Thursday, August 16, 2012

Recipes from the Cayman Islands

It will probably surprise you to hear that I'm actually glad to be back in the Caribbean this week. Yes, I got inundated with Caribbean meals early on in my Travel by Stove career, just by sheer bad luck of the alphabet (there are a lot of Caribbean nations that begin with the letters "A" or "B"). But for the last few weeks another world region has been dominating my kitchen, and I'm glad to have a short break from sub-Saharan Africa (and by short I mean I'll be going back there next week).

This week though, our meal comes from the Cayman Islands, a British overseas territory located northwest of Jamaica and south of Cuba. The Cayman Islands were named by none other than Sir Francis Drake, who gave them the name "Cayman" after the Neo-Taino word for "alligator." Which is odd, really, because there aren't any alligators on the Cayman Islands (the name was probably used incorrectly to describe the islands' large species of iguana).

The Cayman Islands get coolness points for being a historical settlement site for various interesting characters, including refugees from the Spanish Inquisition (Noooobody expects … sorry), castaways, British army deserters and, yes, pirates (which is good for double coolness points). Today the Caymans are known for their typical Caribbean beauty as well as their status as a tax-exempt travel destination, and you know, who doesn't love a nice tax-free holiday? Caymanian cuisine consists of the usual variety of Caribbean fare, including johnny cakes (remember those from the Bahamas? mmmmm), plantains and cassava. Caymanians also eat turtle meat as well as goat, conch, and of course a pretty broad variety of fish.

Now as is often the case with smaller countries, it took some research to find the three recipes I chose this week. And by that I mean I asked a blogger who lives in the Caymans to recommend some recipes. So really, I'm almost embarrassed to say it was hardly any work at all.

So I want to first thank the blogger who provided this list of recipes: her name is Parsley Sage and she blogs at Her blog has a ton of recipes that sound really tasty, and now that I'm going back there again I kind of want to try the Pineapple Mini Pies. Dang.

Anyway, here's the three recipes she suggested, which I did ultimately end up making:

Cayman Style Fish

  • 1 lb fish fillets, of about 3/4 to 1 inch thickness (mahi mahi, snapper or grouper)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 1/2 cup sliced green or red bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup diced tomato
  • 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp ketchup*
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
* Parsley's version calls for Thai garlic pepper sauce, but I used the original-version ketchup because as you know I like my recipes to be as close to original as possible.

On the side:

Breadfruit Salad

  • 1 full/fit breadfruit, diced (I used two cans)
  • 3 strips of cooked bacon, diced
  • 3 green onions, diced
  • 1/2 orange bell pepper
  • 3 hard boiled eggs, roughly chopped
  • 1 habanero pepper, seeded & diced
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 can sweet green peas
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp season all
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
Now I just happened to have canned breadfruit burning a hole in my pantry shelves, which I picked up at Red Star International in Sacramento because I was pretty sure I'd seen it used in a number of different Caribbean recipes. You can't get fresh breadfruit in our area (at least not that I've seen).

And for dessert:

Cassava Heavy Cake

  • 2 14 oz cans coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 cup light brown sugar
  • 6 cup grated cassava (yucca)
I'm almost embarrassed to admit, I actually also purchased a bag of frozen grated cassava from Red Star specifically for this recipe, which I did not end up using because it was only last week that I discovered that they sell cassava at our local Safeway. So this time I opted for fresh, and that bag of grated cassava is still sitting in my freezer.

The first thing I did was make the cake, because it does have to cool before serving, so it can be made ahead. Here's how it's done:

Put all the ingredients except the cassava into a large pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the mixture starts to separate. At this point there should be foam forming on the surface—skim the foam off the top of the mixture and save it (you'll be using it later).

Now add the cassava. Here's where I fell into that whole grating-vs.-shredding trap, which is actually what happened when I tried to make babka back in Belarus. You are probably not as dense as I am, but just in case you are let me just clear up that whole question: Grating is not the thing you do with the large holes on your cheese grater. That's shredding, not grating. Yes, I know, duh.

Anway I started off by shredding my cassava and then realized when I added it to the pot that it didn't look right, so I put the whole thing in a blender. That seemed to do the trick. But you can avoid this step by not being stupid and grating your cassava instead of shredding it.

So once you've got your cassava mixed with the rest of your ingredients, pour it into an 8 x 15 inch greased baking pan. Bake at 350 or until the cake is no longer jiggly in the center, which should take about 20 minutes in a normal oven but takes about three times that long in mine.

Using a pastry brush, spread about half of the foam you reserved from that earlier step over the top of the cake. Now return it to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes, then remove and repeat. When the top is brown and the edges of the cake start to pull away from the pan, it's ready.

At this point Parsley warns not to put the cake in the fridge, because refrigeration will ruin the texture. So let it sit out for a day without covering (to prevent sweating), then you can keep it at room temperature for about five days.

Now for the salad, another good make-ahead dish:

First bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, peel your breadfruit, remove the core and cut into one-inch cubes. Boil the breadfruit for 15 minutes or until tender. Now drain the breadfruit and let it cool. (Note if you are using canned breadfruit, you can skip this step because the fruit is already soft. Just cut it into one-inch pieces and add to your mixing bowl).

This is canned breadfruit.

Grind the onions and peppers in a food processor. Combine the ground pepper/onion mixture with the sour cream, vinegar, sweet peas, boiled eggs and habanero. Season with salt and pepper and Season All (I just used a seasoned salt).

Add the breadfruit and bacon and toss until well coated.

Finally, the main course:

Mix 1 tbsp of the lime juice with the water and add the fish filets and salt and pepper. Let marinade for 15 minutes, then remove and pat dry.

Heat 2 tbsp of the butter over moderately high heat until it foams and then subsides a little. Add the fish and cook 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside.

Add butter to the pan if needed and cook the onion and bell pepper until soft. Now add the tomato, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and the rest of the lime juice. Simmer for 2 minutes or so, or until the flavors have blended.

Pour the sauce over the fish and serve.

Now as you know, I don't give my kids fish because I don't like to put it down the garbage disposal. So this was a meal for just me and Martin.

The fish was really, really good. Like tasty enough for Martin to go back for seconds, which is really saying something because he is usually kind of blah about fish. I do think the recipe would have been equally as good with the Thai pepper sauce but it certainly didn't suffer because of the ketchup, in fact, the ketchup gave the sauce a rich flavor without being overwhelmingly ketchupy.

Now the breadfruit salad, well, not being familiar with breadfruit I found it a little strange. I can't think of anything else to compare the breadfruit to except a potato. The texture was very similar to a potato and the flavor was not at all sweet, which is what you would expect from something called a "fruit."

My other problem with the recipe was, of course, the peas. I don't like peas, which makes me either a Freak of Nature or a six year old child. And the recipe called for a lot of peas. I did enjoy the spiciness of the habanero, though, and I actually think I might add one to my potato salad next time I make it.

The cassava cake was really good, and went down well with a scoop of ice-cream. I really liked all the cinnamon and nutmeg in it, though Martin thought it could use less of the latter. Which is something I've heard him say about basic apple pie, too. It did have an odd texture that was closer to a pumpkin pie (though a lot firmer) than an American-style cake, but that didn't put off anyone in my family—my kids ate it as leftovers the next day and finished off the whole cake.

Next week: Central African Republic

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


  1. Everything turned out brilliantly! Sorry you were kind of 'eh' on the breadfruit salad. I bet it loses something by using the canned version. Because its really light and delicious when its fresh. Well done on that cake! That's no easy feat :)

  2. I'm sure the canned breadfruit had a lot to do with it ... but for me I think it was the peas that made me kind of 'eh'. I'm such a child about peas, I even pick them out of the basmati rice I get at Indian restaurants. I know this is not normal behavior for an adult, but still ... peas ... ugh.

    The fish was fabulous though. Any time I can get my husband to eat fish, I'm thrilled because I adore seafood and he'd probably not even notice if I never served it again. So that one I'll definitely make again. Thanks again for the suggestions!

  3. Nice job on the cassava cake and everything else. Your timing of approx. 1 1/2 hrs is correct, not the initial time of 20mins, for the size pan that you were using. Cassava cakes are supposed to be baked long and slow to get the right consistency.

    I know Parsley Sage does her take on traditional Caymanian recipes (which she does a good job at, btw), but back in the day when we made breadfruit salad, there was no such thing as sour cream - we used straight up mayonnaise. I know everyone's watching calories nowadays and sour cream is lower in fat than regular mayo but in order to get that authentic taste, sometimes you have to use the original ingredients.

  4. Ah! Thanks, I didn't know that. Sometimes it's really hard to know what recipes are authentic and which ones have been tinkered with, especially with countries that have few online resources. Thanks for posting!

  5. No problem. I love your travel by stove concept :-) If you need any more recipes from the Cayman Islands, I'm happy to lend a hand - I was born there and lived there all my life (still do!). And also if you need recipes from Nicaragua (my mom's Nicaraguan).


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