Five Essential Caribbean Spices
With culinary influences from India, Africa, Asia and Europe, Trinidad cuisine is a melting pot of exotic flavors. The gastronomic diversity allows me to experiment with some of my favorite herbs and bold spices which represent the authenticity of real Trinidadian cooking. Below, I’ve outlined some of the most popular and essential herbs and spices for every Caribbean kitchen.
Tucked away in one of the highest points in the Northern range of Trinidad lies the village of Paramin, known as ‘herb basket of Trinidad.’ Many of the herbs and spices used in Trini cuisine are grown in this mountainous village. In Trinidad, chefs can find three types of thyme: Spanish, Portuguese and French. Thyme is a key ingredient in recipes like the Paramin Green Seasoning, which can be used to marinate meat, chicken or seafood. Thyme is also a popular seasoning which can be grown at home as many Trini’s grow their own spices and herbs for their personal use.
Chadon Beni (culantro)
Culantro is mainly known as chadon beni in the English-Speaking Caribbean. It is similar in taste to cilantro, however, culantro is much more intense and potent in flavor. Also grown in the village of Paramin and at many homes, it is vital to Trini cuisine as it’s used in virtually all recipes. A popular recipe made from this herb is ‘Chadon Beni Chutney,’ which is paired with the famous ‘bake & shark” and also with a favorite Trini snack, pholourie, which is essentially fried seasoned and split peas dough.
With the strong presence of Indian influence in Trini cuisine, curry is a staple herb that is used in many dishes. Curry is well-known in Trini cuisine for its use in roti, which is a thin, light wrap filled with chicken, goat, shrimp, chick-peas or vegetables, all tossed in curry. Trinidad’s favorite street food is called doubles, which are two round pieces of fried dough, usually referred to as ‘bara,’ filled with chick-peas and is covered in hot chili sauce and chandon beni.
Chives are grown throughout Trinidad, but those grown in the mountainous areas of Paramin are known for their flavor. Chives are another key ingredient in the Paramin Green Seasoning and are often used in to garnish dishes.
Popular throughout the Caribbean, jerk seasoning is native to Jamaica. The use and term jerk seasoning is very fluid as it has evolved throughout the years. Jerk seasoning consists of various herbs and spices, but primarily consists of two ingredients – allspice and scotch bonnet peppers. Different variations can be found throughout the Caribbean, some more spicy than others. The seasoning can be a dry rub or wet marinade and is used on fish, meat, pork, shrimp and more.
Here’s one of our best-selling dishes using jerk seasoning:
Jerk Red Snapper with Stewed Red Beans and Sautéed Plantain
One 8 oz. red snapper fillet
1 oz. Jerk seasoning
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 oz. canned red beans
3 oz. sliced plantains
2 oz. sliced onion
1 oz. garlic
1 oz. pimentos
2 oz. chadon beni oil (or cilantro oil)
2 oz. tamarind sauce
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
Preheat the grill to medium high. Combine the oil and the jerk seasoning and rub on both sides of the fish. Once the grill is ready, place the fish directly on the grate and cook through (about 3 – 4 minutes on each side).
For the garnish, heat oil over medium heat, then cook the onions for a few minutes, adding beans, plantain, and salt. Add water and simmer until plantains are cooked through. Arrange the plate with the red beans and plantain in the middle and top with the fish. Finally, drizzle the chadon beni oil and the tamarind around the fish.
This monthly column is submitted by the Hyatt Regency Trinidad’s executive chef Fernando Franco and his team, who are members of the 2016 ‘Caribbean National Team of the Year’ at Taste of the Caribbean in Miami.