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Rundown or Dip and Fall Back

Cooking is as much about skill as it is about passion. Either of these on their own can produce a satisfactory dish; bring them together and you have a delicious meal.

My first attempt at making Rundown, or Rundung in our Jamaican dialect, was for a dinner party I gave. I approached the making of this mildly complicated dish armed only with an inflated sense of confidence. I’m sure I thought to myself, how difficult can it be to?

While I scored on the passion, I bombed on the skill. Fortunately, for me, my guests thought my Rundown was a hit.

Rundown is grated or shredded coconut that is boiled until it reduces to a thick, custard-looking consistency. At that stage, onions, pepper, tomatoes, garlic, thyme are added and allowed to cook before adding the fish, typically salted mackerel, cod or shad. Lobster or shrimp work perfectly as well.

Rundown – I haven’t been able to find out why it’s called that – also goes by an even more interesting name, Dip and Fall Back. According to the National Library of Jamaica’s website, Rundown was served traditionally in a bowl that was placed in the middle of the table. Each person at the table would dip something starchy, like boiled green bananas or dumpling, into the bowl then fall back to allow someone else to dip.

Communal eating, which might have been holdover from slavery, was likely brought back into play during the war when foods and other items were rationed and Jamaicans had to create other ways to feed their families.

Another explanation is that you dip and allow your head to fall back so that the sauce doesn’t drip. Whatever the reason, Rundown or Dip and Fall Back is a Jamaican classic. There’s even song, Dip and Fall Back, celebrating the dish. Listen to a mento version by The Spinners, a group that’s new to me, and a lively folk version by the Cari-Folk singers.

My mistake on my first try was that I didn’t let the coconut reduce enough before I added the seasonings. I didn’t have annatto seeds either, for that yellowish-red color but it didn’t matter because the meal was delicious. (Annatto is the food coloring that gives Chedder and other cheeses their characteristic reddish-yellow color.) Honestly, there really is no way to fail with anything cooked in coconut since it gives foods such a rich flavor.

I never tried Rundown until several years later. That time, I got it halfway right but I was careful not to say it was Rundown.

A few weeks ago, when I was cooking with my aunt, I asked her to help me make it. She didn’t have salted mackerel so we used saltfish instead. Above is how it looked. For the record, it was delicious.

Rundown or Dip and Fall Back
Serves 4
A traditional Jamaican dish
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Prep Time
3 hr
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
3 hr 20 min
Prep Time
3 hr
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
3 hr 20 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 whole coconuts, grated or 2 cans coconut milk
  2. 1 clove garlic, chopped
  3. 2 -3 sprigs of thyme
  4. 6 cups water
  5. 3 stalks scallion, chopped
  6. 2 onions, chopped
  7. 2 lbs. pickled mackerel, saltfish or shad
  8. 3 tomatoes, chopped
  9. 1 hot pepper, Scotch bonnet, chopped and seeds removed
  10. 5-6 annatto seeds or a dash of turmeric (optional)
Instructions
  1. Soak the mackerel or shad in water for at least 3 hours to remove excess salt. You can also bring it to boil 2 or three times, throwing off the water and letting it boil again. Remove as many bones as possible and set this aside.
  2. If you're using shrimp or lobster, clean and set aside.
  3. If you’re using grated coconut, add water and press the liquid through a sieve, cheesecloth or muslin bag. This is the coconut milk.
  4. Boil the coconut milk rapidly in a heavy frying pan until it is reduced to something resembling curdled custard oil.
  5. Stir in the annatto or turmeric then add onion, garlic, scallion, tomatoes, hot pepper and thyme. Lower the heat and simmer for ten minutes.
  6. Add the fish and stir.
  7. Cover and cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat.
Notes
  1. This dish is traditionally served with boiled green bananas and dumplings. Sometimes the green bananas are cooked with it.
Adapted from National Library of Jamaica
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Comments

  1. Thank you for the recipe 🙂
    Muza-chan recently posted..Japanese traditional houses, the perfect simplicityMy Profile

  2. I would be interested in trying this. I like the “dip and fall back” name. Clever!
    Sonja recently posted..Celebrate a Dream Come True ParadeMy Profile

  3. Marcia I agree that anything made with coconut milk is delicious. I’ve never boiled coconut milk down – and is that a time consuming process? I love the fact that you’re trying old recipe with relatives. What a great way to keep traditions alive.
    Leigh recently posted..Hiking to the Summit of Le Mont Albert in QuebecMy Profile

  4. I’ve never heard of this dish. Jave has never cooked it and I’ve never had it in Jamaica. I’m definitely going to try this recipe in the coming weeks – it sounds yummy with lobster or shrimp. I’ll let you know how it turns out!
    Dana Carmel recently posted..Scenes from Santo DomingoMy Profile

  5. Or perhaps you fall back in pure euphoria at the scrumptiousness of this fabulous sauce!! Love, love, love your foodie posts!! More deliciousness please!!
    Jeff Titelius recently posted..In Search of Christmas: The magic and wonder of Santa’s LaplandMy Profile

  6. You’re welcome, Lili!

  7. Oh, good point, Jeff! Hadn’t thought of that.
    Glad you like the foodie posts. Another one coming up next week.

  8. I so love the names of the Jamaican dishes I’ve been learning about from you. This might be my favorite — Dip and Fall Back! A classic, especially with the interesting theories. Oh, and the recipe sounds great, too.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Italian Comfort Food at Trattoria MontepaoloMy Profile

  9. Love reading about these Jamaican specialities 🙂
    Sophie recently posted..Dublin after dark – mobile theatreMy Profile

  10. It takes a little while to reduce it. You’ll start to see a bit of oil forming as well — maybe an hour or so? I’ll have to time it next time.
    The time consuming part is having to check it regularly to make sure it doesn’t burn. It’s almost the same process we use to make coconut oil. In that case, you’d use more coconut.

  11. It’s really great with lobster or shrimp, Dana. Please let me know how it turns out.

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