That’s what my dear grandfather keeps repeating as I maneuver my way through my grandparent’s cottage in Jamaica. A subtle reminder that this city girl has to make minor/major adjustments to the simplicity and life innovation that the country brings. The kitchen is quaint, the dishes are charmingly mismatched and the gas stove requires a match to light. The bathroom has a running shower with a switch for heated water. Air conditioning is known as fresh air that flows through open shutters and doorways and cools my dampened skin. The sun seems to rise earlier than what I’m accustomed to reminding me that breakfast is begging to be prepared.
Salt fish also known as salted cod or bacalao, is a popular dried fish that is prepared by salting the fresh fish and setting it out to dry. It’s commonly used in Latin, Caribbean and African cooking. I grew up eating ackee and saltfish for breakfast. Admittedly, I didn’t have it as often as I would have liked because fresh ackee wasn’t readily available in Atlanta. Being spoiled and having no interest in food other than eating it as a child, I never took the time to learn.
So here I am in the country side of Jamaica, staring at salt fish as if for the first time in thirty years. My grandparents have different ideas of whether to boil it first or soak it, eitherways, both are necessary to get rid of the heavy salt preservative. While they sort it out, I resort to chopping tomatoes, dicing onion and garlic and picking fresh thyme. My grandmother shows me how to break up the fish and pick out the bones. For the first time I manage to light the stove with a simple match and feel somewhat accomplished.
I heat oilive oil and add onion. The aroma is enough to fill my belly but my tastebuds know better and eagerly await the finished product. Next I add the garlic and then the tomatoes, crushing them more so their liquid releases and helps soften my fish. Last I add the fish, fresh thyme and a little water. I have no idea what the order of things should be, because my grandparents have left me to work it out myself.
So like with most things, I let intuition, the spirit of my tastebuds and the wisdom of the ancestral kitchen in which I cook, guide my hand so that it can taste good.
There was boiled green banana left over so I added them to the pan to heat. Filled with pride and having met a satiation that only DIYers are certain to know, I dished out half and saved the rest for later. Breakfast was served.
A delicious Caribbean breakfast stapled that can be eaten with ackee, bread, bakes, green banana and yam.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- 8 oz saltfish, soaked overnight
- 1 tomato, diced
- ½ small onion, diced
- 1 garlic clove
- 2–3 sprigs of thyme
- olive oil
- Boil saltfish, until fish flakes easily, drain water
- Break up saltfish, discard skin and bones
- Heat oil in pan and sautee onion and garlic over medium heat until slightly translucent and fragrant
- Add tomatoes and sautee (~1 min)
- Lower heat and add saltfish pieces with thyme. May add a little water or ketchup if mixture is too dry.
- Heat through and serve.