The right way to make Jamaican sailfish fritters
By Nigel Spence
Jamaicans have a saying: “Yu haffi tek bad tings mek joke…” but I never fully realized the concept until more recently in life when I found myself quoting the same spiel.
You see, “What had happened was…” my brother and I were told our Uncle, who lived in Chicago, was on his last. Wanting to show our support, we headed to Chicago. We knew our Dad would take it hard, watching his only brother pass and our cousins would also be devastated knowing they were losing their Dad.
When we got to the room, Uncle was all hooked up to different machines: tube in mouth, oxygen mask over his nose, not moving. We asked the doctor if Uncle could hear us if we spoke to him and the doctor assured us he could not, as he was for all intents and purposes already gone…only the machines were keeping his vitals going.
In spite of the harsh reality as laid out by the doctor, my brother and I continued to speak to our Uncle letting him know we were there for him, etc. Of course, we were not expecting any reaction but thought it was the right thing to do.
As we stood over him sharing words of comfort, I swore I saw a little movement in his eyes, kind of like a twitch. Calling my brother’s attention to the phenomenon, we both watched intently for any signs of response while talking to him. Suddenly, we noticed he began to blink his eyes. On a whim, we told him to blink twice if he could hear and understand. To our shock and surprise, Uncle Nell blinked his eyes twice!! The whole thing reminded me of a chapter in the Hardy Boys mystery books. He was trying hard to tell us something and was trying to motion that he wanted the tube out so he could speak.
Without haste, we summoned the doctor on duty, relating the miraculous event and requested Uncle be taken off the tube so he could speak. The doctor declined. He was still not convinced Uncle was responding and basically shrugged us off. Well, leave it to the “Yardy Boys”. We knew what we saw and were convinced Uncle was making contact. He seemed to have something very important to tell us and we had to find a way to know what. There was no time to summon our Dad or his family as we intended that the doctor do as we requested. We had to follow through and know if the man was back to life or what?
So, after much drama and insistence, the tube was finally removed so Uncle could speak. Ready with pen and paper to write down what may be his last requests, we listened closely. As clear as day, Uncle blurted out the words: “Tell dem ah hungry. I wan’ some Saltfish Frittas.”
Now you know seh, we nearly dead wid laugh (no pun intended). Our Uncle was always joking around and In the somberness of the moment, his utterance completely blew us away. Of course the doctor had no idea why we were laughing so hard, considering the miracle that just took place. Quickly we summoned the family, then his daughter immediately ran out and got all the ingredients back to the kitchen and expeditiously “rubbed” up the batter and fired up some really tasty fritters to take back to the hospital.
He was still not out of the woods, but lived long enough to enjoy a meal, laugh and chat with family, therein making his peace. I’ve never forgotten that incident, though so many years have passed. With all the medicines Uncle was receiving through the various tubes, the only thing that was powerful enough to bring him briefly back to life was an overwhelming appetite for some good yard food!
On that note, I wanted to share with you, my latest taste bud teaser. I can’t promise it will bring anyone back from the dead, but I can guarantee it will certainly make all your food senses come alive! Don’t put this one off for a special occasion; while you have life, eat, drink and be merry my friends.
Jamaican Salt Fish Fritters
1 cup All purpose Flour
3/4 cup Salt fish (Codfish)
1 teaspoon Baking powder
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh Thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon Black pepper
1 teaspoon Curry powder
1/4 cup yellow Onion, medium diced
1 stalk Scallion, finely chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped
1 Tomato, deseeded and medium diced
1/2 cup Coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
Soak codfish in cold water overnight.
Discard water and add fresh water to a saucepan with enough to cover the salt fish by 2 inches.
Bring to a boil for 10 minutes and strain. After it cools, flake the codfish with a fork into small pieces – removing bones and skin.
Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl then add all other ingredients EXCEPT the oil.
Add water to make a thin batter resembling a pancake batter consistency.
Heat oil in large sauté pan.
Using a large kitchen spoon, spoon the batter into the hot oil.
Allow the first side to cook until bubbles from on top, then turn over.
Continue to cook until both sides are golden brown in color and cooked through.
Place on paper towels after cooking to remove excess oil.
Serve immediately as an appetizer or side dish.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.