When I cook traditional Caribbean food, I am transported back to my grandparents’ kitchen in Martinique. The fragrances of roasting chilis and burnt coconut sugar ignite fond memories of helping my grandfather shuck coconuts and fry saltfish fritters. These nostalgic aromas of my grandfather’s kitchen are pungent reminders of the legacy of the peoples and cultures that coalesced to form Caribbean cuisine – a cuisine that is a mélange of African, French, Indigenous Caribbean, and South Asian traditions. The recipes reflect a complex and rich history of cultural heritage on the island. The currents of the Caribbean sea are filled with vibrant cultures and traditions, and this medley of lifeways and foodways forms the multicultural web of Caribbean cooking. The canon of these recipes emerging from descendants of the African diaspora has therefore amalgamated into a valuable lens through which to view the exploration of Caribbean heritage and culture.
Carnival is one of the most celebrated traditions in the Caribbean because it represents the coalescence of various cultures within the islands, serving as a reminder of the strength of the Caribbean people. With the legacy of colonization, the scars that need to be healed are not only those of physical brutality, but also deeper gashes from the deprivation of traditions and the eradication of cultural memory. As such, Carnival serves as both a vessel for the celebration of the rich cultural heritage of each island, and as a place to honor the peoples and cultures decimated by colonial exploitation.
Within Carnival, food serves the crucial role of commemorating the historical context of the event and bridging these sundry cultures together. Native foods of each island are plentiful during the festivities, and the dishes emerging from each culture are both similar and uniquely their own. In the Carnival traditions across the islands, different variations of savory fritters are probably some of the most celebrated and integral dishes of the celebration. The origins of fritter can be traced back to West Africa, and were originally made from black-eyed peas. There are various types of fritters with other names: “accras” in Trinidad and Tobago, “stamp and go” in Jamaica, and “accras de morue” in the French West Indies. The accras de morue in Guadeloupe and Martinique are commonly made from salted cod. Having been brought to the Caribbean in the 16th century by European colonizers, salted fish in general is a significant part of many Caribbean cuisines. As such, fritters, or “accras de morue”, are emblematic of the various cultural influences on Caribbean islands.
Accras de Morue – Codfish Fritters
- 1/2 pound salt cod
- 1 cup parsley stems removed
- 3 scallions cut into 1″ pieces
- 1/2-1 scotch bonnet pepper (seeds and stems removed)
- 3 cups self rising flour (you can make your own by combining flour, baking powder, and salt)
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- In order to prepare the dried salt cod, it needs to be rehydrated. Place the salted codfish in a medium pot and cover with water. Let the fish soak in the water for at least 12 hours or overnight (change the water at least once). Drain the water from the fish and cover it again with fresh water. Put the pot on the stove and bring the water/codfish to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Lastly, remove from heat and set aside.
- In a food processor or blender (if you don’t have one then you can finely chop the ingredients) add the parsley, scallions, and a small scotch-bonnet pepper (or any other spicy pepper you have on hand). Process your ingredients until they are finely minced. Transfer them to a small bowl and set aside.
- Drain the water from the codfish. Use your hands to break it apart into large morsels. Transfer fish to the mini prep and pulse until the fish is finely shredded. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour and baking soda.
- Dissolve the salt in the water. Make a well in the flour and baking soda mixture. Add the water a little at a time until you have a thick batter. Stir in the vegetables and flaked cod and mix well to combine.
- Heat oil in a medium sized pot to 350-375 °F. Use a small spoon to portion out the batter. Use the back of another spoon to scrape the batter into the hot oil. Cook for a minute or two, then flip the piece and brown it on the other side. Cook for another minute or two until golden brown on the outside, but completely cooked inside. Use this tester fritter to judge the temperature of your oil and your timing.
- When you’ve got the temperature and timing right, add 5-6 spoonfuls of batter into the oil and cook until browned. Scoop up the accras and drain the oil away. Transfer the accras to a baking sheet covered in several sheets of paper towels to drain. Continue making accras until you’ve used up all the batter.