by Shanika Hillocks
Couscous in Chefchaouen, jamón in Madrid, fried fish in the Bahamas; universal and instantly communal, food is the mainstay of my personal travels. My greatest lessons about a culture have been taken from the flavors and locally-sourced ingredients of the region. So often, I look forward to trying the local cuisine of a new place I visit, eating as the locals eat, and learning along the way.
Fresh herbs, ground seasonings and wafts of aromas take me on an instant voyage to a meal’s origin, though nothing compares to the journey home than through a home-cooked meal. One of those meals is saltfish and bake, a staple for most Caribbean families that instantly "transports" me to meals with my grandparents and gatherings with cousins. Served for breakfast, as post-cricket fuel or on Christmas or Easter morning, saltfish and bake has always been tied with feelings of togetherness for me, and serves as an instant cure for subtle bouts of homesickness.
Bake, a type of bread that is fried, can be eaten with anything from eggs to jams/jellies, or accompanying a main course—like a dinner roll would—enjoyed with curry chicken and peas and rice. Paired with saltfish, also known as bacalao or salted cod, this simple dish, whether you've eaten it in a Trinidadian, Guyanese or Vincentian household, is quintessential Caribbean eats.
· 2 cups all-purpose flour
· 2 tbsp. salt
· 2 tbsp. baking powder
· 1 tbsp. sugar
· 2 tbsp. butter
· 1 cup warm water
Heat oil (enough to fry dough in) to a large pot. Sift dry ingredients first and blend together, then add in butter and water to form dough. Cover with a damp paper towel and allow to rest, about half an hour.
On a floured surface, place dough and separate into two pieces. Separate the halves into two or three pieces each. Roll each piece to about 3-4 inches.
To test the oil’s heat, take a small piece of dough and immerse in hot oil. If the dough rises to the top, it’s ready. Fry bakes, one at a time, until golden brown on one side. Flip and repeat on the other side. Once ready, remove and lay in a paper towel-lined dish to absorb excess oil.
· 1 lb. saltfish
· 1 medium tomato, diced
· Half of a sweet onion, diced
· Black pepper
Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil. Add saltfish and reduce to medium heat. Boil for 15-20 minutes, and then drain. Repeat this process two or three times, tasting the fish as you “wash” to ensure the right flavor. Once you’ve gotten the right flavor, drain saltfish and transfer to a clean mixing bowl. Flake with a fork and set aside.
Heat a skillet with oil and bring to medium heat. Add onions and fry until they are tender, fragrant and slightly browned. Add saltfish and let it cook with the onions for about 10 minutes, mixing regularly. Add diced tomato and mix in to blend flavor. Season with black pepper and serve immediately with fresh bake. For added heat, dice a small scotch bonnet pepper or flavor with pepper sauce.
Learn more about Shanika's love affair with food at www.shanikahillocks.com
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