Updated: Apr 28, 2021
My partner, Andrew, grew up in Jamaica. He introduced me to Jamaican cuisine. This Ackee and Saltfish dish is classic, easy to make, and friendly to our nutritional preferences. (Essentially vegetarian/pescatarian.). Stay tuned for some other recipes!
Ackee and Saltfish is the National Dish of Jamaica. It is usually a breakfast meal, but we eat lighter in the mornings, so I make this for dinner. Ackee is often served with "food" which is what Jamaicans call some combination of Jamaican yams, green bananas, dense flour dumplings and sometimes plantains and other items. It is often served with a green called callaloo.
In the picture, above, you can see we made the yams and bananas. I didn't have callaloo, so I just made some power greens with garlic. You can read more about food and callaloo here: Jamaican Yams, Green Bananas, enormous dense flour dumplings, callaloo, food
Ackee is actually a fruit. It has a mild taste and is fluffy like scrambled eggs. I think it's delicious.😋 And it's easy to make. It's basically a sauté!
Ackee has a high fat content, like an olive or an avocado, but it's unsaturated fat. Ackee has other health benefits. You can read more here.
If you want to try Ackee from a restaurant before committing to making it at home (and you live in NYC), I can say I had it at Negril Villiage and they did a good job.👍 I do not recommend you try the ackee at Golden Krust. (Heavy, oily.). 😕👎
If you're ready to just go for it and cook it up at home, here's what you need:
Time. Ackee is very easy to make, but my method requires 8 hours of fish soaking time, so you have to plan ahead. I learned how to make this from reading other recipes on the internet, and following the directions on the package of the fish. Soaking overnight is fine, too. Andrew's sister, Olive, does not soak the fish, so you can speed up the process. I'll share her method, too.
Ackee. Fresh ackee is not available in the US, but many grocery stores have it in a can. You can search for it on Instacart.com to find a store near you that sells canned ackee. Here is a link- for Grace Brand Ackee. I am sure the other brands are good, too. You can also get ackee on Amazon.
Saltfish. Salted cod is usually used, but I have been using Tropical Boned Salted Pollock. It is very easy to handle because all the bones are already out, and it cooks in 5 minutes.
Scotch Bonnet Peppers. These peppers are especially hot, so if you don't like spicy food, you could try this recipe without. Scotch bonnets do have an umami flavor along with the spice-- so, for me, they are mandatory! I use 1 scotch bonnet in this dish and it seems mild/medium to me. I would say I have a medium tolerance for heat, but it's really up to the individual.
WARNING: If you have sensitive skin, you should wear food prep gloves when handling scotch bonnet peppers. I will say more about that in the Tips & Tricks at the end of this post.
Food (Optional). If you want to make Jamaican yams, green bananas, plantains, etc., you can probably find them wherever ackee is sold.
Everything else you can find at any grocery store.
Ackee & Saltfish Recipe (4 servings)
1 19-oz can of ackee
1/2 pound of salt fish
1/2 of a red bell pepper
1 small tomato
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp scotch bonnet pepper, finely minced (I just mince a whole pepper)
3 sprigs fresh thyme (optional) (I use more)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1-3 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter for frying
Directions for Yams & Bananas aka "Food" (Optional)
Andrew's sister, Olive, cooks her salt fish first, then cooks her food in the salty fish water. You can also boil the food in plain water. Andrew and I really like the bright flavors of the food cooked in plain water. We don't even put butter or salt on the food! (Though of course, you could!)
The bananas can be boiled in their peels, which makes them easy to peel when they're done. If you are concerned about pesticides, you can peel them first and then boil them.
Here's how Andrew made yams and bananas:
Bananas--Wash 4 very green bananas well. Cut off the tips and slit the peel on one side so steam can escape. Put the bananas in a large pot.
Yams--However much yam you think you want to serve--rinse well, peel off the bark, rinse again. Cut the Yams into half inch circles and put in the pot with the bananas.
Cover it all with water, bring to a rolling boil. While that is happening you can make your ackee.
Boil food for about 30 minutes. When the yam is soft enough to pierce with a fork, it's all done. The yam is not quite the consistency of a white potato, but close.
Andrew left them in the water so they were still warm when the ackee was done, but you could remove them immediately with tongs.
Directions for Ackee
Prepare your Saltfish.
Place salt fish in a large pot and cover with about 6 cups water (I just estimate). Put a lid on it and put it in the fridge. Soak for at least 8 hours, and change the water at least 3 times.
When you are ready to cook, change the water one more time and boil. I have been finding the fish cooks in 5 minutes. However, I have seen other recipes that call for 20 minutes, so I think it depends on what kind of salt fish you get. When I use Tropical Boned Salted Pollock. it just falls apart by itself, so after 5 minutes I fish it out with a slotted spoon and set aside.
No soaking necessary. Cover the fish with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat. Pour off the water, add fresh water, and boil until the fish is tender. Do not discard the water. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the fish and put it in a colander. Rinse with cool water. Shred the fish with a fork and remove bones, if necessary. Boil your food in the salty fish water.
Prepare your fruits, herbs and aromatics
Open up the can of ackee and drain off all the water. Set aside. Update: one of our friends suggested rinsing the ackee in warm water to get a cleaner ackee taste. Makes sense!
Rinse the thyme sprigs and discard woody stems.
Dice the tomatoes and bell pepper into small pieces.
Finely dice garlic, onions, scallion and scotch bonnet. I like to use my mini food processor for these items. I start with the garlic, then the scallions, then the onions, and the scotch bonnet peppers last. If you dice the scotch bonnet by hand, you might want to use food preparation gloves.
In a large skillet, sauté the onions in 1 tbsp oil or butter. When they are a quarter done, add the scallions, garlic and scotch bonnet for about a minute. Add the tomatoes, bell peppers, thyme and black pepper. Add more oil or butter, if needed. Sauté until the peppers are crisp-tender.
Add the salt fish and gently add the ackee. Use a spatula to gently turn the ackee and other ingredients so they are mixed. I like my ackee fluffy, so I try not to break it at all. Put a lid on it and cook a few minutes on low/medium heat until the ackee and salt fish are warm.
When it's hot, "Nyam it up." 😋
(Nyam is a Jamaican slang word for eat. "Fram mawning mi nuh nyam" is patois for "I haven't eaten since this morning.")
Tips & Tricks:
Scotch Bonnet Handling
I once had a really uncomfortable burning sensation in my hands for almost 24 hours after chopping some scotch bonnets. It was so bad I actually took a pain reliever! Now I either use food prep gloves, or put them in my mini food processor or blender.
If you decide to cut the scotch bonnets on a cutting board, rinse everything immediately afterwards and wash your hands well. You can also substitute a teaspoon of Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce. I love this sauce and put it on lots of things--especially pizza!😋
Scotch Bonnet Storage
Scotch Bonnets usually come in a large quantity, so I freeze them. It's actually really convenient. I buy a bunch of peppers, rinse them off, throw them in a ziplock and freeze. When I am ready to cook I just take one or two out of the freezer and toss into my mini food processor or blender to chop very fine. No thawing required.
Leftover Thyme Storage
Dried thyme from the store is so different from fresh thyme, I can't even use it anymore! Instead, I dry my own. When I buy fresh thyme, I wash the entire batch immediately. I use whatever I want fresh that day. I line a dinner plate with a paper towel and put the rest of the thyme on the paper towel to dry. In a couple of days, I take off all the leaves while watching TV, and store them in a bottle. (It turns out you can save thyme in a bottle!😜) I read that you can freeze thyme as well, but when I tried it, it did not work.
Yams and Bananas
Yams and Bananas make a nice side dish for other things, so you can cook up extra and keep in the fridge. Yams are much healthier than white potatoes.
When selecting bananas, make sure they are very green. If you buy a bunch, they will ripen and you can eat them raw, as usual.
If you're having this for breakfast you can serve it with the usual breakfast drinks. If it's for dinner, and you want to make a Jamaican night of it, here are some ideas! Non-Alcoholic: Ginger Beer, Ting, Sorrel Drink. Alcoholic: Red Stripe, or other Jamaican Beer, Appleton Rum, Rum-spiked Sorrel, Myer's Dark Rum and Ginger Beer. I have seen pre-made Sorrel in bottles at my grocery store, but I can't find any pictures. I have also seen Sorrel Tea. You can make your own sorrel as well, with or without the rum.
Did you know?
Not all Jamaicans are Rastafarian, and not all Jamaicans smoke cannabis. Rastafarianism is a specific religion, and cannabis is sacred in their religion. Cannabis is technically illegal in Jamaica, but it has been decriminalized. Read more about Rastafarianism here and here. Some of the confusion may stem from the fact that Bob Marley, a very famous Jamaican, was a member of the Rastafari movement for some years.
If you see someone wearing the colors Red, Gold, Green and/or Black --they are signaling allegiance with Rastafarianism. If someone is wearing Gold, Green and Black, they celebrating Jamaica.🇯🇲
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One Love 💚💛🖤