My idea of comfort food is any meal that takes me back to a time or place where I was in total bliss. Words alone could never tell how happy it was for us as kids growing up on the islands, but there are several meals that takes me right back to those days. I still recall days when my dad would bring home ground provisions from the garden and my mom would cook up a batch of smoke herring to top a plate full of yam, dasheen and green bananas. Back then I wouldn’t eat the actual pieces of smoked herrings, but the oil was drizzled all over my plate of provision.
Our girls hate the smell of smoke herrings, so with having the house all to myself today I thought I’d take advantage of this opportunity and fire up the stove to prepare some comfort food from my youth. Little did they know I had this day planned from a few days ago when I first learned that I would be home alone. I had already source some yam and smoke herring fillets.
NOTE: I’m using the herring fillets since it’s a lot less work, but I’m almost positive that you won’t get fillets if you live in the Caribbean. You can check out a pic I took at the San Fernando public market back in October of a huge pile of smoked herrings as it’s sold in the Caribbean.
1/2 lb smoked herring fillets
1 medium onion
1 hot pepper (your choice – I use habanero, including seeds)
dash of black pepper
6-8 tablespoons olive oil
– 1/ 2 bell pepper diced
– 1 scallion sliced thin
– 1/4 red onion sliced thin.
– 1 pimento pepper sliced thin
* If you’re using a very hot pepper like habanero or scotch bonnet and don’t want the “flaming” heat, don’t include the seeds or the membrane that surrounds the seeds.
Start by putting the fillets into a fairly deep bowl and cover with boiling water. This will help remove some of the salt and make the fish tender enough to shred. TIP: Smoke herrings will give your hands a very strong smell which will remain long after… even after you wash with soap. If you can get a pair of disposable gloves I ‘d suggest you use it when handing the fish.
If I was making this during the warmer months I would boil it in a pot with water for a few minutes on the side burner of my grill outside. But if I were to do that during the winter months indoor, the smell would be too much for even me to handle. So I did the next best thing and poured the hot water directly over it and allow it to soak from about 15 minutes.
While the smoke herring fillets soak in the hot (make sure it’s boiling and not just hot water from your tap) water, I prepare the onion, pepper and tomato. Basically all you’re doing is slicing the pepper and onion very thin and dice the tomato into small pieces. If you’re using the optional ingredients, all you have to do is slice/dice the same as you did with the onions etc.
Drain out the water from the bowl and rinse the fillets with a fresh batch of cool water. Squeeze dry and start breaking/shredding the fillets into small pieces. You may notice some tiny bones.. try to remove as much as you can. But don’t worry they won’t cause any real harm as they are very soft.
Let’s now assemble everything…
Empty all the onions, pepper and tomato into the bowl with the shredded herring and add a couple dashes of black pepper. Then give it a good mix. The final step is to heat the olive oil in a pan over high heat and as soon as you start seeing smoke, pour it over everything. This will help cook the onion and allow all the flavours to marry. Mix well and serve.
Here’s my complete dish of boil yam topped with the smoked herrings…
The only thing I hate about comfort food is the “ritis” it gives at the end. I could so easily fall asleep now. Do you have a different way of preparing smoked herrings or a alternate way of making this recipe? I’d love for you to leave your comments below.