Green Figs & Saltfish

LIVE from St. Lucia…
(not really….posting this via dodgy internet access in Santa Marta, Columbia)

I’m sure most of you cruisers live by the adage “When in Rome….”. Yes, buy local food, stick with the local recipes, and live the culture of your surroundings. With this dish, we assimilated into the local St. Lucian lifestyle for the few short days we were there, provisioning for the World ARC 2018.

We were blessed with fantastic markets to buy all the ingredients I needed to prepare St. Lucia’s national dish, Green Figs and Saltfish. My Captain was a bit reluctant to have potentially smelly salt fish on board, (along with those unlucky bananas!) and who can blame him. But being a good sport he went along and, lo and behold, even ate some!

“Green figs” are not the figs we northerners picture. The green figs of St. Lucia are simply green bananas. They need to be boiled to peel, then reboiled to cook. The process takes some time and they surprisingly taste more like potatoes or yucca than the sweet bananas we are accustomed to.

Green Figs & Salt Fish

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1 lb salt fish
8 green bananas
1/4 cup fresh coconut oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet bell pepper, chopped
4-8 cayenne peppers, minced and/or slit and seeded
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
8 scallions, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

This was my first time preparing salt fish. Having married into a family of Newfoundlanders I had witnessed the process of soaking and rinsing and soaking and rinsing, but now I was about to subject my gracious hosts…captain and first mate…to a meal that could smell, well…somewhat displeasing.

Rinse the salt fish to remove excess surface salt. Place the salt fish in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. Drain water; refill the pot with fresh water and repeat boiling process for another 15 minutes. Being on a boat you tend to be conservative with the water, ending up with slightly more salty than desirable fish. No need to add any more salt to the final dish.

Drain and set salt fish aside until cool enough to handle. Clean salt fish by removing all skin, scales and bones. Flake the cleaned salt fish and set aside.

While the fish is cooling prepare the bananas. Cut the ends off the bananas and make a lengthwise slit from top to bottom of each banana, cutting through the skin to the meat of the banana. Place the bananas in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. To preserve precious tank water, remove the bananas with tongs and place on a platter to cool. Keep the pot of water as you will be returning the bananas to the pot of water for a second boil.

Once cool, peel the bananas, slice into large diagonal thirds and place back into the pot of water. Again, bring the water to a boil and let simmer for another 15 minutes. Turn off the burner but keep the bananas in the hot water until ready to serve.

Chop the bell peppers and onion; mince the garlic. Mince 2-3 of the cayenne peppers. Cut long slits down the remaining cayenne peppers, keeping whole but removing as many seeds as possible…without touching the cayennes with your hands. This just requires a couple knifes and a little dexterity. The heat of peppers is in the inside with the seeds and pulp. Removing as much of that as you can reduces the hot burn of the pepper. (And leaving them whole makes it easy for the chef and the diner to remove them.)

I learned from my local cab driver that the key to great Green Figs and Salt Fish is the coconut oil. Be sure to use as fresh and natural a coconut oil as you can obtain.

Put coconut oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onions, bellpeppers, minced garlic and both the minced and whole cayenne peppers and sauté until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Add the flaked salt fish and thyme; continue to sauté for an additional 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove the cooked green bananas from the warm water with tongs and place 3-5 pieces on each plate. Spoon the vegetable mixture on top. Garnish with an ample amount of scallions (which we could not find in the local market) and serve with cucumbers or local fruit. Today we had some delicious persimmons that complimented the salt fish well. We also found some fresh grated coconut to top the fruit.

And don’t forget the Piton beer for the whole St Lucian experience!

3 thoughts on “Green Figs & Saltfish

  1. What a delicious twist on the noble cod. Well…the one I was raised on. It also provides telling glimpses of your many skills. Be safe. Cheers. m

  2. I’ll have to remember this for next Christmas feast of seven fishes! I buy boneless/skinless Bacala-soak for 3 days in cold water in frig changing water twice daily. Might just have to experiment with your recipe this summer:) A wheel of Parmagianno Regiano and a leg of prosciutto and we would feel like my sailing ancestors:)

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