Although my global geography has improved exponentially since volunteering at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, I confess that up until a couple of weeks ago my knowledge of Aruba was limited to it being where Rachel was supposed to go with Barry, the Evil Orthodontist, on honeymoon had she not run out on him in the pilot episode of Friends. Not that my Games knowledge would have helped me much here anyway: Aruba was, and I believe still is, part of the Netherlands – whose influences you will still find in its national cuisine today.
I’d like to think I received a fantastic food parcel and Caribbean recipe book directly from Aruba itself, but since they don’t have Royal Mail over there I reckon it’s quite unlikely. What they are offering just now is the chance to visit the island for yourself to coincide with Eat Local Week in October – you can head over to Facebook just now and fill in your details for the chance to win.
Stringer loves it when I’m set these food challenges, particularly when it involves really tasty, flavourful stuff like Caribbean/Creole-influenced cuisine. The good news is that we’ve now got a pretty in-depth recipe book to work through, packed with tips and tricks from the pros (and not a little snark directed at celebrity chefs who claim to be demonstrating Caribbean cooking)…
…the bad news is proper Caribbean cuisine takes time. Lots of marinading, lots of patience – and the use of a heavy-bottomed cast iron Dutch cooking pot, which as Twitter has told me multiple times you don’t get to put in the dishwasher afterwards.
Despite the huge variety of dishes the book gave me to choose from, I ended up picking the first two: jerk chicken, with the Caribbean classic side of rice and peas. I got the chance to try both dishes when Glasgow’s Caribbean-inspired restaurant Sugar Dumplin‘ opened a couple of years ago and the latter in particular impressed – plus, knowing I had some pre-made jerk seasoning in my hamper didn’t hurt either…
The chicken drumsticks and thighs went down a treat (I’m trying not to think about how much better they would have tasted if I had had a barbecue or proper grill to char them on a little) but the rice and peas was a different story. Rice is something I’ve perfected over the years, given my over-sensitivity to over-cooking – so rice left to soak in coconut milk and tinned kidney bean water while I worked the grill was a recipe for disaster. I could taste the flavours I love so much in there – but I’d clearly left it too long and too wet. The difference between myself and a proper cook is that the latter knows instinctively where to add something, and how to tweak – I, on the other hand, have to stick to tried and trusted methods or follow a recipe with precision so that I don’t end up having to order a takeaway later.
Still, with plenty of recipes to practice on over the next few months I should be a master by the time I win that holiday to Aruba – right?
Are you a fan of Caribbean cuisine?
I received some treats from Aruba to help me with this post, but all opinions – and cooking failures – are my own.