Ackee - What is it?
There’s always been debate over whether the ackee is a vegetable or a fruit. That’s hardly a concern for the large number of Jamaicans who consume tons of ackee each year, keeping ackee and its saltfish sidekick firmly in place as the national dish of Jamaica.
Ackee is grown all over the Caribbean, but only in Jamaica is it so revered. It grows on an evergreen tree, which blooms several times a year. The immature fruit is locked in a pod which ranges in colour from pale orange to bright red. When ripened, the pod opens to release toxic gases before the fruit can be eaten. On average, each pod holds three of the yellow edible portions.
Preparation for cooking
Ackee requires a bit of work before it can be eaten. After removing from the pod, the edible portion has to be separated from the large black seed, as well as the reddish/pink substance inside. Then, wash carefully to remove any contaminants.
The ackee is eaten by some Rastafarians and vegetarians in this raw state, but it is best to boil first due its notoriety for poisoning people, some fatally. Boil ackee separate from other foods and drain thoroughly, discarding all the water it was cooked in.
In restaurants and hotels, ackee is usually served with a semi-firm consistency. However, my personal preference is to cook until it breaks apart and resembles scrambled eggs. I have been known to use my fork to crush any ackee left whole in the cooking process.
Making the national dish
You will need the following items to prepare the national dish.
- Cooking oil
- Pre-cooked saltfish (codfish)
- White and green onions
- Black pepper
Heat cooking oil in a skillet and sauté onions. Mix in flaked saltfish, then add cooked ackee. Lastly, sprinkle black pepper and thyme leaves. Turn off heat, and cover for five minutes to allow the thyme flavor to penetrate. Serve with your favourite addition – yellow yam and dumplings come to mind, but ackee and saltfish tastes best with slightly ripened roasted breadfruit.
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