Authentic cuisine of the Bahamian islands, including recipes for grouper fingers and Bahamian pigeon peas and rice
DINING & ENTERTAINMENT GUIDE NASSAU, CABLE BEACH, PARADISE ISLAND - JULY 2006 EDITION
A visit to The Bahamas would not be complete without a walk along the beach, a dip in the ocean and a souvenir of your vacation. But to really experience The Bahamas, you’ll have to taste it.
For hundreds of years, Bahamians have created dishes using indigenous foods. Where else in the world can one dine on crack’ conch, savour johnny cake, enjoy a steaming bowl of stew’ fish or satisfy your sweet tooth with guava duff?
Whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a midnight snack, eating in The Bahamas is something special.
FROM THE SEA…
Ever since they arrived, Bahamians have harvested sustenance from the land and the surrounding ocean. And while today’s grocery stores are stocked with products familiar to North Americans and Europeans, indigenous items are still found in everyday food throughout The Bahamas.
One of these is the versatile conch (pronounced konk), a staple in many Bahamian diets.
Conch is a mollusc that lives in the warm waters of the Atlantic from Florida to Brazil. Its pink and peach shell can grow to more than a foot. It uses its claw-like foot to drag itself along the ocean floor.
Conch meat is clam-like in flavour and mildly sweet. It is also tough, however, and must be tenderized by pounding, or marinated – traditionally in lime juice – before it is served.
Conch salad is a favourite among Bahamians and tourists alike, although it is something of an acquired taste for some. It’s a mixture of chopped raw conch, diced tomatoes, onions and green peppers, flavoured with hot pepper, lime and orange juices.
“Here in our restaurant we have fresh conch salad every day and the guests are overwhelmed by it – we can’t keep it on hand,” says Chef Marvin Belle of Anthony’s Grill on Paradise Island. “Somehow news is getting out there that when you come to The Bahamas you have to try conch.”
Belle adds that other popular items on his menu include crack’ conch, which is battered and deep-fried, and can also be served as a conch burger.
Conch is also a popular item at Café Johnny Canoe at Cable Beach.
“Our most popular dish is crack’ conch,” says Chef Wayne Farrington, adding that roast chicken and blackened grouper are also favourites.
Grouper, particularly the Nassau grouper, is another staple found in many Bahamian dishes. This meaty fish is a popular choice as breaded fingers and burgers, and is commonly used in boil’ and stew’ fish recipes.
Boil’ fish, usually served for breakfast, is a portion of lime-seasoned grouper in a tasty broth that includes potatoes, onions and pepper. Stew’ fish is prepared in a roux of flour, oil and tomato paste. Both dishes are usually served with a slice of johnny cake, a hearty bread-like cake that is only slightly sweet.
Fruit thrives in The Bahamas’ warm climate. While everyone is familiar with coconuts, mangoes and pineapples, there are many other fruits native to the islands, including sugar apples, scarlet plums, soursop, sapodilla and guava.
Soursop is a favourite ingredient in many smoothies and desserts such as ice cream. The fruit is round in shape, somewhat elongated and can grow up to 12 inches long and six inches wide. It bears a thin, leathery green skin, which is covered in knobby spines.
Another fruit that tastes better than it looks is the sapodilla, or dilly. It’s a round fruit, about two to four inches in diameter, and has an unattractive brown, scruffy skin when ripe. It’s a versatile ingredient in many desserts, although it is also eaten as is.
Guava has a distinct, pleasantly sweet taste and is characterized by its pale-green skin and pink flesh, which contains hundreds of small, edible seeds. It is the chief ingredient (minus seeds) in The Bahamas’ national dessert, guava duff, which can be found on the menus of almost all restaurants.
“Guava duff sells like crazy,” says Farrington, who notes that many ask for the recipe, but he never gives it out.
Guava duff resembles a jelly roll but is much heavier. The guava is chopped, blended and mixed with sugar and water and then spread onto flattened dough, made of flour, baking powder, sugar, margarine and water. Many recipes call for the dough to be rolled up into a linen cloth, which is tied at both ends and boiled for about two hours.
There are many restaurants ranging from casual to upscale throughout Nassau and Paradise Island that offer authentic Bahamian dishes, however why not try Bahamian cuisine in a completely unique setting?
Flying Cloud Catamaran Cruises provides a novel way to enjoy a Bahamian meal. On Sundays, Flying Cloud offers a five-hour cruise, including an outdoor buffet on a white-sand beach on nearby Rose Island. On the menu are barbecued ribs and chicken along with another favourite Bahamian dish, peas n’ rice.
You can also dine on a Bahamian three-course meal under the stars on Flying Cloud’s chartered dinner cruise.
Here are two recipes adapted from the book Many Tastes Of The Bahamas & Culinary Influences of the Caribbean, by Lady Darling, the wife of a former Governor General of The Bahamas. (Caribbean Productions, September 2002).
3 large grouper fillets
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup bread crumbs
vegetable oil for deep frying
hot peppers to taste
salt to taste
Wash the grouper fillets and pat dry. Cut into 1⁄2-inch strips or fingers, place into a flat pan and sprinkle with salt to taste.
Squeeze the lime juice into a small dish, crush the hot peppers into the juice and pour over the grouper fingers. Marinate for one hour.
Beat the eggs in a shallow dish. Spread the flour and bread crumbs in separate shallow dishes.
Coat the fingers completely with the flour, dip into the beaten egg, then in the bread crumbs. Place the coated fingers in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes.
Pour the oil into a deep-fat fryer or deep pot and heat until very hot. Place the fingers into the hot oil a few at a time and fry until golden brown. Remove, drain on a wire rack and serve hot with tartar sauce.
Note: Any type of firm-meated white fish can be substituted for grouper.
BAHAMIAN PIGEON PEAS AND RICE
1 1/2 cups boiled pigeon peas, drained
or 1 1/2 cups canned pigeon peas, drained
2 cups long grain rice
4 1/4 cups water with stock from peas
2 oz vegetable oil
2 slices bacon, 1/2-inch diced
1 large onion, sliced
3 oz tomato paste
1 tsp browning sauce
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp island seasoning
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
hot peppers to taste
In a two-quart saucepan, heat the oil, sauté the bacon for a few minutes, add the onion and thyme and continue to sauté adding the tomato paste.
Pour in the water and add the peas, browning sauce, salt, island seasoning and black pepper to taste. Add the hot pepper for more zest and stir in the rice.
Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes. Lower heat and adjust seasonings to taste.
Over low heat, cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until the rice is tender. Place a heat diffuser under the pot for the last 10 minutes of cooking time to avoid the rice sticking.
Note: Substitute black-eyed peas if pigeon peas are not available.
Disclaimer: The information in this article/release was accurate at
press time; however, we suggest you confirm all details and prices
directly with vendors.