Peckham’s Rye Lane is a right higgle piggle of shops. Traders pile on top of one another; get your mobile phone unlocked while you wait for the butcher to dice your goat meat. There are towers of unusual vegetables, mountains of scotch bonnet chillies, the odd box of African land snails and of course yams, yams and yet more yams (just don’t look at the frozen fish or broiler chickens). There’s so much interesting stuff down there I just can’t get through it fast enough so I’ve set myself a little challenge. For the next few weeks, I’ll pick up a new ingredient every few days – something I’ve never used before and quite possibly something I won’t recognise. A new and exciting culinary adventure.
Things kicked things off on Sunday with salt fish – something I’ve eaten many times but never got around to cooking at home. A few quid bought me the chunks you see above. I’ve no idea what type of fish it is though and didn’t have much joy communicating with the shop keeper: “do you know what type of fish it is?” “£3,” was the reply. It went on like that for a while. We’ll get there.
When researching recipes I came across a few that recommended boiling the fish in several changes of water rather than soaking it overnight. I was tempted to try it as a time saving measure but feared the flesh not tenderising enough and so plunged the pieces into (several changes) of cold water for 24 hours. If anyone has tried the boiling method then please do let me know. The next stage was rather more arduous than anticipated as I wrestled with the still rather fibrous blocks in an attempt to remove the skin and tease out bones. Again, advice most welcome.
The chosen recipe was salt fish buljol: a traditional Trinidadian dish, apparently often eaten at breakfast. It ticked the right boxes for being simple (don’t run before you can walk) and because I had all the ingredients in anyway. The mixture is cooked until most of the moisture evaporates, leaving a rich amalgamation which celebrates the slightly chewy, meaty, unusual flaky texture of the fish. It is of course salty. We found more than we bargained for in this simple, yet deeply comforting dish.
The effort of preparation was definitely worth it then – salt fish is the bomb. I think maybe fritters are in the pipeline and Chris made some stonking fish cakes with the leftovers. A very encouraging start to my little experiment. Next on the list is a vegetable called Okazi; I’ve found a recipe for it I’m really rather excited about.
Salt Fish Buljol
About as much salt fish as you see at the top of this post (sorry, didn’t weigh it)
2/3 can chopped tomatoes
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 red peppers finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 – 1 whole scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
Lettuce, for serving (optional). Avocado slices are also a nice accompaniment, apparently
Oil for cooking
Soak the salt fish overnight in several changes of water then pull off the skin and flake the flesh. Heat the oil in a wide pan over a medium heat and add the onions, peppers, chilli and tomatoes (I thought it odd not to soften the onions and peppers first but it works out don’t worry). Let that cook for a few minutes then add the fish, half the lemon juice and a good sprinkling of black pepper.
Cook the mixture down on a low heat until the moisture is almost all gone. This probably takes about 15-20 minutes. Taste and add more lemon juice if you think it needs it. Allow to cool then arrange on top of the lettuce.