Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Tale of Whale



I have the dubious distinction of being the great-granddaughter of a whaler. Dubious because it is now politically incorrect to even talk about killing whales. Yet at one time there were about ten commercial whaling stations operating in the Caribbean, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in Barbados, Trinidad and Grenada. Today under international agreement, Bequian whalers can harpoon no more than two whales per year. The whale is caught by traditional methods of hand thrown harpoons in small, open, sailing boats. The catch is not sold and is exclusively used for local consumption. It is given away to family and friends.


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How does something like this end up on my breakfast table? Simple. The men in my family are seafarers. I would hesitate to call them romantic but for some reason they romaticize a meal of whale meat.

These are taciturn men. Men who can spend all day looking out across the bay with a pair of binoculars without saying a word or it would seem even moving an inch. They are men of slow grunts and uhhms for conversation. The ship captains among them have permanent squints from staring for hours on end at vast empty horizons. Apart from an almost a voyeuristic love of listening to VHF channel 16 and its call and distress conversations - silence and monotony are their thing. That is unless there is whale meat on the table. Then they come to life. They become animated. They trade stories about their adventures at sea. To hear them, you'd swear that they battled the beast themselves. And while they don't actually beat their chests and say 'Arrrgh', as cousin A put it, "The way they carry on it's like, hoist the flag fellas we gah(got) whale!" You'd swear they sat in that boat themselves like the late, Athneal Ollivierre risking life and limb to bring it to the table.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What Luck Polluck Salad and a Lesson in Dialect


Have you had your salad today? Salads are my Achilles heel. I confess that many times after I have rushed about a hot kitchen, fussing with 'le plat principal' I am lazy about salad. Too often I am content to cut up tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers on my plate and call it a day. Is it any wonder then, that I get to the point where I actually crave a salad?

I usually don't bother with recipes for salads preferring instead to use what is seasonal and to go with a formula of fruits, vegetables, beans or peas, sometimes nuts. If the salad is going to be eaten as a meal on it's own then I'll toss in cheese, eggs or meat.

These days it's all about avocado. An American friend once told me that she hated avocado. I could not understand why until I had the displeasure of eating one in the States. At first I did not even recognize it and I had to ask several times to be sure it was an avocado. The thing was so black and quail-up, quail-up, like an over-large prune. The repetition there is not a typo but dialect to express the idea that it was very shriveled and small. The skin was bumpy-bumpy. The pear itself was flavourless and watery-watery. No, I don't stammer or have Tourette's. Repeating a word denotes the sense of 'very' in local dialect and best conveys just how very awful this aberration of an avocado looked and tasted!

In the Caribbean we are truly blessed with tasty avocados. My favourite is a West Indian variety called Pollock. The leathery skin peels off easily. It has a firm texture with none of the annoying little fibers of the maroon-skinned variety. The deep, yellow colour doesn't discolour as quickly. It has a firm, yet smooth and creamy texture with an almost buttery taste.

Luckily I have 2 friends with Pollock trees, so there are always at least 3 sitting on my kitchen counter on any given day during the avocado season. You'd think with such an abundance that I'd be tired of avocados by now. No such luck. In this house a Pollock is coveted almost as much as a Julie mango and slices are rationed and measured; arguments abound about who has been sneaking pieces.

As you can see from the picture, I had some ingredients (olives, croutons and some blue cheese) left over from another salad. I did not want them to go to waste so I threw them in, turning this into those 'evil' high fat restaurant salads. You know the ones that you sanctimoniously order at the restaurant with friends because you are dieting. You feel so proud of yourself for your healthy choice. Ha! Luscious lobster in garlic butter sauce you are no match for my willpower! Look away Venezuelan fried pork thingy that looks so interesting! Does it taste like garlic pork you wonder? Never mind I am having the salad. Of course these salads fool you into thinking they are healthy but by the time you add up the fats, you might as well have ordered the steak.

Here is the basic recipe with my kitchen-dump extras left off.

* 1 lb boneless chicken strips (you can use chicken breasts but I prefer the more succulent meat of the legs and thighs.)
* 2 teaspoons hot and spicy Jamaican jerk spice (2 tsp is the amount recommended but I put 2 to 3 tbsp. It's to your taste.)
* 1/4 cup cooking butter
* 6 cups torn lettuce
* 8 cherry tomatoes (halved or quartered)
* 1/2 medium avocado, pitted peeled and coarsely chopped

Lime Vinaigrettte

* 1/4 tablespoon canola oil
* 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (or regular vinegar if that's all you have on hand)
* 3 tablespoons lime juice
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh culantro (or substitute 2 tablespoons cilantro)
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 dash fresh coarse ground black pepper


The chicken can be done the day before. Rub legs and thighs with butter and jerk seasonings. Marinate for 1/2 hr or overnight. Grill or roast in 375°F oven for 45 mins to an hour or until chicken is no longer pink when pierced with a fork. Baste chicken with butter throughout cooking process.

In a screw top jar, combine 1/4 cup oil, lime juice, culantro (or sub cilantro, vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and dash black pepper. Cover and shake well to make the dressing.

Put lettuce on 4 salad plates. Top with chicken, tomatoes, and avocado. Drizzle with dressing.