Even after years of passing these display tables of large open fillets of dried fish, I still do a double-take every time I see them at local markets. Especially with names like "Gaspe" or "Hake," fishes I know nothing about as opposed to most fish, which I know NEXT to nothing about. I understand the basic process involved - drying meat by salt is an ancient way to preserve it. The freezer makes the point moot for most modern cooking, but still dried saltfish is prized for its unique, um, salty, properties. (Hake is apparently a less expensive cod. I haven't a clue about gaspe...please do fill us in y'all.) Of course you have to soak the fish to regain its moisture (usually overnight), but enough of the salt typically remains to give it a very unique flavor. From the extraordinary human achievement known as the Wikipedia:
Ackee and saltfish is a traditional Jamaican dish, internationally known as Jamaica's national dish. It spread to other countries with the Jamaican diaspora.
The ackee fruit was imported to Jamaica from West Africa (probably on a slave ship) before 1778. It is also known as Blighia sapida. The scientific name honours Captain William Bligh who took the fruit from Jamaica to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England in 1793 and introduced it to science. Because parts of the fruit are toxic, there are shipping restrictions when being imported.
To prepare the dish, salt cod (packet salt fish may need to be boiled down and should be free of 'pink' mould) is sautéed with boiled ackee, onions, Scotch Bonnet peppers (optional), tomatoes, and spices, such as black pepper and pimiento. It can be garnished with crisp bacon and fresh tomatoes, and is usually served as breakfast or dinner alongside breadfruit, hard dough bread, dumplings, fried plantain, or boiled green bananas.
In the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, "ackee and saltfish" is eaten widely, although canned ackee is more often used than fresh in some foreign countries. However, people from countries where the fruit is indigenous prefer to eat fresh ackee from the pod as opposed to ackee from a tin. Fresh ackee, if prepared improperly, can be dangerous.
This dish is usually eaten on Sundays in Jamaica, but it can be eaten on any day of the week.
The phrase "with provision" used to trip me up (you see it in many shops around here) but don't let it fool you. It's yams, my friend. The provisions of the earth. Sweet, delicious yammy yams. If you live here and don't try Ackee and Saltfish at least once, and you don't have a note from Planet Vegan, we may have to revoke your Caledonian visa. Happy eating, and remember FRESH ackee fruit, when prepared improperly, can be dangerous!