Saturday, July 12, 2008

Breakfast Series #10: A Belizean Breakfast

Today I enjoyed a classic Belizean breakfast...for lunch. At 2 in the afternoon even calling it brunch was pushing it a little. But I needed to hit the gym before chowing down on this spread. This meal comprises some of the classics of generic Belizean cooking. Fry jacks, a fried dough triangle similar to Indian puris, are made out of flour tortilla dough and deep fried until they puff up and turn a golden brown. They are usually served for breakfast with refried beans and hot sauce enhanced scrambled eggs, and sometimes with callaloo, which is what we in Belize call amaranth greens. While the callaloo is only an occasional accompaniment to this meal, I think it helps to round out an otherwise protein and carbohydrate heavy breakfast. Normally it would be scrambled with the eggs, but in deference to my significant other, who has a fear of green things, I served it separately.

You will find this breakfast in most restaurants across Belize. As a child growing up fry jacks with refried beans and eggs were a treat to be had on town day, at a local restaurant, or on the odd weekend when my father would make them, stuffing the fry jack dough with banana mashed with cinnamon and nutmeg before deep frying them in a smoking hot cast iron dutch oven over our wood stove (you won't find his non-traditional version on most Belizean tables).

Fry jacks are normally served with savory accompaniments, but they are also great spread with jam and topped with a slice of cheese. Imported foods play an important role in Belizean national cuisine, a fact which the fry jack, which is made with imported wheat flour, clearly illustrates. A truly indigenous breakfast would be based on a pile of freshly made corn tortillas and home grown beans, but despite the cost of flour, fry jacks are exceedingly popular across the country. Try out the recipe yourself and you will see why.

The callaloo was stir fried with some garlic while the eggs were scrambled with a habanero pepper jack cheese from our farmer's market that is sold under the apt name "dragon's breath". Of course, that didn't keep me from adding more Marie Sharp's hot sauce while I was eating. The refried beans were from a can ( I know this makes me a bad Belizean!) but I gussied them up by sauteing recado, oregano, cumin seed and onion before adding the beans.

Fry Jacks

Fry jacks are made out of flour tortilla dough that is deep fried instead of baked. Traditionally flour tortilla dough is made with lard, but in Belize many people have replaced it with cheap vegetable shortening imported from abroad. Most recently I have seen Belizean recipes for fry jacks calling for the use of vegetable oil. This recipe uses oil because I wanted to avoid the saturated fats found in most vegetable shortening. I couldn't tell a difference in the flavour or texture between vegetable shortening and vegetable oil based recipes. I also substituted 1/4 of the flour with whole wheat flour to add a little whole grain.

This recipe makes 32 fry jacks, but you can keep some of the dough balls in a ziplock bag in the fridge for several days, so you don't have to cook them all at once. Each triangle of dough is 46 calories, which does not include the oil that it will pick up when fried.

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1-1/2 cup white flour

1-1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

about 3/4 cup of water or as needed


1. Belizean cooks will "knead some flour" as flour tortilla making is called, on a big round board specially designed for tortilla making. You can use a clean counter top. If you want to make it even easier (though less traditional) you can also use a mixing bowl. Measure out your flour, salt and baking powder into a pile on your counter top. Make a well in the center and pour in the vegetable oil. Using your hands, work the oil into the flour until you have little pebbles of oil saturated dough evenly distributed throughout the flour.

2. Make a new well in the center of the mixture and pour in the water a little at a time, using your other hand to stir the flour into the water in the center of your pile. Keep adding the water and mixing it in a little at a time until you have formed the entire pile of flour into a rough ball of slightly sticky dough. If you are using a bowl, do the same thing. Depending on the moisture content of your flour you may need more or less water to obtain a slightly sticky consistency.

3. Once you have your dough, liberally sprinkle your counter with flour and begin to knead. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. Then roll it out into a snake shape and cut it into 8 equal sized pieces. Take each piece and roll it into a ball between your two palms (or on the counter top). Cover the dough and leave the balls to rest on a lightly floured surface for at least 30 minutes.

4. Once the dough has rested, take a deep sauce pan and fill it with at least 2 inches of high temperature cooking oil. I used grape seed oil, but canola or sunflower would work as well. Set over high heat. To test if the oil is hot enough drop a tiny scrap of dough into the pot. If it bobs merrily to the surface upon contact, the oil is ready. If your oil starts smoking, its probably a bit too hot, so turn down the burner a little. And don't forget to retrieve your test scrap or else it will start smoking too as it turns into a little piece of wizened carbon.

Now grab one of the dough balls and pat it out into a circle, about 6 inches across. Take a knife or pizza cutter and cut the circle into four pieces. Once your oil is hot, drop one piece into the saucepan. It should cook very quickly, so don't leave it alone. After 10-20 seconds, check to see if the side in the oil has browned. If so, flip the fry jack over with a fork and let the other side cook, then lift it out with a slotted spoon. As a child making fry jacks on the farm, I used old dry banana leaves to soak up the excess oil, but you can let them drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

If you are serving these with refried beans and eggs (and you really should), I strongly suggest you make the refried beans before cooking the fry jacks. The eggs can then be quickly scrambled afterwards, while the fry jacks stay warm in the oven. Cold fry jacks are certainly edible (try one with some jam), but nothing beats a freshly made one with some refried beans, so please don't try cooking them ahead of time.


Chennette said...

I love fry bakes (or any of the various names there are for delicious fried dough :-D)

Lyra said...

Yeah fried wheat dough seems a popular theme all over the world:)

Lisa said...

It is so interesting to see what a traditional breakfast looks like from country to country. This breakfast looks plenty delicious for any time of day!

Cynthia said...

Your fry jacks sounds like the bakes made back in Guyana, though the lard or shortening are not part of the ingredients list.

Fried dough - heavenly! :D

Elizabeth @ Capital Spice said...

Excellent. We were in Belize after Christmas this year and the fry jacks were my favorite breakfast item. Our resort's kitchen focused too much on Americanizing their food so we didn't feel we got much of a taste for Belizean cuisine. I'll have to visit your site more often for recipes to see what we missed!

Don said...

My church, St. John's Cathedral in Los Angeles, is filled with Belizeans (and folks from other former British Caribbean colonies), and I always look forward to our pot-luck lunches---mainly, for the fryjack (I was told never to pluralize this word!); I'm going to try this recipe, although I'm willing to bet that mine won't match Merdith Morris'!

Anna said...

So happy to have found your blog! I studied abroad near San Ignacio, Belize for 3 1/2 months in 2005 and regretted not writing down more recipes for the wonderful dishes I enjoyed there. I came across your blog looking for recipes for Fry Jacks. Thanks much!

Jennifer Raffle said...

Hi Lyra

I too found your blog when looking for a fry jacks recipe to try and produce a Belizean breakfast here in Manchester UK. My family and I are trying to eat a different world breakfast every couple of weeks and we're still on the letter B ! I plan to quote your recipe on my own blog post shortly, together with a link back here, as you suggest.

Thanks again - I've enjoyed reading your posts

mimiLoveMonkie said...

I've had fry jacks all my life
My dad's side of the family is from Belize so fry Jack's plantain and jerk chicksn rice and beans have been a bug toll on my life as far as cultural eating goes

Anonymous said...

mimilovemonkie...jerk chicken is not really a belizean dish. I bet if you ask your dad you'll find out that some1 in his family came to Belize from Jamaica. There are now a lot of places in belize that sell jerk chicken, but that's because there are a lot of Jamaican immigrants, just like how jerk chicken is easy to find in Miami but its not an American dish.

Lyra said...

Thanks everyone I am glad you are enjoying the recipe. Callaloo is not normally served with this breakfast in restaurants in Belize, so if you are a visitor you may not have encountered it, but in some homes it is commonly scrambled with eggs. Fry jacks are found everyone, at home and in restaurants. And yes, we don't pluralize the word when speaking Belizean Kriol. It is "fry jack" and it is delicious!

Anciano Deacon said...

Callalu may not be served but Chaya is served in many restaurants here in Belize.

I've been making fry jacks for a while now and I cannot seem to get a consistent puff from them. I've tried kneading, not kneading, and I've had my best luck with minimal kneading. I notice your recipe has less baking powder and more oil than my other recipe. I'll try yours and see if that fixes my issue.