Chef Forum banner

The Continuing Evolution of West Indian Cooking

1795 Views 3 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  compassrose
Hi Guys,

On my own, I could never properly explain or describe the cusine of the West Indies but I hope the following information is of benefit. :) There are not that many widely known books on West Indian food and their preparation. I also noticed that we are mainly known for Jerk Chicken, Peas & Rice, Curry Goat/Beef and Roti. There are many other dishes that are not widely known, such as: Guyanese Cookup Rice, Dirty Rice, Cou Cou, Bajan Pudding and Souse and Pepperpot. I hope the history of the cuisine will help broaden the knowledge of our food. :D


The Caribbean, crossroads of the world

The Caribbean is in many respects the crossroads of the world, especially in the days of sail, when the tradewind routes led from the far ends of the earth to the British Virgin Islands' home in the Lesser Antilles.


A succession of peoples and cultures swept over the Caribbean bringing or finding their distinctive foods, many still eaten today. The Arawaks were followed by the fierce Caribs, for which the Caribbean is named. Explorers and many sea captains transported food items. Colonists, settlers and planters of Spanish, Dutch, English, and French origin brought their respective cuisine with them in some form. East Indians contributed their distinctive curries, called colombos in the French Antilles, condiments such as chutneys and food items like the widely adopted roti. Africans were a strong influence throughout the region, bringing many foodstuffs, such as okra and yams, and many other varieties of greens, beans and roots as well as cooking techniques and seasonings, such as Creole-style gumbos. Derived from an African word for the okra that originally contributed its thick, characteristic texture, gumbo broadens to a thick stew or soup with a hodgepodge of local ingredients, then travels to the West Indies, transmuting there into that ubiquitous soup called callaloo that is emblematic of the Caribbean.

Callaloo. Often thickened with okra and well-seasoned with chile peppers and other herbs, this irresistible West Indian soup (Crab Hole and Callaloo) may be ladled out of an iron cooking pot with a wooden spoon into a calabash bowl in a Caribbean version of age-old practices (see recipes). Callaloo comes in as many styles as there are islands and cooks, and now refers to a complex mixture with a "confusion" of ingredients (see song lyrics). Strictly viewed, if that's possible, callaloo exhibits one constant-- a spinach-like, tender green leaf. Generally from the dasheen family, the preferred variety has a large purple dot on its leaf. Sometimes the leaf is what is called callalou and the soup is called Pepperpot.

The focus on the "greens," including green vegetables like okra and the green leaf itself, and their preparation in the form of a thick soup or sauce, expresses African-inspired cooking, with its emphasis on the importance of greens and garden-variety seasonings, albeit in sensual, aromatic combinations. Paradoxically, key ingredients of callaloo and gumbo-- the chile pepper and tomato-- originated in the New World. And their transport to Africa as foodstuffs during the Age of Discovery, before coming back as part of these distinctive dishes, demonstrates the complexity of this cultural "stew" that has enriched the Caribbean. Jerk. The original inhabitants of the Caribbean, the Arawaks, cured meat by smoking it over a slow fire--no doubt a very widespread "primitive" practice. Jerk, in fact, means to preserve dried meat, derived from American southwest Spainish charqui, from the Native South American cc'arki.

Also, the term buccaneer, a 17th century adventurer or sea robber, comes from the technique, called "boucan" (meaning barbecue), of curing meat by smoking it slowly over a fire, its French practitioners being called "boucaniers." See Pirates & Privateers. And Tortola's Beef Island gets its name from its use as pasture for cattle for this purpose by local buccaneers (see Black Sam Bellamy: Prince of Pirates). So today we see "jerk" pork ribs and chicken, the Jamaican being the most famous with the roadside jerk huts, smoky with the open pit fires of smoldering Pimento wood to ensure the proper slow-smoke cooking. But it is the "fire" and subtlety of the seasonings that make "jerk" what it is. Fiery Scotch Bonnet or bird peppers, onions, scallions, Jamaican pimento or allspice, thyme, cinnamon and nutmeg are combined into a pungent "paste" that is rubbed on the meat in a non-tomato based style. See Barbecue Jerk Dinner on the Grill.

.........Continued Here

Exerpt Courtesy of The British Virgin Islands ( )


See less See more
1 - 1 of 4 Posts
Thank you! great post! I have one Caribbean cookbook, called Sky Juice and Flying Fish, and I've fooled around with it a bit... though I must admit, I love peas and rice! I have a friend born and raised in Jamaica. He makes awesome peas and rice, and great curried goat. (He also bottles pickled Scotch bonnets that can knock your socks off.... and does some wicked things with fruit and rum...)
1 - 1 of 4 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.