Habanero and Scotch Bonnet are the hotest peppers, with Habanero
being one of the hottest
in the world.
Traditional spices of the Caribbean: Nutmeg, Thyme, Curry, Mint, Sweet Basil, Mace, Annatto, Lemongrass, Cloves, Ground Mustard, Cinnamon, Black and White Pepper, Ginger and all kinds of Peppers from medium to hot.
The essence of Caribbean cooking is found in the use of fresh foods enhanced by island spices and herbs. The particular regions of each island serve as an incubator for various products.
For instance in the mountainous region of Jamaica are found the most flavorful coffee beans. On the costal areas of the Caribbean islands coconut trees are abundant, and the lowlands of the Caribbean produce sweet pineapples. Vast sugar cane fields are found within the interior of Caribbean islands such as Barbados.
No matter the island, good home cooked Caribbean cooking style always starts with staple local ingredients: Fresh fish, vegetables, tropical fruits, and chicken.
The distinct flavor of the Caribbean comes alive when the addition of spices, coconut, mangoes, passion fruit, limes, papayas, guava, cassava, apples, breadfruit, yams and peppers are added to these stable ingredients.
Caribbean residents use limes much in the same way lemons are used in the States. Lime is a favorite marinade for fish, and most locals will tell you the lime starts cooking the fish. Ceviche is know as seafood cooked by citrus juices, and seasoned with onions and fresh herbs.
The flavor of the Caribbean started very simply in the kitchens of local women who were creative in using what they had on hand.
Most of the women did not have an abundance of food, and fixing meals on a daily basis meant lots of flexibility in the preparation and ingredients.
How Does One Define Caribbean Cooking?
That is nearly impossible for there is no one type of food that is unique to the region. You just can’t come up with one definition that would encompass every islands style, culture and cooking techniques.
- Conch recipes are a favorite of the Bahamas
- The island of Cuba is known for tasty black beans and rice
- Jamaica is the land of jerk cooking and seasoning
- Barbados favorite dish is flying fish and cou cou
- Puerto Rico cooks are famous for their flavorful chicken and rice dishes
- The French Caribbean islands of St Barts, Martinique and French St Martin serve up fine creole dishes
- Other cooking techniques found in France, and Trinidad is home to hundreds of curry recipes.
Tamarind is another spice used in Caribbean kitchens. If you can’t imagine the taste of the tart tamarind, then just think of the flavor of Worcestershire sauce, of which tamarind is a main ingredient.
That’s often because Caribbean cooks use spices in unique ways.
Nutmeg is used to flavor deserts in America, but this spice is often combined with other native island spices to produce an altogether different, yet somewhat recognizable flavor.
The distinctive flavor of Jamaican Jerk comes from allspice, a spice not usually associated with a meat marinade.
The Cayman islanders have a favorite chocolate cake recipe to which they add spicy peppers.
Often when dining on local Caribbean cuisine you catch the flavor of a known spice, but can’t quite put your finger on which particular one.
Many best tasting Caribbean sauces are made up of sweet fruits such as orange, papaya and mango, along with spicy, hot peppers.
Coconut milk serves as a base for many popular stews, soups, and sauces. Even oregano and garlic are used with citrus marinades.
And of course Rum is a favorite ingredient throughout the Caribbean, and is applied liberally in marinades, soups, deserts, and sauces.
A plantain that is
not quite ripe has little flavor, but when spiced up makes an excellent stew additive. As the plantain starts to ripen, it turns black and becomes sugary sweet.
Many of the tropical fruits flavor depend upon its ripeness.
The Caribbean Yam is not sweet like a sweet potatoes, and is often baked, fried, or boiled
Unripe papaya is chopped and used for relishes and chutney, but once the fruit ripens it is used in all kinds of deserts or a wonderful sweet salsa.
Pepperpot served on the island of Barbados, consists of a spicy, deep purple stew with everything but the kitchen sink included.
Beans and rice are Caribbean staples, and both absorb the flavors of any dish. Island natives are as fond of their beans and rice as we Americans are of our pasta dishes.
In the Meat Category . . .
Caribbean locals prefer Chicken, Goat, Pork and fresh Seafood - which is always available.
Beef is not a popular local meat in the Caribbean. Many smaller islands do not have the space for grazing, and I suspect even if they did, many locals would still hang on to chicken, goat and seafood.
The different variety of beans are unique to the different island regions. If you are in the Bahamas, you will be served pigeon peas, Puerto Ricans have a love of red beans, while Cubans prefer their beans black.
With Curry, Cilantro, Ginger and Soy Sauce, rice renders a different flavor with each of the distinctive spices. Another popular spice combination for rice is coconut and ginger, which is especially good when served with pork dishes.
One Pot Meals
Originated in the working class island kitchens.
Some of the meat used in stews, or one pot meals are not necessarily the best cuts.
Caribbean cooks know how to marinade and simmer even the toughest meat into a tender, flavorful meal.
Popular one pot meals usually start with rice and beans as the base.
Chicken, fish, goat and island spices are added, and the pot is allowed to slowly simmer to infuse all the flavors together.
Soups and stews are often served on the weekend when there is time to make a fresh stock, consisting of root vegetables, beans or peas, meat or fish, and plenty of herbs and spices.
Seafood stews popular in Creole cooking, and numerous recipes are found on the islands of Martinique and Haiti.
Conch Chowder is a favorite among the islands of the Bahamas
Arroz con Pollo is a simple one pot recipe that differs throughout the Caribbean, and Latin America.
The basic ingredients are chicken, rice, sausage, cumin, paprika, garlic,
bell peppers and tomatoes. In most recipes, the chicken is browned before adding all the ingredients.
Curried Goat Stew is another popular one pot meal served throughout the Caribbean, especially in Jamaica and Trinidad, and Lamb can be substituted.
The basic ingredients for goat stew include onions, scotch bonnet peppers, scallions, garlic, black pepper, carrots, ginger and tomatoes. The meat is marinated overnight with the dry ingredients and then combined in a pot to simmer until tender.
Gayana has its own version of pepperpot with meat stewed with spices and cassava juice, a traditional Christmas dish.
Since chicken and rice dishes are staples, this particular recipe takes on a different ingredients depending on the island.
Recipes from the Caribbean . . .
Caribbean Cooking Style and Flavor
Many annual Festivals in the Caribbean feature the island's particular cuisine and culture.
Most popular Caribbean food festivals:
Festival of Women Cooks held on the island of Guadeloupe
Breadfruit Festivals on the islands of Jamaica and The Grenadines
Pineapple Festival on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas
Dominican Republic Cocktail and Food Festival
Antigua/Barbuda Independence Food Fair
Caribbean International Food Fair on the island of Nevis
Anguilla Night Food Festival.
For more information on Caribbean Food Festivals, and Caribbean Music Festivals and Carnivals, visit our current Caribbean Festival Schedule
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Mango, Melon and Chili Peppers make an excellent sweet and hot sauce for dipping.