Nigel Spence: Another Reason to Love Jamaican Food

jamaican food

By Nigel Spence
CJ Contributor

The more health related remedies that show up on the market as the newest and latest innovation, is the more I realize that the standard old school Jamaican way of life before fast food joints showed up there, was way ahead of its time.

One of the latest examples of such is the sudden interest in bone broth. It is now showing up on menus of the trendiest restaurants all across New York City, touting it as the remedy to fix all your maladies.

From alleviating leaky gut syndrome, to reducing inflammation in bones and joints, and promoting glowing collagen rich skin, there is no end in sight to the rising popularity of this new phenomenon.

Except, of course, that Jamaicans have been consuming this “new” discovery for a couple of centuries and beyond. They also have a secret that has yet to be discovered by this new fad. The preparations most common in these trendy recipes get the nutrients and collagen from the bone marrow and cartilage of beef shanks and chicken bones. The more adventurous may even include chicken or pigs’ feet for higher levels of collagen.

However, in Jamaica, since we always take things to a whole other level, it is not uncommon to pull off the highway to engage in a Saturday evening roadside soup that would include all the usual suspects, but also kicked up a notch with the inclusion of the cow’s feet and the cow’s SKIN!

One sip of this turbocharged collagen explosion might be the remedy not only for all that ails you, but may even get the spouse to quiet down for the rest of the ride home as it can easily paste your mouth shut temporarily due to the incredibly high collagen content! Just consider it nature’s natural marriage counseling. No wonder us Jamaicans always look younger than our age and are still able to negotiate all those precarious reggae dance moves way into our senior years.

Here in New York City I have certainly raised the eyebrows of many a seasoned butcher when I ask for a couple pounds of cow skin. I actually do it just for effect, as I am confident that it’s only at a Jamaican butcher shop worth its salt that you will ever procure that ingredient in this town.

So for the uninitiated and adventurous who are looking to cash in on this soon to be latest trend in menus, I have just disclosed to you the NEXT BIG THING for the bone broth craze. After one cup, you may be surprised at the instant makeover you experience in the mirror along with the slew of compliments you suddenly begin receiving about that glowing skin—yours—then you can thank the next Jamaican you happen upon to let them know you are the newest member of the cow skin and foot club.

The recipe below is a simple but tasty version of the street broth I would consume regularly back in the day whenever I found myself in the town square of Montego Bay, Jamaica. It’s the perfect way to keep warm and healthy during the winter months ahead and get ahead of the bone broth buzz.

P.S. Whenever I wasn’t in the mood for soup, the vendor also had on hand another gem that may soon become the next trend in delicatessen collagen rich offerings. I would opt for the Brown Stewed Cow Mouth sandwich with lettuce and tomatoes and gravy. It is a study in deliciousness – though that may just be the foodie in me talking!

Ripe’s Cow Skin & Beef Soup

½ pound Cows’ skin, cleaned

4 pounds Cows’ feet, cleaned

2 pounds Beef shank bone & meat, cut up in bite sized chunks

2 pounds burnt Cows’ feet, cleaned (optional, for more flavor)

4 gallons Water, plus 2 gallons

2 tablespoons Coconut oil

1 cup yellow Split peas

1 cup Carrots, large dice

3 stalks Celery, rough chopped

1 whole yellow Onion, rough chopped

4 sprigs Thyme, fresh

½ Scotch bonnet pepper, fresh (optional)

1 large Sweet potato, rough chopped

2 large chef Potatoes, rough chopped

3 pounds Jamaican pumpkin, peeled and rough chopped

4 tablespoons Salt (more or less to taste)

In a stock pot place all meat in with 2 gallons of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes to remove impurities and drain, discarding water only.

In stock pot add coconut oil, onions, celery and carrots and sauté over medium heat for approximately 4 minutes until vegetables are softened.

Add yellow split peas and all the meats except shank meat and bring to a boil. Add salt.

Boil for about one hour and fifteen minutes, then add shank meat and ALL other ingredients EXCEPT scotch bonnet pepper.

Cook for an additional 60 minutes or until all meat is soft and pumpkin well dissolved in the water with a beautiful yellow orange hue. Add scotch bonnet pepper, adjust seasoning by checking for salt and maybe adding some additional thyme leaves. Only leave the scotch bonnet pepper in long enough to get to your desired heat and flavor level, then remove and discard.

Enjoy the best bone broth your lips have ever experienced!

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 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.