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Tasty Thursday: Ackee and Saltfish (Cod)

This dish has won me friends and lovers each time I serve it.

Ackee and Saltfish with Johnny Cakes

Every Jamaican I know either has an ackee tree out back or ackees in the freezer. And the ones “a foreign” have a can or two in the pantry and/or frozen ones they or someone brought back from Jamaica for them.

Ackee is a very popular and versatile dish. Serve on toasted bread for a tasty bruschetta or ackee and saltfish sandwich. Add a little curry to sauteed onions and peppers then mix in ackee for delicious curried ackee (no saltfish needed).

What’s ackee and saltfish, you ask? Well, it is Jamaica’s national dish. Ackee, a relative of the lychee, was brought to Jamaica from West Africa, probably on a slave ship. In 1962, it took pride of place next to the coat of arms, flag, lignum vitae, blue mahoe and humming bird as one of the symbols of the newly independent island nation.

Ackee and saltfish is made of two main ingredients: ackee and salted cod. As with most dishes, different people add their own twist. Here’s how I make it:

1lb boneless saltfish
2 dozen ackees or 2 cans
6 strips of bacon, cut up
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper, seeded
2 stalks of scallion, chopped
1 sprig of thyme
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 tsp finely ground black pepper
1/4 cup of cooking oil (optional)


Note: Unripened ackees contain a toxic substance that is released when the pod is opened. If you’re using them, make sure they are completely opened, like these in this photo are.

Remove the ackees from their pods, discard the pinkish-red membrane and seed.  Wash and put them to boil in a large pot with saltfish that has been washed to remove traces of salt crystals.

You can also cook the ackees separately in lightly salted water or use the water from the saltfish.

(There are different varieties of ackees. Some really soft ones, so called ‘butter’ ackees, take just a few minutes to cook. Others are firmer and take a bit a little longer. You want to make sure whichever one you use, you don’t over cook them or they will break apart.)

Canned ackees are already pre-cooked so if you’re using those, all you’ll need to do is wash the salt off the saltfish then put in a pot with enough water to cover and boil, or soak overnight to remove the salt then boil. Drain. Flake with a fork or your fingers.

Fry bacon strips, remove from saucepan. Saute onions in same oil until tender. Add strips of Scotch Bonnet pepper, chopped scallion (leave some for garnishing) and tomato. Then add flaked saltfish and stir. Add the ackees. Season with freshly ground black pepper and thyme. Stir carefully so as not to break the pods. Lower heat and let cook for about 5-7 minutes.

Plate, garnish with chopped scallions and serve as an appetizer or main course with avocado wedges, bammie, fried plantains, boiled green bananas or Johnny Cakes.


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