I believe it’s time to clear the air a bit when it comes to callaloo in respect to Jamaican Callaloo and callaloo from the other islands which make up the Caribbean. In Trinidad and Tobago and many of the other Caribbean islands, callaloo is a lovely rich soup made from tender dasheen bush leaves (or spinach) which is flavored with coconut milk and crab (or salted meats). This callaloo soup is part of a hearty traditional Sunday lunch on the islands and like it’s cousin from Jamaica, it’s very nutritious.
Jamaican callaloo on the other hand is more the name of a plant (amaranth) which is used in making the popular Jamaican dish, by the same name. In Trinidad and Tobago, the same callaloo plant (amaranth) is known as chorai bhaji or in some cases spinach and cooked in pretty much the same way as it’s done in Jamaica. So remember when speaking to a “Trini” or “Jamaican” about callaloo, that they’re two different dishes and we’re as passionate about each.
BTW, did you know that the same callaloo plant (amaranth) is known as pig weed in North America and there are close to 60 species? Enough of the school-like lesson, lets cook..
1 bundle of Callaloo (about 2lbs)
1/2 scotch bonnet pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon thyme (couple sprigs)
1/4 lb boneless salted fish (see note below)
2 tablespoon olive oil or butter
Notes: You’ll notice that I didn’t include any salt in this recipe as the salted fish adds enough salt to the dish. However you can check near the end of cooking and adjust accordingly. When shopping for callaloo for this type of dish visit a West Indian supermarket and ask for Jamaican callaloo. I like using boneless/skinless salted fish and my choice is usually Cod or Pollock. Makes for much easier work than having to remove the tiny bones and soaking overnight. When using any hot pepper remember that the majority of the heat is in the seeds and the white membrane surrounding the seeds. Don’t include those if you’re concerned about ‘real’ heat.
* To make this dish fully vegetarian (very tasty) simply leave out the saltfish and I would personally add some crushed garlic for that extra level of flavor. Add the garlic when cooking the onion at the start. Same cooking time applies.
Let’s start by prepping the saltfish as we need to try and remove most of the salt and rehydrate the fish itself. Now I’ve been scolded in the past that I don’t soak my saltfish overnight as it’s traditionally done in the Caribbean. Here is the thing, the saltfish I use is always boneless and skinless (pretty much a fillet) and I find that it’s not as salty or dry as the variety you find in the Caribbean. So if you’re using the whole fish (type we get in the Caribbean) you can soak overnight in cool water, discard that water and boil in fresh water as you’ll see me do below. Or simply boil in two batches of water and you should be good to go.
In a deep pot I put enough water to go about 1-2 inches above the fish and I bring that to a boil. I then allow it to simmer for about 20 minutes, then I drain and rinse with cool water (squeeze dry). The next step is to shred the fish (should be soft and flaky at this point) and set aside. You can use your fingers or a fork.
Then prep the onion, tomato, hot pepper and thyme. Simply dice/chop.
Now it’s time to work with the star of the show (please see the video below to follow along). Give the callaloo a good wash under running water, then get ready to trim and cut. Remove all the leaves from the stems and get rid of any leaves that are discolored. You can now use the tender stems (they may look thick, but the majority will be tender). Using a pairing knife or potato peeler, peel the thin skin on the outside of the stems (see the video below), The idea is to remove the sort sort of waxy exterior so it cooks down to be tender.
Give the leaves and cleaned stems a good rinse in water and shake dry. The final step in preparing is to create small bundles and chop about 1/2 inch shreds. You can give that another rise under cool water (I put mine in a drainer) and you’re set to cook.
Heat the oil on a medium heat in a fairly deep sauce pan, then add the onion and cook for a couple minutes. Just long enough to soften the onion and flavor the oil. Now add the thyme, black pepper and slices of scotch bonnet pepper and cook for another couple minutes. Have your kitchen window open or the fan above the stove on, if you have one as the hot oil and hot pepper will cause you to possibly cough.
By this time the shredded callaloo should have drained properly, so start adding it to the pot. It will pile up, but rest assured it wilt down quickly. Give it a good stir, add the water and bring it up to a boil. Now lower the heat to a very gentle simmer, cover the pot and allow to cook for about 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, it’s time to add the tomato and pieces of salted fish to the pot. Then give it a good stir, cover the pot and allow to cook for another 10-15 minutes. Keep stirring. If you find that you don’t have any liquid it means your heat is too high. Add a bit of water and continue cooking. After 10 minutes the callaloo should be fully cooked. It will not be as bright green as when you first started off, but don’t be fooled.. it will taste amazing.
If you find (you should) that there’s still liquid at the bottom of the pan, remove the lid, turn up the heat and cook for another 4-5 minutes until all that liquid dries off.
You now have a classic Jamaican callaloo dish that’s ready to serve.