jamaican sunday breakfast: bully beef and johnny cakes

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This is the breakfast we ate on Sundays in Jamaica, especially at the beach house, when the morning was fresh and cool. We’d eat bully beef–corned beef cooked with tomatoes, onions, and to wake up the mouth, scotch bonnet pepper. Bully beef is actually colloquial Jamaican patois for tinned corned beef. A popular accompaniment to bully beef was johnny cakes, a kind of fried biscuit–in the American sense of the word biscuit; a savory but light round of wheat dough fried and best eaten when it is warm. Every cook in Jamaica has his/her own recipe for johnny cakes; my mother used to make hers with lard. Johnny cakes are also an accompaniment for another Jamaican favorite, ackee and saltfish. They can also be enjoyed with butter and jam.

Bully Beef
Servings: 6-8

Ingredients
1 tin corned beef
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
1/4 to 1/2 scotch bonnet pepper, chopped, with or without seeds (optional)

Preparation
Heat a teaspoon vegetable oil in a large skillet. Fry the tomatoes and onions until the onions are translucent. Add the corned beef to the tomato mixture, breaking up the large pieces, until softened. Mix in the scotch bonnet pepper, if using. Serve at once.

Johnny Cakes (adapted from a Grace recipe)
Makes 18-24 cakes

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour plus more for flouring the board and rolling pin
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon vegetable shortening
9-10 tablespoons ice water
oil for frying

Preparation
In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and vegetable shortening. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed (1) until the butter and shortening are incorporated the size of small peas. With the machine on, add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until the flour mixture comes together in a ball and the sides are clean. Switch to the dough hook and mix on low to medium speed (2) until the dough is smooth and elastic. Switch off the machine and remove the dough ball.

On a lightly floured surface and using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut dough into rounds.

Fill a 10 inch skillet with enough oil to cover the bottom and come 1/2 inch up the sides. Heat the oil.

Cook’s Note: My sister-in-law Lorraine showed me this trick how to tell the oil is hot enough. The oil will be hot enough to fry when a wooden chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon, when inserted in the middle of the oil, gathers bubbles around the stick.

Fry the dough rounds in batches until they are puffed and lightly golden. Remove with tongs to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and cool. Serve warm.

2 thoughts on “jamaican sunday breakfast: bully beef and johnny cakes

  1. Bully beef and Johnnycake is my go-to breakfast. My mom used to stuff the johnny cake dough with the Bully beef and then fried them. It was a great “walking” snack.

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