ackee and salt fish

Ackee and Salt Fish is undeniably Jamaica’s national dish. Whenever I go to my mother’s house, I will eat this dish. I think she makes the best ackee and salt fish. Now, ackee is a very strange fruit that was imported to the island from West Africa. The closest I can describe its look and taste is resembling scrambled eggs but without any salt or flavor.  The ackee has a history. Indeed, when I was growing up stories would pop up occasionally in the Daily Gleaner about so-and-so getting sick from eating unripe ackee. The pods must be allowed to open naturally otherwise the fruit is poisonous. There is even a book titled The Deadly Ackee and Other Stories by Joan Hess.

In days gone by, my mother used to have to prepare fresh ackee because the convenience of tinned ackee wasn’t available. Now, tinned ackee is available at Caribbean grocery stores all over the US and Canada. I just discovered that it’s available on too. You can get everything from Amazon! I’m glad because now I don’t have to take two trains and a bus to get to the Caribbean store in Brooklyn! I can have my ackee fix without leaving Manhattan.  I brought two tins of ackee with me from Canada to make this, my mother’s recipe. I’ve put up the other one for when the craving hits me again.

1 18 oz tin of ackees, drained
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup bacon, diced
1/4 cup salted fish (bacalao is okay, cod is recommended)
1 whole scotch bonnet pepper, finely diced with seeds
Black pepper
1 Scallion, sliced thinly,  for garnish

In a small saucepan, put the salted fish and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and drain the fish. Let it cool slightly. When it is cool enough to handle, shred the fish with a fork. Set aside.

In a 10 inch skillet fry the bacon until crisp. Drain bacon on a paper towel. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon oil. Over medium high heat, fry the tomatoes and onion in the oil in the pan until wilted, about 3-5 minutes. Add the shredded fish and the scotch bonnet pepper, stirring to heat through. You can use less pepper if you wish but in my experience, the scotch bonnets here do not have the heat of the “country peppers” at home.  So don’t be afraid to use the whole thing. It will add flavor to the dish.

Sprinkle the drained ackees straight from the tin all over the top of the tomato mixture. Turn the ackees and the salt fish to heat through, being careful not to break up the pieces of the fruit as much as possible. Sprinkle black pepper generously over everything. Sprinkle the scallion on top.

In Jamaica, we eat ackee and salt fish with johnny cakes (a kind of fried biscuit) or bammie (cassava cake). It was so hot today I didn’t want to fry up any johnny cakes, so I baked scones. They were slightly sweet. Biscuits would have been better. Toasted bread would do if you didn’t want to wait for the biscuits.

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