Location: The Caribbean
Geography: Islands comprising Guadeloupe, Martinique, north St Martin, and St Barthélemy
Signature flavours: Seafood, chicken, pork, rice, root vegetables, tropical fruits, chili pepper, lime, coconut, rum
I set off on my assignment by heading to our cookbook shelf. There, I was dismayed to find not a single recipe hailing from the French Caribbean region. I had no results online either, until I switched my research into French. I landed on a fantastic food blog called Je Cuisine Créole, and ended up getting all my recipes from there.
Shrimp Court-Bouillon: A spicy soup made from tomatoes, onions, chilis, lemongrass, and coconut milk, loaded with juicy shrimp. It is coloured with annato oil — made from a soft reddish seed that lends dishes a deep orange-red colour and a mild earthy flavour.
Prep and cooking time: 30 min
Grilled Fish with Dog Sauce: Whole snapper grilled to perfection and served with sauce chien. “Dog sauce” is named for the ubiquitous kitchen knife of French Caribbean kitchens. It’s a mix of fresh ingredients (parsley, thyme, chives, garlic, onion, chilli) in hot water and oil commonly served over meats and seafood. I served this dish over basmati rice spiced with Sazón Goya — a prepackaged seasoning mixture containing garlic, cumin, coriander, and annato.
Prep and cooking time: 25 min plus marinating time
Chicken Colombo: Considered the national dish of the French West Indies, this dish originates with Sri Lankan culinary traditions. Chicken is marinated in lime, garlic, Colombo powder (toasted rice, turmeric, cumin, coriander, pepper, clove), and hot peppers, and then stewed with potato and onions.
Prep and cooking time: 45 min
Bananes Flambées: Bananas pan fried in butter, cane sugar, vanilla, and fresh orange juice, then doused with rum and flambéed.
Prep and cooking time: 10 min
Le Planteur Cocktail: Fruit juices (guava, pineapple, and orange) with white rum, lime zest, and cinnamon-spiced sugar cane syrup. It is prepared at least a day ahead of drinking — or up to four — to let the flavours mingle.
Prep and cooking time: 24 hours
The Shopping List
The top-notch seafood I used for this assignment came from Finiti Seafood Depot in the small town of Shelburne, Ontario. (Shelburne is an unassuming rural crossroads town that has recently exploded with great restaurants, grocery stores, bubble tea shops, and its own cricket league.) Finiti also provided the cane sugar I needed for the bananes flambées. I found annato seed at Shelburne’s African Caribbean Grocery. The vegan chicken drumsticks came from the inimitible King’s Cafe in Toronto. My other ingredients were found at my local supermarket.
I made the planteur cocktails the night before to give the flavours a chance to develop, and the day of, I got stared early, marinating various ingredients. The marinade was the same for snapper, shrimp, and chicken: garlic, lime juice, and chili pepper. I also made the dog sauce to give the garlic a chance to infuse the water-and oil-base. The annato oil — to be used in the court-bouillon — was easier to make than I expected. I just simmered the dark red seeds in grapeseed oil for five minutes, and the light yellow oil turned deep orange.
I was surprised to find myself with a long interlude in the hours leading up to the meal, since most everything on my menu was quite quick to cook (by Wooden Spoon Wanderer standards, where dishes can take hours upon hours). I got started in the kitchen again around 5:00pm for a 6:30 meal, throwing on the chicken Colombo to stew, the court-bouillon to simmer, and finally the snapper to grill. The bananes flambées were so fast to make that I prepared them on the spot after the dinner so they were still warm.
Every single dish was incredible. We started with the court-bouillon, which had a pleasant heat countered by the rich coconut oil. The chicken Colombo was bursting with flavour, so much so that our kitchen still smells of Colombo powder, and was a delicious homage to its Sri Lankan roots. The snapper was tender and juicy, leant an acidic punch by the delicious dog sauce.
We loved the cocktail, which was tropical, refreshing, and very sweet. The bananes flambées were perhaps my favourite dish of the evening. My first foray into flambé was a success — the bananas were soft, warm, perfectly caramelized, and had just a hint of rum to them.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.