Thursday, April 5, 2012

Recipes from Bermuda

For the past 60 years or so, people have been saying that airplanes and ships will sometimes mysteriously vanish into the so-called "Bermuda Triangle." I'm pretty sure that's where most of Bermuda's good recipes have gone, too.

OK so it's really just a matter of personal opinion. I did find recipes. A few. And none of them really sounded all that good to me, so I wound up settling.

I'm still a bit surprised by my general lack of good luck in Bermuda, because these touristy-type island nations are usually as rich in culinary tradition as they are in beaches and sunny weather. Of course Bermuda isn't really in the same category as the other island nations I've covered--though it is an associate member of the Caribbean Community it is actually located far to the north and is in fact significantly closer to Martha's Vineyard than it is to The Bahamas.

Sorry, this map is the best Wikipedia could do.

Bermuda was uninhabited for more than 100 years after it was first discovered (in 1505 by Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez), and it wasn't until a ship wrecked there in that anyone actually thought about settling it. That's not because Bermuda isn't a beautiful place to live but because for a century it was known as "The Isle of Devils," which is a nickname people took literally. The name was derived from stories of the spirits and devils that lived there, which turned out to just be foraging wild hogs and a nocturnal seabird now called the "Bermuda Petrel," both of which like to make eerie noises late at night.

There are 181 islands in the territory of Bermuda (which is just that, a territory of the United Kingdom rather than an independent nation). It is roughly 20 square miles in total landmass with a total population of about 64,000 people, none of whom particularly seem to enjoy sharing recipes online. Despite Bermuda's reputation as a tropical vacation destination, tourism is in fact only its second biggest industry, with the first being offshore finance. This is because Bermuda has very low taxation on personal and corporate income, which makes it a great place for entrepreneurs who want to export financial services such as insurance, reinsurance and investment funds.

So maybe Bermudans really just aren't that into food, or are just too busy to bother with blogging and recipe sharing. I did find one half-hearted attempt at a Bermudan food blog (which only contained a handful of recipes), some chef recipes, which I don't usually like to use because they tend to be not very traditional, and a few scattered recipes on sites like (which was sadly short on main courses) and

Looks yummy doesn't it? :-/

So here's what I settled on:

Fish Chowder (which actually came from Suite 101 writer Heather Zorzini, who promises it as an authentic Bermudan recipe). Here are the ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 green peppers, chopped
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 1/2 lbs red snapper fillets
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves or 6 whole cloves
  • 1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 10-oz can beef consomme
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 tbsp Worchestershire Sauce
  • 2 lbs potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 6 ribs celery, diced
  • 6 carrots, diced
  • 2 tbsp Outerbridge's Original Sherry Peppers Sauce
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 8 lemon wedges
  • chopped parsley for garnish
  • freshly ground pepper

Ingredient note: "Sherry Peppers Sauce" is popular in Bermuda and I gather is kind of important to the authenticity of this recipe. I got mine from The Great American Spice Company.

My next recipe came from that one sparsely populated Bermudan cooking blog (Bermuda Traditional Recipes):

Cod Fish Cakes

  • 1 lb cod fish
  • 3 cups mashed potato
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp seasoning salt
  • ¼ tsp thyme leaves
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 small onion, chopped or grated
  • Cooking oil
  • Flour

And for dessert (from

Sweet Potato Casserole
  • 3 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (if needed)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

So let's start with the fish chowder, and let it be known this important fact:

I hate carrots and celery.

OK that's not strictly true, I like raw carrots and celery (with dip and in salads) and Martin makes these candied baby carrots that are pretty ridiculously good. I can tolerate grated or pureed carrots in a recipe as long as they aren't overwhelming but as a general rule I do not tend to like recipes that contain cooked carrots and celery. And this recipe has a lot of them. But because I like my Travel by Stove recipes to be authentic, I chose the route of the martyr and decided to leave them in.

Do I chop it fine, thus making it less noticeable, or do I leave it in chunks,
thus making it easier to pick out? Dilemmas, dilemmas.

Now, I know my dislike of carrots and celery isn't normal because it seems like about 90% of all beef stew recipes contain them, as do a billion or so other recipes. It seems like I'm always cutting carrots and celery out of something I'm cooking, so I guess my inability to enjoy them is quirky. Though Martin does share this preference, so I guess we're a quirky pair.

So with that confession out of the way, here's how you make fish chowder ala Bermuda.

First make the stock. To do this, chop up the onions and celery and squish the garlic.

Too bad these weren't the only vegetables in this chowder ...

Melt the butter and cook the onions, garlic and green pepper in it until soft. Then add the water and the fish filets. Add the bay leaves and thyme, then put the peppercorns and whole cloves (if that's what you're using) into a tea ball and drop into the stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes.

This actually looks like it's going to be pretty good ... sigh ...

Now add the tomatoes, the beef consomme, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Stir until well incorporated, then add the potatoes and those awful (or lovely, depending on your perspective) carrots and celery. Lastly, add the rum and Sherry Peppers sauce and bring back to a boil.

Hmm, looking a bit less good now.

Reduce heat and partially cover the pot. Simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

When the chowder is done, remove the tea ball and bay leaves, garnish with the parsley and top each serving with ground black pepper. Serve with lemon wedges, extra rum and Sherry Peppers sauce on the side.

Now on to the fish cakes, which can be served as an appetizer (as I did) or as a side, though I don't actually know how the Bermudans tend to like them. The blog where I got the recipe had them served with hot cross buns, which seemed a bit odd to me, so I just did them ala-carte.

First cook the fish. I steamed mine in a foil packet with a little bit of water (325 degrees for 20 minutes). When it's done cooking, flake it with a fork.

If you've never cooked fish in foil, just fold it over and roll the folds tightly to keep steam from escaping.

Mix the fish with the mashed potatoes. Beat the egg in a large bowl, then add it to the potato mixture.

Mix well, then season with the salt, pepper, thyme, parsley and onion (I grated mine, but I also patted out the excess moisture with a paper towel because the mixture was already pretty wet). Dust a large plate with flour, then shape the mixture into patties and arrange on the plate. Dust the tops with a little more flour.

Ready to fry.

Heat a generous amount of oil in a skillet and add the fish cakes. Fry on both sides until golden brown.

Fry until golden brown on both sides.

Now for the dessert. I'll admit I've never eaten a dessert made with sweet potatoes, because that sounds about as yummy as a dessert made out of squash (no I don't like pumpkin pie either). But hey, I was already venturing into the land of Stuff I Don't Like, so I decided to forge ahead.

First mix the mashed sweet potatoes with the sugar, coconut, raisins, eggs and vanilla.

This will become the base of the casserole.

If it seems too thick (compared to what, I don't know), add the cream. Mine didn't really seem too thick so it didn't get any cream. Now spoon the mixture into a well-greased casserole dish.

Combine the brown sugar with the pecans, flour and butter. Spread over the top of the sweet potatoes and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes (it's ready when the topping is golden brown).

Oven-ready sweet potato casserole.

I know you're dying to hear the verdict, so here it is:

The fish cakes were good but I did feel like they needed something a little extra, like a sauce (or maybe some hot cross buns). As I said earlier, I served them as an appetizer but in retrospect I think they would have been better as a side (to something other than fish chowder).

So you can probably guess based on all the above bitching how much I liked the fish chowder, which was not at all. It wasn't like I could even pick out the carrots and celery because there were so many of them, and they actually overwhelmed the flavor of the fish, which at the end of the cooking process had disintegrated to the point where you could barely tell it was even there. I didn't even finish mine. You might as well have just called it a "carrot chowder," because that's what it seemed like.

As for the sweet potato casserole, I thought it was the best part of the meal. Though I confess, I liked the topping a lot more than I liked the filling (it was just like a pecan pie). When we eat the leftovers I'll probably add some vanilla ice cream. As for the chowder leftovers, they went (tragically) down the garbage disposal. Don't let this put you off, though, Martin thought it was a good flavor overall and someone who enjoys carrots and celery would probably have a better opinion of it than I did.

Next week: Bhutan

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


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