Eating Jamaica! Ackee & Saltfish — the Other "Scrambled Eggs". Jamaica Pegasus' The Country Kitchen & Sandals Royal Plantation's The Terrace.
Breakfast in Jamaica.
My Jamaican host had all the patience in the world as I kept on trying to nail down the name of the unusual local breakfast dish I was eating. "Akian swordfish?" I struggled. "No, ackee AND saltfish," my host corrected me for the umpteenth time with a bit of Jamaican Patois. Finally, I figured out the name when I saw it in print. "Aahhh, Ackee AND Saltfish!" I exclaimed like some Isaac Newton discovering gravity for the first time.
Blue Mountain Coffee takes the morning blues away...
Breakfast in Jamaica, man, is a beautiful thing. It starts off with one of the finest coffees in the world — Blue Mountain Coffee, a supremely well balanced, smooth cup. I could end the story right here but if you savor savory flavors like me, then a Jamaican breakfast is that much more beautiful.
Breadfruit & Johnnycakes.
Many of the breakfast dishes are complemented with bland fruits or vegetables that perform like baked goods or bread items in the States. Their job is to balance out the plate since the very popular Ackee and Saltfish is quite salty.
Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity was never my idea of a good way to break the fast. Certainly, there are some items to sate one's sweet tooth but they tend to be fresh tropical fruits like papayas and mangoes which grow abundantly here and are brimming with intense sweet flavors, so much better than the ones back home.
Johnnycakes are as common as the name John is in the U.S., but, Jamaican Johnnycakes are spherical and made out of flour rather than flat and of cornmeal like the ones found in New England. Although not really sweet, they're exceptional at soaking a plate for everything its got.
Bread + Fruit = Big Bumpy Green Thing!
The peculiar Breadfruit, native to Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, can be found on the table at almost every meal. Breadfruit is about the size of a volleyball and muddy-green with pimples. The complexion of its flesh is pale yellow, the texture densely bread-like, arid and porous, and the flavor almost nil. However, when this strange, flavorless fruit is paired with the very wet and salty Ackee and Saltfish, it makes perfect sense, like the Odd Couple.
Jamaican June plum juice.
Freshly made juice is always welcome at any breakfast. Juice from the June plum and ginger is therapeutic. The restorative powers from the bright ginger and sweet flavors of the June plum cleared the head and swept the palate of all that saltiness.
Boiled green bananas are also common sidekicks to many a meal in Jamaica. Again, its purpose is simple: mellow things out and be a carb. This is a very bland banana and tastes like a potato.
Can't Touch This! (photo: Grant Cameron)
Occasionally, things can get very exotic at the first meal of the day. Red Lionfish in Jamaica is an invasive predator and has gotten out of hand within the past few years, killing much of the native sea life and laying waste to the island nation's marine biodiversity. The flamboyant red candy cane striped lionfish resembling a steampunk flying machine has been blamed for turning Jamaica's coral reefs into lifeless eroding crevices. With no natural predators to keep the onslaught of lionfish in check, we humans have to be the ones to put them in check.
This, my friends, is why lionfish is being served with your side of sausages. Jamaica Agriculture and Fisheries minister Christopher Tufton's battle cry is essentially eat lionfish and eat it often. Even Jamaica's Prime Minister Bruce Golding donned a bib and sat down to a nice helping of lionfish.
Irie, man! Right? Not so irie, actually. Lionfish is extremely toxic because of the venom in their fin rays. If you touch this pretty poisonous fish, your standard stomach cramps, sweating, vomiting, fever and, sometimes, death will ensue (results may vary).
All U Can Eat!
But if you remove all the poison bits and cook it nicely, then it is irie and tender. Sandals Royal Plantation's Executive Chef Peter Hamil offered filleted lionfish battered and fried with an escovitch preparation of spicy vinegar-marinated onions, carrots and scotch bonnet peppers.
Ackee: premature is poison.
You might think you're out of the woods after the lionfish has been battered, fried and escovitched, but you'd be wrong. Dead wrong! Okay, I gotta relax. But, really, there's another hurdle to clear, if you're going to enjoy your Jamaican brekkie carefree. You need to make sure your ackee is ripe and prepared right.
Ackee is a fruit and just one of many plants, e.g. cassava or rhubarb, that requires precaution before ingesting. Unripened or inedible portions of the fruit like the seeds possess the toxins hypoglycin A and hypoglycin B. Internalizing these toxins could result in Jamaican Vomiting Sickness (or JVS) and a trip to the ER or an episode of ER. (JVS was actually featured on an episode of ER.)
Ackee & Saltfish like Marley & The Wailers, a national treasure.
The toxic component of ackee is really a non-issue once it has ripened. When the fruit's flesh is boiled then sauteed with reconstituted dry salted cod, the result is surprising. Ackee becomes familiar breakfast fare. It uncannily resembles a wet scramble with a buttery flavor.
Ackee & Saltfish with Peanut Porridge at Sandals Royal Plantation.
The wet, subtly slimy ackee feels great with the flaky bits of saltfish. Ackee's neutral flavor also cuts the saltiness of the dish. Ackee and saltfish becomes addictive after a couple of bites. This is why it's officially the National Dish of Jamaica.
A fully loaded Jamaican breakfast also includes anything from boiled cassava to sauteed greens to peanut porridge. There is very little if any red meat. Most of the animal protein comes from fish. So, if you can handle the unfamiliar, you'll be rewarded with a healthful start to the day ahead.
You can have your Grand Slam. I'll have my ackee and eat it too.
Ackee & Saltfish at The Jamaica Pegasus.
I miss my breakfasts in Jamaica.
Executive Chef Peter Hamil, Sandals Royal Plantation.
The Sandals Royal Plantation
The Jamaica Pegasus