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Oil down - the recipes
Of course everyone has their own way of making oil down, it's usually passed on from mummy, granny or tantie.
My mother doesn't make oil down often, but when she does it's quite amazing. I don't remember any measurements of course, but I've consulted other books and folks for some guidelines.
Anita Maharaj, a Trini who read the blog suggested that I add Golden Ray to give it that unique flavour, better known to Trinis as that 'real Creole flavour'. Heather said I should use sweet potato (the white one) to bring out the sweetness in the breadfruit. For those of you who don't know the joy of oil down, I'll give you two recipes.
The first recipe is from the late great Sylvia Hunt, best described as Trinidad and Tobago's Delia Smith. Sylvia was our first proper TV cook she brought a lot of traditional recipes to a mass audience in a way that was never done before.
The second recipe is from the Naparima Girls Cookbook, a cookery bible for many Trinis as it has recipes for most of the delicacies enjoyed by the average Trini.
Try these recipes and let me know the outcome.
Oil Down according to Sylvia Hunt
1 large breadfruit
2 lbs mixed salted meat
2 medium sized onions
6 red and green sweet chilli peppers, cut into wedges
1 clove garlic
1 bunch chive chopped
3 cups thick coconut milk
1 fllavouring pepper
2 tsp sugar
1 green hot pepper
1. Wash and peel breadfruit. Cut into 8 sections. Remove centre lengthways of each section and cut into half crosswise.
2. Wash and scrape meat, cut into pieces and rinse in lime juice and water.
3. Remove skins of onions, rinse and cut into small pieces. Remove seeds of chilli peppers and cut into wedges. Chop chives into small pieces.
4. Put salted meat into cold water, bring to the boil and drain. Repeat 3 times to remove preserving saly. Put to cook until just tender and drain.
5. Saute onions and garlic in hot oil until onions are pale yellow.
6. Add chive, thyme, flavouring pepper, salted meat and salt to taste. Pour over 2 cups of coconut milk.
7. Add wedges of breadfruit, sugar, green hot pepper and cook until breadfruit absorbs liquid.
8. Add remaining coconut milk. Remove hot pepper. Stir to blend well and cook at a reduced heat. There should be no remaining liquid.
9. Serve hot.
Sylvia Hunt's Cooking, 1985
Oil Down, the Naps Girls way
8 ozs cooked saltfish, flaked
2 pints coconut milk
1 large or 2 small breadfruit cut into 4 – 6 sections
1 whole hot pepper
2 sprigs thyme
1 stick celery, chopped.
1 Soak meat overnight in cold water. Drain.
2. Remove the breadfruit and peel and in a saucepan, put alternate layers of breadfruit, meat and saltfish.
3. Tie chilli, thyme, chive and add to pan with celery and coconut milk.
4. Cover tightly and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45-50 mins until everything is cooked and tender. When cooked the liquid should be absorbed and the stew oily.
5. Remove herbs before serving and add salt to taste.
From the Naparima Girls High School - Trinidad and Tobago Recipes, 1988
Prelude to an oil down
The time has come for the great oil down day. I've been itching to cook breadfruit oil down since March, when a completely unscientific poll on this blog revealed it was the dish that Trinis like best.
When I ran the survey, I promised to cook whatever people voted as their favourite. And since the summer seems to be disappearing quickly, I thought I should do it before the weather gets totally rotten.
There's a bit of serendipity involved in making oil down over here, mainly because you might not get breadfruit when you want it. I bought two breadfruits two weeks ago in Peckham with the intention of peeling and freezing them when I got home. Unfortunately, I fell asleep and by the next morning, the breadfruits went soft.
With just three days to go before the cook, a bit of panic set in so I prayed hard and went to Shepherd's Bush Market where I got four perfect breadfruits.
I've cut them up and put them in the freezer (to stop them ripening), now all I've got to do is buy the seasonings, saltfish, and coconut milk. Next time, I'll give the breadfruit oil down recipe.
Another Trini foodie
Today I discovered a great blog from another Trini foodie, Petit Careme, who I assume is a woman!
I found her blog when she made a comment on my last entry so I had a look at her blog and at once became green with envy because she was showing off Crix biscuits and Chee Zees fresh from Trinidad.
I get more envious when I saw the spread she laid on for her friends over the weekend for which included stew chicken - Sylvia Hunt style! Check out her blog for details.
In another entry, she talked about orange pine ice cream, a dessert she reckons was invented in the Caribbean. And to be honest I have to agree with her because I never see it anywhere else.
As boldface as ever, I asked her for some guidelines, because I wouldn't mind making some orange pine ice cream myself. She said orange pine ice cream is "basically a traditional vanilla custard without the vanilla. And you have to heat the milk with the grated zest of 3 oranges, then strain it. Then after you make the custard add the juice of 3 oranges (which you have reduced to about 0.5 cup) and the grated zest of 1-2 oranges."
I wonder if I could ask for any pointers on oil down, since I planning to make a wicked oil down on Friday!
Of things Trini
Did you know that Trinidad's chocolate is highly regarded all over the world? Chocolate makers really love our chocolate and I was pleasantly surprised to find this chocolate at a friend's home recently.
On the wrapper it says: "Gran Cuova (I think they mean Couva) Cocoa originates from special plantations on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and is one of the world's finest cocoas. When combined with utmost care and the finest ingredients, its unique and beguling aromatic flavour produces a superb extra bitter chocolate."
It makes me wonder if our chocolate is so good, why have we been subjecting our children to the crap of Charles Chocolate for so many years?
But as we're in the Trini vein, I'll talk about two cookbooks I got recently, Caribbean Flavours and Angostura's The Taste That Changed The World.
They're both authored by Wendy Rahamut, a cook who came to prominence in the mid-1990s when she started appearing on daytime talk shows in Trinidad. She also writes a weekly column in the Trinidad Guardian and does some writing for other Caribbean publications as well.
In Caribbean Flavours, there are more than 150 recipes ranging from traditional dishes like Tobago curried crab and dumplings to the contemporary fusion dishes like shrimp saute with basil and feta.
I read somewhere that described her as Trinidad's Nigella Lawson, but that's not true. Nigella Lawson writes like an angel, Wendy Rahamut just doesn't. I'll be the first to admit that I've never been inspired by Wendy Rahamut to cook anything and I still remain uninspired.
Caribbean Flavours is not really a bad book, but it looks like a hip cookery textbook.
In design terms, it's a bit basic and there aren't enough photographs. If you've read this blog before you'll know that one of my pet peeves is 'cartoony Caribbean' effects. Unfortunately, some of the food photography in this book verges on the cartoony. There is a good range of recipes in this book, and none of them are too challenging so it should be easy going for the less accomplished cooks.
With a title like The Taste That Changed The World, you'd think you were getting a food novel, but no, it's a cookbook inspired by Angostura Bitters.
They should change that damn title, it's too bloody pretentious. We all love Angostura bitters, but it didn't change the world.
When you open the book, the first thing that greets you is a testamonial about Harold Prieto, the photographer. Opposite to a big, black and white photo of a smiling Mr Prieto, noted musicologist Pat Bishop writes; "Prieto is a man who likes his vegetables to look perky; he requires his food to be colourful." All this palaver is a bit egoistic but at least he got his colours bright and his veggies perky.
The hardcover and sprawling photos indicate that this book is meant for your coffee table. But why oh why didn't Angostura spend some good money and get a proper designer to do this book? Why does it read like a corporate brochure with a short cookbook tacked on?
All the recipes - yes all - use Angostura Bitters including Kenyan Style Chicken Tikka. Sounds like a joke doesn't it? Chicken Tikka is a dish made up in English curry houses to suit the English palate, it's not a 'real' Indian dish. I'd be interested to hear what my Indo-Kenyan friends think of this.
I looked in vain through the two of these books to see whether there would be a recipe that included Trinidad's finest chocolate but no such luck. It seems we're stuck with Jamaican stuff, according to Wendy Rahamut. Here's her recipe for Cocoa Coffee Cake which, by the way, has no coffee in it!
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1.5 cups flour
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup cocoa
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Icing sugar to finish
1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease a 9-inch cake tin
2. Cream butter with granulated sugar until creamy. Add the eggs and beat until nice and fluffy. Combine the baking powder and flour and add to mixture alternatively with the milk.
3. Combine cocoa, nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon.
4. Place a third of the batter into pan, sprinkle with half the cocoa mixture. Repeat with another layer of batter, then cocoa mixture.
5. Top with remaining batter.
6. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with icing sugar when cooled.
My recipe quest continues
My search for a recipe using strawberry vinegar as a key ingredient has taken some interesting twists and turns. At first, I thought about doing seared scallops and gurnard with strawberry vinegar and shallot dressing, but after tasting the strawberry vinegar again, I felt it would be too tart and mask the delicate flavour of the scallops and gurnard.
Aardvarknav kindly posted several recipes on this blog including a catfish recipe, which looks quite interesting.
I wasn't sure whether I could find catfish here but Duncan Lucas of Passionate About Fish told me catfish is known as either rockfish or wolf fish.
He said both freshwater or seawater catfish are available and described seawater catfish, which live on a diet of crustaceans and molluscs, as having "a beautiful, delicate shellfish flavour".
I had a look at a few books including Culinary Artistry, Rick Stein's Taste of the Sea and Leith's Fish Bible. And as I suspected, an oily fish would be best with a tart sauce like strawberry vinegar sauce.
I took my search to the foodies on the BBC Food messageboard and I got some helpful suggestions. Rustie posted several links to recipes that use raspberry vinegar which I will substitute with the strawberry vinegar. The recipe that caught my eye came from the BBC's treasure trove of recipes.
I like the look of this recipe and if I decide to use it, I'll use salmon if I can't get sea trout. Meanwhile, my search continues.
Sea trout with rose, raspberry vinegar and fennel
1kg/2¼lb sea trout, filleted
275ml/½ pint fish stock
125ml/4fl oz dry rosé wine
1 tbsp strawberry vinegar
½ lemon, squeezed
5 fennel sprigs, chopped
1. Preheat oven temperature to 190C/375F/Gas 5.
2. Place sea trout fillets in an ovenproof dish with a little of the fish stock. Season well. Put in the oven for 5-8 minutes until cooked. Remove fish from the oven but keep warm.
3. Pour the juice from the fish into a pan with remaining stock, rosé wine and strawberry vinegar. Bubble hard and reduce by half.
4. Add butter, lemon juice and finely chopped fennel sprigs.
5. Lift the skin off the fillets of fish and lay them on a plate. Pour over the sauce. Serve immediately.
6. Serve with new potatoes or a green leaf salad.
Not only about the food
What constitutes a good culinary experience? It's hard to describe but I know it's not all about the food.
If you go to someone's house and all they could offer you is Crix biscuits and butter with some juice, you'd enjoy it because you know they offered it with a lot of love.
At that point, it doesn't matter if the house are a lil untidy or things not perfect, but if I go to a restaurant, I certainly expect everything to be perfect, because I'm paying, I don't want love, I want a good all round culinary experience.
My recent visit to the Hummingbird Restaurant in north London was less than satisfying.
Even though the food was extremely tasty, there were too many other things that didn't sit well with me.
Click here to see photos of my visit to the Hummingbird.
The service was a bit too leisurely. Waitress No. 1 was so laid back she seemed uninterested. Waitress No. 2 who took over, was under pressure because she was the only person on the floor so the service got slower as the night went on.
Untidiness doesn't cut it in a restaurant.
The Hummingbird could do with a visit from my mother in full clearing up mode. Don't get me wrong, the place wasn't unclean, it was just untidy.
The bar area was in a mess with menus all over the counter top, behind the bar looked like a storage area and the amount of half-empty bottles on the shelf didn't help either.
On the décor front, I could appreciate what they were trying to do with a minimalist approach, white walls, metal chairs and a coconut tree motif. They didn't go down the colourful 'cartoon Caribbean' look that I hate.
However, the place looks tired. The walls could do with a lick of paint, because the signs of wear – scrub marks from chairs – were clearly visible.
The toilet was clean but on the way to the toilet, there were broken floor tiles and an untidy back yard with a broken down car. It was just too shoddy.
On the food front, the place is extremely popular. There was a steady stream of customers and their takeaway business appears to be going guns.
I'll give them high marks for their menu because it's one of the most diverse Caribbean menus I've seen among the restaurants I've visited.
The range of dishes would find favour with even the harshest Caribbean foodies. Bajans will be glad that coo coo and stewed fish is prominent on the menu. In fact that was my choice for main course. It was sumptuous.
The chef got the cornmeal, okro and coconut milk to a perfect texture and the red fish cooked in a rich tomato, pepper and red herb stew was a wonderful accompaniment.
When I saw fried sprats - or what we call 'fry dry' in the Caribbean - as one of the appetisers, I couldn't resist. My mom used to do these when I was a child and I hadn’t had them since. Cherise’s saltfish fritters (accra) were light and moreish but EJ thought the potatoes in his sweet potato cheese bake were overcooked and Lisa felt her callaloo was a tad spicy. Click here to see the photos of my visit to the Hummingbird.
I loved the ginger and tamarind sauce that accompanied EJ's grilled lamb but he said the lamb was a bit too well done. That's something I find about Caribbean restaurants, they tend to cook the meat too much. Lisa also thought her St Lucian lobster was a tad overcooked but tasty nonetheless. Cherise said her jerk chicken, was just right.
If The Hummingbird could get the food right, why don't they pay attention to everything else?
I think some people might feel I'm a bit harsh, but I really feel that Caribbean cuisine is as good as any other and I don't understand why more restaurateurs aren't making the effort to hit the heights that some other 'ethnic' restaurants are doing in this country.