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Ackee & Saltfish

Kwame Onwuachi

Lesson time 22 min

It’s not breakfast in Jamaica without ackee and saltfish, a dish that Kwame’s Grandma Gloria would serve him as a child. Kwame teaches all about Jamaica’s national dish that reminds him of comfort and heritage.

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Preview

I’m gonna pull the fruit out. I wanna crisp the saltfish up. Bro, I’m so excited for some breakfast. Ready to eat? Let’s get it. Good morning Its six to nine, Hello Good morning, how are you I am okay [Friend] Whoa, that’s what I’m talking about. Mm. That’s it right there. [Friend] That’s it. That’s it right there. See, this is one of the only place you can get fresh ackee. For me this is just like, this is childhood. This ackee is savory its so creamy, but it absolutely hits with the saltfish like… Think I can eat this everyday. You know its my version of eggs and bacon and pancakes, like this is breakfast to me. Mm. So today we’re talking about ackee and saltfish. Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica, which makes ackee and saltfish the national dish of Jamaica also. I grew up eating this dish. I can remember it for as long as I’ve been alive, it was just always there. My grandma, Gloria, use to serve it to me as a kid on the weekends and for me it reminds me of comfort and it just shows me my heritage. Ackee its this fruit that grows on this large tree. I call it a breakfast tree, cause if you got one of them in your backyard then you always have breakfast everyday. It tastes a little bit briny, its pretty sweet, but it does have a vegetal forward flavor with it as well. Which makes it perfect for breakfast. So you can do so many things to go with this, I mean you can do callaloo, you can do boiled and fried dumpling, ground food or ground provisions, which is green banana, green plantain, some boiled yams, so I’m teaching you how to make the base of a Jamaican breakfast here. So now I’m going to grab my ingredients to go with the ackee and all these flavors further accentuate just the essence of ackee and saltfish. So now I got my ingredients laid out, I’m going to grab my salt fish and we soaked it in water for about 24 hours. You can see, how the saltfish has been hydrated. Its nice and translucent, its plump and juicy. It still has a considerable amount of salt to it, its actually safe to eat at this point. I mean I could just eat that right now honestly. So I’m going to cook the salt fish and that’s going to tenderize it for a bit. It’s going to let me you know pick the bones out. You know this is a fish at the end of the day. So there are pin bones running through this and I wanna make sure that I can clean this all the way through. Just gonna place the saltfish in here. I’m gonna let this simmer for about twenty to thirty minutes, until its soft and all the salt has dissipated and its tender. I can pick the bones out of this. I’m going to prep my vegetables, cause I got to have my which means my things in place. So, once again, I’m going to separate my vegetables that I am going to kind of saute in order really. So I’m going to cut my garlic and onions first as those things are being sauteed, and then I’m going to do my peppers and then my ackee. So I’m going to chop my onions into a small dice. I’m going to make kinda like a grid. So I’m going to slice twice, horizontally and then about five times vertically and that will easily help me dice this onion really, really fast. Look at that done. Now, I’m gonna cut my garlic. Just gonna roll my hand on this, to help break up those cloves. I’m just gonna smash them with my knife. I wanna mince this really nice and fine. And smashing it helps mince it, kinda at the same time. You know and a lot of people like to cut off the ends of garlic, but if its not really, really hard its not necessary, You know there’s still flavor there. I only do it when its really old garlic. All right. It’s super important to work clean, I think the more clean you are, the more organized you are. You know if you have time to clean that means you have time to season your dishes properly. If every in your kitchen is a rush and its all chaotic then your not really in control. Think about it like when your house is clean, when your room is clean, you can think more clearly. Its a same thing when making a dish and this is actually going to go into someones body so I think its even more important. So, I’m going to cut my pepper up. I cut the tops off, if you cut them correctly then the stem will pop right off. Then just cut a slice into the side of that and then just let it roll. That’s an easy way to clean a pepper, in a fraction of the time. All right, so I’m just gonna cut this up into small dice. I’m going to go for one tomato as well, finesse. I’m just going to cut out the stem, and then cut them in roughly the same size. Add to the peppers. All right, so I got my aromatics in different stages. I think its time for the most important thing, its the ackee. So the ackee you know its a poisonous fruit. Once it opens up it releases its toxins, and the really toxic part are the seeds. So it needs to be cleaned properly. So, I’m going to expand this like that, I’m going to pull the fruit out and I’m just gonna twist this right off. And your left with this almost brain looking like you know, piece of fruit, and its really beautiful, its supper complex in its flavor profile. So the ackee is a little bit sweet, has some bitter notes, it has a slight brininess to it to. For me its one of the most, complex fruits I’ve ever tasted in my life. I would not advise eating ackee raw. Its really hard to find in other nations, because a lot of the exports, they have banns on it because of the poisonous attributes to it. So its really the only place you can really get it in its truest form is in Jamaica. And its something that I always eat when I’m here. So you can find can ackee on Amazon, the canned one is brined, so you sill, you should heat it I grew up eating the canned ackee, so your not going to miss out too much, but if you are in Jamaica, make sure you order yourself some ackee and saltfish. So, I’m going to clean it up further, by just taking out this small membrane, it likes to get in the crevices. You know its funny, like ackee reminds me of foie gras like two loaves of foie gras, they also have the veins that go through it, its pretty interesting. So now I have all my vegetables and fruits cut up, we’re going to take them to the stove and build our dish. So my saltfish is done, I’m going to remove it from the heat and start breaking it in little pieces. I’m going to put some gloves on its really hot so this will help me break it up a little bit, but of you wanna let it cool for like ten minutes in your fridge you can feel free to do that as well. So what your looking for is to remove all these bones. Now, I’m only gonna pick through a couple of pieces of saltfish, I’m gonna save the rest for breakfast tomorrow. Wow, this is gonna hold for about a day after you cook it, anything longer than that I think you may be pushing it. So you want about a 1:1 ratio of you know, ackee to saltfish, that’s what I like at least. Some people may want a little less salt fish, its all about preference and that’s what cooking is all about. You know if you don’t have your own saltfish, you can take some cod and pack it in salt and let that moisture come out it. I mean its going to take some time but you can mimic the flavor of this, but saltfish is very common in every single nation. I mean it was used to pretty much feed people that were on sea for a long period of time. So the salt preserves the fish, you know and that’s why its here. The reason why you know it is common is because it has sustained life for a large period of time. So I’m gonna go through this one more time and make sure that there are no bones in here. So I’m gonna try to get as much of this off the bones as I can, a lot of this has deep, deeply rooted bones, like the fin, so you just be mindful of all the bones that are in here. And you can taste it at this point, I mean this is good enough to eat. Mm, so good. So you’ll see most of the bones are out of here. Its beautiful, its flaky, its not dry at all, and it just marvelous how this fish has been preserved for so long and it still maintains all of its activity. Now it’s ready to cook. I’m gonna turn my heat on high. I’m going to get this almost til smoking, I want to crisp the saltfish up, I want to add as much texture to the dish as possible with the ingredients that I have. My oil is shimmering, which means its read to go. I’m going to add, anything that I’m like deeply crisping or adding to hot oil away from me so it never splashes on top of me. And you can use that plate as kind of a barrier for it to hit you. SO I want this to crisp up a little bit. So I’m gonna let this sit in this oil for maybe two to five minutes. So I like to have a lot of saltfish in my ackee, you can put a little bit less or a little bit more, its really up to you, and I like to get a little crispy so as you can see, its already starting to brown and crisp up, which is a really great sign. And these flavors all work together, so at this point I’m going to add my aromatics, my onion and my garlic, and I’m going to let this stew down. And I’m going to start building my flavors at this time. Normally ackee and saltfish is only seasoned with salt and pepper, black pepper in fact. I’m going to add a little bit of pepper to this and I want these to get translucent. I just want to sweat these nothing is really browned in this dish. So now I’m going to add my peppers and tomatoes, and my ackee. Awe, it just shrimp style. So now that this is sauteing, I’m going to add a little of veg stock to this and let this simmer, season it with salt, and then we’re ready to eat. So, I’m going to add just a touch of stock to this. Let those vegetables just soften a little bit more. I’m going to add salt at this point in time, I know there’s saltfish in here so you may not think that you do not need any salt, but most of the salt has drawn out of it. I’m gonna season that a bit and I’m going to double down on the black pepper. You shouldn’t really taste it in its raw state, you know ackee is poisonous, it needs to be cooked all the way through. So, I’ll taste it in a bit, but we’ll let this stew for about five minutes. So I used veggie stock for this, I didn’t want to dilute the flavors of this dish. I just wanted to add to them. I didn’t season my stock and you don’t season your stock because you don’t know what end process is gonna be. So I had to control my salinity throughout the whole process of cooking, this is done. Its time to plate. And as you can see the ackee still has its texture, its not just melted into this and making this one continuous sauce, I like to be able to identify all the different things in it. It smells amazing. I mean you get the aromatics, all the vegetables that are in here. You get that like, that sense of the ocean, from the saltfish and you get this subtle sweetness from the ackee. This is Jamaican pride on a plate and its pride for me as well. This is it, this is Jamaica’s national dish and its the key to my heart, Ackee and Saltfish.

About the Instructor

Kwame Onwuachi started peeling shrimp and stirring roux at 5 years old in his mother’s catering kitchen in the Bronx. The James Beard Award-winning chef has received many accolades since then, including FOOD & WINE’S Best New Chef, Esquire Magazine’s 2019 Chef of the Year, 30 Under 30 honoree by both Forbes and Zagat, and has appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef as both a contestant and judge. In his class, Onwuachi embraces the richness of Afro-Caribbean culture and cuisine, and teaches students how to cook his favorite Jamaican recipes.