Let’s face it, Caribbean recipes aren’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think about going to a restaurant. Equally, many of the diverse kinds of takeaways we get these days, like Indian and Chinese, don’t really include Caribbean food or any other cuisine of that persuasion. We simply don’t think about it!
As a result, we’re not all that clued up on what we can expect from the food from this part of the world or the cooking style used. Caribbean cuisine is a mixture of many European flavours, Indian influences and even African ingredients. The vast array of cultures infused into Caribbean cooking is simply astonishing, and you might be pleased to find a good variety of food that you are already used to within popular recipes.
For instance, while spices are abundant in this kind of cuisine, you’re probably used to them already. This said, you might use the spices for sweet dishes rather than savoury ones; Caribbean savoury dishes often include cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice.
What’s particularly interesting is that while the Caribbean area is relatively close to Mexico, there appears to be minimal influence from this area. The cuisine in the Caribbean is incredibly different, and more influenced by countries further afield. You’ll find that the best-known cuisines from the Caribbean area tend to be Jamaican and Puerto Rican.
There are two areas in the Caribbean that are known for producing very different kinds of food, and in order to be able to produce authentic Caribbean cuisine, you must know these differences and the attributes that make them so unique. The English-speaking parts of the Caribbean are known for using sharper flavours through use of jerk meat, jerk spices and even chilli peppers. This is profoundly different to other areas of the Caribbean, however.
The Cubans prefer quite the opposite to the English-speaking areas of the Caribbean. Cubans are known for preferring more subtle, mild and fruity flavours in their dishes. For instance, lime is used in savoury dishes along with garlic. Cubans also create many dishes that involve rice, beans and fruit.
One particularly popular meal in the Cuban area of the Caribbean is shredded steak, which is served with yellow rice, fried yucca and black beans. This is typical of this area, as this kind of dish gives a pungent yet mild flavour. Cuba is also known for its soup dishes, chickpea stews and even meat pies, oddly enough.
Then, of course, we have Jamaica. Jamaica is known for producing slightly more exotic dishes: jerk-spiced meats are known to have derived from Jamaica, and to this day the practice of jerking meat continues on the island. What is jerking? Jerking meat is a reference to applying a spicy mixture during the meat’s preparation. The mixture of spices is rubbed onto the meat before it is roasted or barbecued.
The usual meats used in jerking are pork and goat. If you’re going to be cooking this at home, you might want to use pork; goat isn’t exactly common in the west, and even if you did want to use it, you’d likely find it difficult to get hold of it! Beef and chicken are also used on occasion during the jerking process. The kind of meat used with the jerk spices produces very different flavours.
You might be surprised at how heavily some cultures do in fact influence Caribbean cuisine, however; much like we see curry being a prominent dish in the UK, something that has been true for a number of decades now, Caribbean cuisine also involves a lot of currying.
Jamaica has many curry dishes that mostly involve goat and chicken, rice that has been cooked in coconut milk, fried plantain and interestingly enough, fried dumplings. The mixture of cultures is really quite interesting, and when you’re using a cooking guide at home, it’s worth remembering that you’ll likely have tasted similar things in the past. After all, curried chicken along with some common Jamaican spices isn’t all that different to the curried chicken you would expect from popular Indian cuisine.
Puerto Rico is similarly incredibly diverse and influenced by world cultures, but overall is rather different in what is considered the ‘norm’. Famous dishes in Puerto Rico include roasted pork, blood sausage (you might know this as black pudding), stuffed turkey and sofrito, which is a dish made of onions browned in a pan in olive oil.
This wouldn’t be incredibly different to what you might expect from a typical British kitchen! It’s rather incredible that the influence of the west can remain somewhere far away, while also allowing Puerto Rico to continue offering a distinct Caribbean twist to food. The country offers a dish that is known as ‘mofongo’, too. Mofongo includes fried plantains and garlic which are mashed and served with fish, fish soup or fried meat. This influence obviously comes from elsewhere, as this isn’t exactly commonplace in Britain!
One thing that you will find in all areas in the Caribbean is seafood. Seafood, whether it’s lobster or salmon, can be made into a subtly-spiced dish; or an incredibly spicy one when the jerk method is used. Fish is often caught in local waters and is served in a number of ways.
One common method of serving fish in the Caribbean is to cut it into thin slices and smoke it in a smoke house. This way, the flavour of the fish is kept somewhat mild while keeping a unique texture. Fish is often served with garam masala, too, as it provides a sweet and somewhat mild taste.
If you’re interested in this kind of cooking, then start using a cooking guide. There are a good number which are available to you, all of which provide insights into cooking, recipes and methods to create authentic Caribbean food.