 250 g skinless and boneless salt fish
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 0.5 tsp dried thyme)
- 3 spring onions (white and green part separated and finely chopped)
- 2 tomatoes diced
- 0.5 Scotch bonnet chilli finely diced
- 4-5 pimento berries crushed
- 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
- 540 g tinned ackee (drained)
- Hold the salt fish under the cold tap to rinse off the visible flakes/grains of salt. Then place in a medium sized saucepan.
- Cover the fish with cold water and bring the pan to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Use a fork to break off a small piece of and taste it to check the salt levels.
- If it is too salty then drain the water and repeat steps 2 and 3 until the salt level is just right for your taste. Remember, you want to remove most of the salt, but leave in just enough for the flavour.
- Once the salt level is to your taste drain the water and use two forks to break the fish into large chunks. Set aside for later.
- Next, preheat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan using a medium heat.
- Add in the onions, the white parts of the spring onion, chilli, pimento, and thyme and give them a good mix. Then add in the garlic.
- Once the onions have softened and are translucent add in the chopped tomatoes and stir for about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the salt fish and season with black pepper (and salt if you feel you have removed too much during the boiling of the salt fish).
- Add in the ackee. Gently use a wooden spoon to distribute the ackee evenly in the pan, but do not mix it as it is very soft and delicate and will start to break up. Cover the pan with the lid and leave to steam for five minutes. Garnish with the green part of the spring onion before serving.
- As I mentioned above, saltfish, ackee, pimento and the scotch bonnet pepper can normally be found in the larger supermarkets here in the UK. Head to the fruit and veg section for the scotch bonnet pepper. The ackee, saltfish and pimento should be found in the “World Foods” section. The ackee will be in a tin, the saltfish will be packaged in a plastic tray normally wrapped in a clear plastic film, and the pimento berries are normally packaged in a plastic tube.
- Break the saltfish into large chunks around 2-3 cm long as it will break down further when cooking.
- Tinned ackee is very soft and fragile (it is boiled first prior to being tinned) so always add it in last and do not stir heavily.
- Serve with white rice, fried dumplings or hard food (a combination of boiled yam, green bananas and dumplings).