Jamaican beef patties are as unique and important in Jamaican cuisine as jerk spicing is. All Caribbean islands and even some West African nations, have a version of meat pies, but none of them are similar to the way Jamaicans make theirs. Patties are usually not made at home but are rather a popular and cheap street food in Jamaica. Our patties are made from a layered and flaky crust filled with a moist and spicy ground meat center. Lately folks have been making variations of these by adding cheese, bacon, chicken, lobster, callaloo, curry goat and even fresh veggies like lettuce and tomato to make these little wonders like sandwiches. The most famous places to get a patty in Jamaica are Tastees Patties, Mother’s Patties, Devon House and Juicy Beef Patties. The next time you are visiting Jamaica, don’t leave the island without trying one of our authentic patties from one (or all) of those locations.
Jamaican curried goat is a dish usually eaten maybe twice a month on Sundays or for big celebrations and gatherings like parties, Christmas get-togethers or funerals. The meat that is cooked usually comes from a male goat and has a distinctly more gamey taste than a female goat. The meat is heavily seasoned and marinated overnight before cooking. Curries in Jamaica are usually cooked with a lot more heat/spice than other dishes and curried goat is no exception. Fresh garlic, thyme, scotch bonnet, scallions, onions and allspice berries marry so well with curry powder to flavor this dish. Curried dishes were likely imported with Indian indentured servants who came to settle in Jamaica after the abolition of slavery on the island. They brought their cooking methods and delicious curries which became part and parcel of Jamaican cuisine.
Curried goat can be served with traditional rice and peas, plain white rice or roti. I served it here with Guyanese oil roti or paratha. The recipe and video tutorial for the roti is a bonus with this post. It’s a simple recipe that requires just flour, butter, oil and shortening to come together. The best part is I don’t need a Tawa to make these rotis. They come out just as lovely in a well seasoned cast iron skillet. They are basted with butter while they cook and are flakey, buttery, stretchy, soft and chewy. They are all the things you look for in a perfect roti. You will definitely love this recipe.
Jamaicans eat curry often and curried meats are some of the most popular Jamaican foods. Dishes like curry goat, curry crab and my favorite, curry chicken are all highly recommended and sought after in Jamaican restaurants around the globe. Turmeric probably made its way to Jamaica by way of the Indian migrants who came looking for work in the mid 1800s. They brought with them their rich culture including elements of their cuisine that is still reflected in Jamaican food today. We not only use turmeric in our Jamaican blend of curry powder, but we also use it in one of our most popular foods – Jamaican patties. Along with Turmeric, Jamaica’s blend of curry powder includes fenugreek, cumin and a bit of allspice or pimento.
The warming spices that accompany the turmeric in Jamaican curry powder gives total joy and comfort. The best part of cooking curry chicken is that you can make a large amount of it and it will feed a number of people or last for a few days, getting better in flavor with each passing day.
4-Brown Stew Chicken
Jamaican Brown Stew Chicken is a classic stew that is made similarly to the French Coq Au Vin where braised chicken is cooked down in a rich sauce of vegetables and aromatics. This full bodied stew is typically enjoyed on a Sunday served with Jamaican rice and peas (red beans). The flavors are built into this stew in a layered fashion as it is heavily seasoned as the cooking progresses. The ingredients are allowed to cook until they dissipate to form a rich and savory sauce.
Though there are a few ways to make stew chicken, I prefer to cook it the braised way as I think the results are far more stellar. Braising the bird first not only gives it great color, but it creates a depth of flavor on the meat that you don’t get from just cooking it in water. Some methods use a brown sugar base instead of braising to give the chicken its color. I do not like to use brown sugar as I believe it steals the rich savory flavor of the stew and makes it too sweet. In this recipe, a touch of sweetness is added from the ketchup and pickapeppa sauce and that’s all it really needs.
5-Ackee and Saltfish
Ackee and Saltfish is Jamaica’s national dish. The Ackee fruit grows in a red pod that opens once the fruit is mature. There are usually 3-4 Ackee “seeds” in each pod. It is not recommended that Ackee is consumed until the pod naturally opens on its own. The fruit is said to be poisonous if forced to open so waiting it out is important.
Its name is derived from the West African Akye fufo. The tree is not endemic to the West Indies but was introduced from West Africa during the 18th century.
This dish is usually had for breakfast but can be eaten for lunch or dinner as well. It is cooked with onions, tomatoes and hot scotch bonnet peppers. Cooks also add green bell peppers, scallions, thyme and garlic to especially vegan versions of the dish. I like to cook Ackee very simply so that the taste of the fruit is elevated and not marred by too many different flavors. This recipe is cooked with salted codfish and coconut oil for a bolder flavor.
Fresh Ackee is not sold in the United States. Here we rely on the canned counterpart for cooking it outside of the island.
6-Jamaican Stew Peas
Jamaican Stew Peas is a very delicious dish which is usually served for dinner. It is similar to the popular American dish, red beans and rice, made in most Southern households. This Jamaican comfort food has such a rich and important history. The dish, stew peas, was birthed out of war times, the Second World War to be exact. Red kidney beans cooked down with salted/pickled meats in coconut milk and spices doesn’t exactly sound like struggle food. But stew peas wasnt always heavily laden with various kinds of meats as it is today.
During World War II, Jamaica as a British colony played an important role in securing resources for the great war. Though many Jamaicans were not directly recruited to the frontlines of battle, they were expected to ration food and other resources for the Mother Country’s sake. This meant there was very little availability of fresh meats and meats in abundance. Large families were reliant on small amounts of scrap meat usually salted for preservation. So just how did a large family sustain itself with small amounts of salted scrap meat? Well they added it to a hearty red bean stew thickened by coconut milk, flavored with garlic, onions and allspice and served it over rice. That is the birth of stew peas — a stew that transformed little into much and made it possible for Jamaicans to be well fed during the war.
7-Brown Stew Fish
Jamaican brown stew is usually done with chicken, beef or pork. However, it is an absolutely delicious way to cook fish. The name is telling for this stew. Jamaican Brown Stew Fish is cooked with a caramelized brown sugar base that can come bottled or that you can make yourself by caramelizing sugar in oil. I find that cooking the sugar in oil produces a stew base that is sweeter than it is savory and I don’t prefer that. If you like a sweeter stew base, you can definitely try the brown sugar method.
To cook brown stew fish, the fish is seasoned and fried first. The fish is then cooked down in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, scallions and thyme. It is cooked just until the skin absorbs the liquid and the veggies break apart. It can be served with rice, dumplings, bananas or even fried dumplings/festivals. It’s a great meal for any day of the week but is hearty and awesome for Sunday dinners.
Brown Stew fish is made usually with whole fish like whole Yellowtail Snappers. This kind of stew can also be made with sliced fish like King Fish, Sea Bass or Mahi Mahi. Cooking this with a filet makes the fish easier to fall apart.
8-Gungo Rice and Peas
When people think about Jamaican rice and peas, they naturally think of rice and red kidney beans. Gungo peas and rice are even more uniquely Jamaican and is prepared in the same way, just with a different legume. Gungo Peas and rice is a classic Jamaican holiday side. The peas are usually very plentiful in November and December but people are finding ways to make this all year round. The peas are tender and have a flavor that is very different from red kidney beans. They are cooked in coconut milk with a combination of spices and fresh seasonings. My grandmother’s only rule was that rice and peas should taste really good all on its own without the need for gravy or meat. It’s best to not cut corners with this dish and to flavor it really well. If you can manage, go with fresh coconut milk and skip the canned beans as well. Cooking this from scratch does add a bit of time to the overall cook, but it’s WELL worth it.
If you are in the tourist towns of Jamaica, you will find Jerk everything! It seems like Jamaican Jerk Chicken is highly requested by foreigners or Jamaicans choose to promote it over other cuisines to foreigners. Nonetheless, jerk isn’t something Jamaicans really cook at home. While it is dubbed Jamaica’s signature spice blend, Jerk food is Jamaican street food. If we want jerk chicken or jerk pork, we usually get it from vendors. It isn’t something you learn to cook in your grandmother’s kitchen and as a matter of fact, most people don’t learn to make Jerk until they are adults. The secret spice blend and method of cooking jerk food seemed to die with the men and women who cooked it in the street but home cooks did their best to figure it out and made it more of an at-home staple in recent years.
Over the years, people have experimented more with jerk in their homes and may actually cook it a few times a year for their families. It has definitely grown in popularity and the recipes are shared widely.