Saturday, February 04, 2006

Green Banana Soup

After some more cleaning and polishing of the boat, Clem came by with bunches of green bananas and breadfruit and he and Quembe set in on teaching me how to make the Bequai boys favorite soup… These green bananas weren’t plantains and although they looked similar to the bananas you would find in a grocery store, these won’t ever ripen. Quembe taught me to score and peel the green bananas without breaking them, not an easy task, but by the 25th banana I think I had it down. Next we peeled, cored and chopped breadfruit, the potato of the Caribbean. This was the first time I’d seen a breadfruit, but how do I describe it other than that it looks completely alien to this planet with its emerald green glow, honeycomb pattern across the skin, and uncooked has the texture of foam rubber. Odd, but intriguing. Breadfruit secretes a milky substance through its skin which dries on the outside, a sign of ripeness.

Into the pot went the staples of Caribbean aromatics; garlic, onion and sweet peppers, covered with water, a pat of butter and a couple tablespoons of Matouks hot sauce which the boys say isn’t hot, but which sets my mouth afire. After all the ingredients came to a boil we added the green bananas and breadfruit and let them simmer for about a half hour, until they were soft. The aroma of the pot filled the air as we sat on deck, appetites growing, and friends and relatives of Quembe’s dropping by in gradual succession to relieve us of our stash of Presidente Beer (which isn’t available on the island).

When the bananas and breadfruit were cooked, we threw in chunks of dorado (dolphin fish) and the split open head of a kingfish (for Quembe and Clem to fight over); turned the heat to a simmer and cooked just until the fish was done, about 10 minutes. Seasoned to taste with salt and more hot sauce, we all sat down with our steaming bowls of fish soup.

The breadfruit was similar in texture to a potato only more firm and not mealy like a baking potato. The green bananas didn’t taste anything like the bananas that you and I know. They were savory and similar in quality to a potato but not starchy. The fish was flaky and perfectly fresh having only been caught a day prior by Quembe and the captain. The soup was savory and nourishing but not heavy or overly rich. The spice was just enough to make you sweat but not enough to send you to the doctor, and mellowed slightly by the pat of butter and the sweetness of the fresh fish.

Clem and I talked long about breadfruit and all the different things that could be done with it (I see some breadfruit fishcakes in my future) – basically anything you would do with a potato you could do with breadfruit, and just like a potato you would boil or roast it first… Clem said to come by “Rush Hour”, his snack shack, later that evening for “sauce” (stewed pigs feet, pronounced “sow”-“ess” by those in the know) and he promised to make me roasted bread fruit with salt fish. I kindly obliged and at eight o’clock last night the captain and I were chowing on roasted breadfruit and salt fish followed by hearty bowls of “sauce”. We blissfully supped away on the rich, porky broth and gnawed and sucked the knuckle bones with fervor as meltingly soft pieces of fat gave way to pockets of rich meat and succulent morsels of marrow; not a meal for the squeamish but worth the reward if you can get over your gastronomic inhibitions to eat it... Clem is known for making the best “sauce” on the island and when word spreads that he’s cooking up pig’s feat, the whole island makes its way to his snack shack…

Clem is a chef, and Quembe’s cousin (I’ve come to learn that everyone on the island is Quembe’s cousin). He’s warm and friendly with a heart as big as he is, and a deep, baritone voice that can be heard around the island. He was a great duet partner as we belted out “Red Red Wine” by UB40 at a local karaoke bar, Clem hitting the low notes that I couldn’t reach even in my most tragic attempts…

Then the captain, myself, Quembe, Clem and an entourage of about 13 others, that were all related to Quembe and Clem in one way or another, made our way to a local nightclub for a Reggae shakedown and dance party of epic proportion.

We made it back to the boat just in time to watch the sun come up…

Boilin’ A.K.A. Green Banana Fish Soup
(pronounced “bow”-“lin” by the locals)

1 Very large pot
25 Green Bananas, peeled and soaked in lime water to prevent browning
½ sweet pepper, sliced
1 med. onion, sliced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Hot pepper sauce (preferably “Matouks”)
8+ cups water
1 Breadfruit, peeled, cored and quartered
3 lbs. kingfish and/or dorado steaks, plus head, split opened and cleaned (eyeballs intact, they’re a delicacy here)
2 Tbsp. butter
Salt to taste

Add water to pot along with sweet pepper, onion, tomato, garlic, hot pepper sauce, butter and salt. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer 10 minutes. Add bananas and breadfruit and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until breadfruit and bananas are soft and cooked through. Turn heat to a gentle simmer, add fish and cover until fish is cooked through – about 10 minutes. Ladle into big bowls and serve with hot sauce…

Boilin’ – Breakfast of champions…

No comments:

Blog Directory - Blogged