Thursday, November 10, 2011

(Belizean) Breakfast Series: Fried Fish and Johnny Cakes


I think a fish head is probably one of the more controversial aspects of seafood consumption in the United States of America. Many Americans find it difficult to eat an animal when it is staring at you from the plate. Where I'm from, however, its a tasty meal. Some fish, like groupers, are even prized for the delicate and flavourful meat found in the cheeks. Not only in Belize, but in restaurants across the globe, no stew would be complete without the depth of flavour found in your average fish head (we just leave the head in, while the average American restaurant makes fish stock from it and then throws the head away). And most fish are fried whole, head and all.

In the coastal regions of Belize, fried fish is not only good for lunch, but is also considered a hearty breakfast, instead of the sausage and bacon that many Americans traditionally associate with that meal. Another favorite is fish hash, made of left over fish, picked off the bone and sauteed in coconut oil with minced onion, garlic and sweet pepper. Regardless of how it is made, if fish is on the menu for breakfast or tea, a popular accompaniment is johnny cakes.

These delicious quick breads are loaded with coconut flavour, flaky almost like a biscuit, and flattened for quick splitting, like an English muffin. They are standard breakfast and tea fare for many people in Belize, and they are very easy to make. Some people use vegetable shortening or lard in these along with the coconut milk, personally I like to up the coconut flavour even more by using coconut oil. All you need is:


Recipe:
2 and 1/2 cups wheat flour (I like to use white whole wheat flour, or half white and half whole wheat flour)
2 heaping tablespoons virgin coconut oil (refined coconut oil has been bleached and deodorized so it doesn't smell or taste like coconut at all, which I think completely defeats the purpose of using it).
1 and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 can or about 1 and 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
Procedure:
You can bake these in the oven or in a cast iron pan on the stove top. If you are baking them in the oven, turn it up to 350 degrees before you begin and get out a sheet pan. Otherwise, put a cast iron pan or a griddle on your burner and turn that on medium heat.

1. Dump the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and stir to mix.
2. Add the coconut oil and work it through the dry ingredients with your hands until you have small pieces no bigger than the size of peas evenly distributed throughout the flour mixture.
3. Add coconut milk while mixing with a clean hand or a spoon until you have a firm, but not sticky ball of dough. You may not need all the coconut milk, depending on the moisture content of your flour.
4. Knead this dough for an minute or two, just enough to bring it together into a firm ball.Then roll it out into a snake on the counter top. Pinch off balls about twice as large as a golf ball and let them sit on the counter for a minute.  Then pat out each ball into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. With a fork prick the dough through on the top.
5. If you are baking your johnny cakes, place them on an ungreased cookie sheet and put them in the oven for 15-20 minutes (check on them and if necessary flip them over to slightly brown the tops. They wont take long to cook). If you are doing them on the stove top, place several at a time in your cast iron pan, dutch oven or griddle. You will want to cook them for 3-5 minutes on the first side and turn them once they have browned slightly and cooked half way through. You can also put the lid on the pan to hasten cooking.

Classic accompaniments to johnny cakes are refried beans, hashed fish, fried fish or fresh corned fish, ham, cheese, eggs, or for a sweeter approach, butter and guava jelly. Johnny cakes are Belize's egg Mc-muffin. In gas stations and shops across the country you can buy them stuffed with fish, refried beans, pulled stewed chicken, or a basic ham and cheese. However you eat them, they are quick and easy to make and delicious to eat warm, at room temperature, or re-heated in the toaster. So next time you pass those cans of coconut milk at the grocery, forget about Thai curry and think brunch-with a Belizean touch.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Belizean Breakfast

Pinto beans cooked with onion, garlic, thyme, pigtail and coconut oil topped with a sunnyside egg and homemade pepper sauce (red onion, cilantro, habanero pepper, vinegar and lime juice).

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Belizean Bounty and Food, Sex and Culture


It has been so long since I posted on here that folks have probably given up on me again. I am in the midst of completing what should be my last semester of classes ever and looking forward to spending the summer in Placencia, Belize, where I will be running a fieldschool and hopefully conducting some research of my own. If all goes according to plan (fingers crossed), I should be done with my qualifying exams and back in Belize with a finalized dissertation research topic in November of this year. And yes, it will probably be about food.

In the meantime I'm busy writing papers and counting down the days to the end of the semester and packing for my summer move-out. I was lucky to find in my inbox this morning these two beautiful photos from my mother of the glorious produce from the garden that my brother planted the last time he was home. Since I am moving I have no garden this spring and these pictures make me miss the farm.

I thought I would share them with you all and also share a paper that I recently published in Indiana University's folklore journal about food-for-sex metaphors in the Anglophone Caribbean. Its specifically about Belize, and contains the results of some exploratory research that I conducted last summer. So if you wonder why I'm not updating my blog like I used to, this is why. Check it out! Fruits and Culture: A Preliminary Examination of Food-For-Sex Metaphors in English Language Caribbean Music.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Winter Break in Belize Part 1: Lobster.


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I think these pictures add up to 10,000 at least, especially in the cold wintery weather that we are currently experiencing here in Indiana. My winter break was spent in Belize: at home on the farm and also in the village of Placencia, a fishing community turned tourist zone located on a peninsual of pure sand. These are the pictures of Placencia. Its a pretty sort of place, and not coincidentally, where I will be doing my dissertation research starting (if all goes according to plan) the middle of this upcoming autumn.


Placencia was once one of the biggest fishing villages in Belize, and is known for spiny lobster, the Caribbean cousin of the large clawed animals some of you may be more familiar with. These pictures tell the tale of a lobster fishing expedition that I went on in December. We got a couple conch and a big crab as well. 


Cleaning lobster is best done on the beach. The limes provide a great cleanser for the hands afterwards and keep the lobster sprightly til you get them in the freezer or cook them.


Mark made lobster stew. Lets just say, it was fantastic. Chopped up lobster, cleaned heads and all, sauteed in coconut oil with onion, sweet pepper and a panopoly of seasonings, including soy sauce, cumin, recado and fresh thyme and finished off with fresh coconut milk and cilantro.


A couple leftover cooked lobster tails=lobster tacos for lunch! Sauteed in butter with the ubiquitous onion and sweet pepper (the vegetable back-bone of Belizean Creole cooking), and served in fresh corn tortillas from the tortilleria down the street, topped with homemade pepper sauce, these were absolutely delicious!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Belizean Stew(ed) Chicken


Belizean popular cuisine centers around rice and beans, preferably with some kind of protein accompanying it. Since the beans are usually flavoured with a nice fat pig tail, you can probably already guess that the protein is unlikely to be soy-based. I have yet to meet a Belizean vegetarian although assuredly one must exist somewhere. Fish and other seafood, beef, chicken, pork and even game animals such as deer (antelope in local parlance), wild pig (peccary or warrie) and gibnut (a large and tasty member of the rodent family affectionately nicknamed the royal rat for once having been served to the Queen of England) may appear on the side of a plate heaped high with our traditional staples. Ideally fried plantains and some type of salad (more a garnish than anything) perch on the margins of this loaded platter, and the whole thing is commonly doused by the hungry consumer with liberal quantities of home-made or store bought hot pepper sauce.

You will find some variation of this meal at most Belizean restaurants and in many homes around lunch time, traditionally the biggest meal of the day. (although Kekchi and Maya Belizeans usually eat corn tortillas with their beans). While the diverse nation that is Belize boasts a wide array of delicious foodstuffs, this meal is what most Belizeans think of when they talk about "Belizean food" and it is what they crave when they are far from home. The two staples: rice and beans (or corn and beans for some Belizeans) form the backbone of daily sustenance. The meat is an accompaniment: to eat it without beans and rice would be unusual.

Although animal flesh is relegated to the side of the plate, that does not diminish its importance. While one can certainly eat rice and beans (or stew beans and rice, which is not the same thing) by themselves, most Belizeans strive to ensure that some type of animal accompanies them. Fish and seafood may be stewed, fried, baked, grilled. Land meats are usually stewed to allay toughness, providing a rich gravy to wet the accompanying rice and beans. Stewed Chicken (stew chicken in Belizean Kriol), is a particularly popular choice in restaurants. I got my recipe from a woman in Cayo District who made the best stew chicken I had ever tasted. In the coastal village of Placencia I learned another trick to add to the flavour of the dish.

The recipe I offer below is an amalgamation of techniques from across the country, and I encourage you to make your own changes as you see fit. No two people make stew chicken exactly the same way. In keeping with this tradition, I present the recipe below as it was given to me: with no exact measurements.


Stew Chicken

The meat:
A whole chicken, cut into pieces, or conversely 4-5 chicken legs and thighs or breasts with rib meat, skin on.
(Do not under any circumstances try to make this with boneless skinless chicken breast. In fact, I strongly recommend using either a combination of white and dark meat, or dark meat alone, for the best flavour)

The vegetables:
onion
sweet pepper (green)

The seasonings:
garlic
red recado (more about recado here)
Soy sauce
Worchesterschire sauce
cumin
thyme
oregano
salt
fresh ground black pepper
bayleaf or allspice leaf (optional)
cider or white vinegar
coconut oil (1-2 tablespoons)
1-2 tsp of sugar

Procedure:

1. Take the cut up chicken, place in a bowl and rub thoroughly with a mixture of about 2 tablespoons of vinegar and a piece of recado about the size of half an egg.

2. Add several tablespoons each of soysauce and worchesterschire sauce and cumin, and dried thyme, oregano, and black pepper. Don't add salt yet.

3. Chop an onion or two and one large or two medium sweet peppers and chop up 3-5 cloves of garlic.

4. Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan to medium high heat. Toss in the sugar. Add the chicken, skin side down, and brown, then turn and brown on the other side. Reserve the marinade from the chicken.

5. Add the onion, garlic and sweet peppers, turn heat down and saute until onion is transparent, then add the liquid from the chicken bowl, along with a glass or two of water, enough to almost cover the chicken.

6. Let simmer for 40 minutes to an hour, taste for flavour and adjust seasonings as needed. You may need to add more soy sauce, worchesterschire sauce or herbs to your taste. Add salt if needed.

7. Serve with rice and beans or stew beans and rice, fried plantains and a little side salad (potato salad or coleslaw is classic) for a taste of one of Belize's most popular lunches.