Tired of cooking the same handful of meals each week, I enrolled on an international cookery course.
The course may have ended, but it's just whetted my appetite....

Join me on a weekly visit to the cuisines of the world, countries from A to Z, and back again!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

J is for Jamaica

Where we're going this evening - Jamaica

Back across the Atlantic this evening, where we are going to the Caribbean again.

There's a good reason for this - the obvious alternative for J was Japan, and I really don't feel up to tackling sushi - but unless I want to go for Java, I'll have to man up by the time we get round the alphabet again. 

Although a big island in the Caribbean, with fewer than 3 million inhabitants and just 150 by 50 miles in size, it is just a twentieth of the size of the UK. It's part of the Commonwealth, with the Queen as head of state,and was under British rule from it's foundation in the 17th Century until 1962.

Despite not being a heavyweight in the history stakes, as Egypt, Greece and Italy are, the influence of Jamaica on world culture cannot be stressed highly enough - part of the reason the Jamaican culture has spread around the world, is that Jamaicans are a well traveled lot, and have emigrated to Cuba, American and in absolute droves to the UK in the 1950's when we invited them all to the great motherland.

Mind you, I can only imagine the bewilderment and disappointment as the Windrush fetched up at Tilbury Docks in 1948 in the rain and all those eager immigrant faces heading for a new life were faced with post war austerity, terrible weather and a not altogether warm welcome (to our shame, frankly).

There must have been a lot of misgivings along the lines of 'I've left my family, wall to wall sunshine, blue seas, sandy beaches and a relaxed way of life to be a bus driver? What was I thinking?'

But where the Jamaicans go, music is not far behind - they've given us Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Decker, Shaggy, not to mention the late and very great Bob Marley. And that's just the reggae - they also brought SKA music and the two-tone movement of the 80's which I grew up with is a direct descendant.

This small country is pretty good at producing athletes as well as musicians - at the London Olympics this summer, Jamaica not only took the gold and silver in men's 100m, but also all three medals in the 200m. Extraordinary. Their dominance was such that Clive James said in his Telegraph TV review column - 'During the final of the men’s 200-metre sprint, the number of people watching in Jamaica must have been very few, because nearly everybody was in the race.' which made me laugh!

 So let us join this laid back, athletic, musical people from an island idyll and say yes sah! to the good people of Jamaica...

Tonight's Menu...

Still feeling like the cat who's had the cream after the phenomenal success of that Italian Tiramisu last week, will the Jamaican fare hold up as well?

'Jerk cooking' refers to the way meat is seasoned and cooked - generally with a marinade of allspice and scotch bonnet (bloody hot) chillis, then slow cooked.

I've tackled jerk chicken in the cookery course I took (where we came in) with a jerk sauce along with the Caribbean pepper rice - but the Jamaican style bread and butter pudding is new to me. Will it pass the 'inheritance' test? I'll give mum a portion to try when I see her later in the week.

Jamaican Jerk Pork - recipe from class.

Make a marinade by blending scotch bonnet chili spring onion, garlic, bay leaves, pimento seeds, brown sugar, all purpose seasoning,thyme, a little oil. Rub the marinade into pork and leave overnight. Transfer to baking tray and cook in a moderate oven.

Caribbean Pepper Rice - recipe from class
Sweat chopped garlic, onion, pepper in oil. Add grated carrot and rice & stir to coat in oil. Add water & a stock cube, cover & simmer till stock is absorbed. Fork through, add a small knob of butter & sprinkle with parsley.

Jerk Sauce - recipe from class
Blend ground allspice berries/pimento seeds with brown sugar, garlic, scotch bonnet chili,  thyme, spring onions, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, soy sauce and a little water and simmer till reduced. Strain & serve.

Jamaican Bread and Butter Pudding- recipe from Jamaicans.com Break day-old bread into pieces & mix with sugar, cinnamon, ground nutmeg, rum, raisins & a little melted butter then transfer to a buttered baking dish. Mix condensed milk, milk and beaten eggs & pour into baking dish. Cook on a low oven until set.

The Result

And what have we learnt?

  • Scotch bonnet chilis which seem to be a staple of virtually all Caribbean cookery are hot. And that does not just mean 'be careful how much you use in this dish as it might burn your mouth', it means 'despite wearing disposable gloves whilst chopping, and diligent hand washing, putting in your contact lenses at the end of your cookery session is going to be eye-wateringly painful.
  • This rice recipe is fabulously gorgeous and has moved from being 'an exotic dish cooked especially on International Cookery Nights' but a staple in my kitchen
  • Jerk spices are easy to prepare, and assuming that the meat is to hand a day earlier (as opposed to still frozen) this is a quick meal to put together - twenty minutes from lighting the gas to eating the home cooked meal.
  • Jerk sauce keeps well in the fridge for a goodly while, and from previous experience a spoonful added into any rice or pasta dish peps it up no end.
  • When a recipe calls for 'one day old bread', it's a good move to buy the fresh bread, cut off what is needed then freeze/eat the rest. Otherwise you have a great portion of leftover one day old stale bread only suitable for toasting or to stuff the birds*
  • Timing is the key - the photo above of the bread and butter pudding taken on removal from oven looks fab. Two minutes later it had sagged like a soggy souffle.

And out of 10?

  • for the jerk pork - a solid 8/10 - the spices are easy to prepare (assuming you can think ahead 24hrs) and the resulting meat dish is tender and tasty. Do exercise caution on amount of scotch bonnet chilis deployed (and how you handle them)
  • For the jerk sauce - it wasn't necessary really to add anything extra to the jerk pork, but nonetheless, this merits a a tangy 8/10 - again, easy to prep, and keeps in the fridge. A good addition to other dishes
  • For the Caribbean rice - a tried and tested 9/10 - this is well and truly added to the recipe repertoire now
  • The bread and butter pudding is on a 'jury's-still-out' 6/10 - I suspect that this will mellow overnight in the fridge, but on first tastes, the rum is a bit overpowering.

*I'm joking here - I've had to (reluctantly) withdraw bird feeding facilities in the courtyard garden - with two cats in residence, it's far too cruel to tempt the birds to eat tasty soaked bread in milk just to run the risk of them being brought home through the catflap by eager-to-please mogs for my closer inspection. The experience tends to be akin to biology dissection classes.

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