Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Cumin-Spiced Salted Cod with Ackee, Red Pepper and Tomato

This is my fresh spin on 'Ackee and Saltfish', a traditional Caribbean dish made with ackee, the national fruit of Jamaica.

It has all of the traditional flavours - the main difference being that instead of using dried and reconstituted salt fish soaked overnight (which sometimes people can find a bit strong, who aren't used to it) then boiled and flaked into the dish, I use fresh cod given a brief salting, then brush it with a light cumin butter for an extra dimension and then grill it and serve on top of the ackee.

It really is delicious, and easy to make - you can prepare all your ingredients (and any side dishes) while the cod is salting, then it takes less than 15 minutes to cook. It makes a surprisingly filling and very healthy meal on its own if you're avoiding carbs or keeping the calories down; or you can serve it with your choice of 'rice and peas' (my recipe for Jamaican rice and peas is here), plain white rice, or even dumplings, fried plantain, hard dough bread or breadfruit if you want some Caribbean accompaniments, Plus it's a novel way to serve saltfish and ackee, particularly to guests!

Serves four, very easily halved as ackee comes in small and large tins (or if you're lucky enough to have access to fresh ackee you'll need around one ripe ackee per person - the pods MUST have opened by themselves - discard the seeds and pink membrane, wash the flesh, cover with water in a pan and bring to the boil then simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender, then drain and reserve).

For those counting calories: 346 calories per portion, including garnishes. [Calories in square brackets]

For the fish
  • 4 x 130g skinless, boneless cod fillets (e.g. loin - if you're not counting calories, get what you like, skin on, skin off, however big, doesn't matter!) [416 calories]
  • A few tablespoons coarse sea/rock salt (it must be coarse, as fine salt will be absorbed too easily and make it too salty)
  • 20g butter [147]
  • 2 tsp ground cumin [16]
  • Freshly ground black pepper [2]
For the ackee
  • 1 x 540g tin ackee, drained (340g drained weight) [517]
  • 1/2 x 15ml tbsp oil (feel free to use a splash more if not counting calories) [62]
  • 1 medium onion (100g) [42]
  • 1 medium red pepper (capsicum - 110g, or half red, half green if you like) [34]
  • 3 cloves garlic [18]
  • 1 tbsp fresh, young thyme, chopped (tender young stalks are OK to include) [2]
  • 1/2 to 1 de-seeded scotch bonnet chilli, to taste - optional - a whole one will make it fairly hot! Or just use 1/2 a normal large de-seeded red chilli for less of a kick [1-3]
  • 1.5 tsp ground allspice (pimenton) [7]
  • 2-3 large vine or plum tomatoes (250g, or half a tin of chopped tomatoes) [50]
  • 2 spring onions (scallions) [7]
  • Freshly ground black pepper [2]
  • Salt
To serve
  • Sliced or chopped fresh tomatoes (2-3 large, 250g) [50]
  • Lime wedges to squeeze over (1 lime) [7]

Other optional accompaniments
So if you're going for a blow-out, you could also have any of the following with it... 'rice and peas', plain white rice, or even dumplings; fried plantain, hard dough bread or breadfruit and callaloo!

1) Wash the cod, pat dry and check for any remaining bones. Put in a dish or large tub in a single layer (skin side down if it has skin on) and scatter over plenty of salt until it's evenly covered with a thin layer, and looking a bit diamante! Leave for one hour, no more or it will be too salty.

2) Rinse off all of the salt, then put the cod into a large container of cold water, and leave to soak for a further hour (no more), then remove and pat dry. Place a double layer of foil onto a tray and place the cod on it in a single layer. Melt the butter (I do this in the microwave for 30 seconds), stir in the ground cumin, then brush evenly over the cod steaks and season with ground black pepper. Pre-heat the grill (broiler) on a high setting before you are ready to put the cod under it.

3) While the cod is salting and soaking, prepare the vegetables and set aside. Peel, quarter and slice the onion. De-seed the red pepper (capsicum) and cut into bite-sized pieces. Peel and finely slice the garlic, chop the thyme leaves, and (wearing food-safe gloves or it will burn!!!) finely chop the chilli. If using fresh tomatoes, peel if desired (hold over a flame, or plunge in boiling water for a few seconds first) then roughly chop. Drain the ackee (there's no need to rinse) and finely slice the spring onions on the sharp diagonal, reserving a few to garnish.

4) When you're ready to go, pre-heat the grill (broiler) to high, with a shelf 4 or 5 inches below it (the cod will need about 8 to 12 minutes to cook through depending on its thickness). Put a decent non-stick frying pan on the hob over a medium heat, and add the oil. Once hot, add the onions and fry for a few minutes until softened, but not coloured. 

5) I pop the cod under the grill at this point, then add the red peppers to the onions, and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes. Then add the garlic, thyme, chilli and allspice to the pan and cook out for another couple of minutes, keeping it moving.

6) Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan, and carefully scatter the ackee over the top, together with a pinch or two of salt to taste. Cook for another 3 or 4 minutes, tossing gently a couple of times trying not to break the ackee up (and keeping an eye on the cod - turn the grill down or off if necessary), then add the majority of the spring onions, a good grinding of black pepper, toss through gently and dish up. Check the cod is cooked through (it should flake apart easily), serve on top of the ackee, and scatter with the remaining spring onion slices. Serve with lime wedges, to squeeze over, and fresh tomato, and enjoy!

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