For those of you not familiar with the Trinbagonian accent… “pong” simply refers to “pound”. So basically we’ll be pounding or mashing the yam in cooked salted cod and other ingredients to bring out the true essence of this wonderful “country” dish. This dish may have different names such as “yam choka” or “yam talkari”, but to me it’s pong up yam with saltfish. Besides using saltfish to flavour this recipe, I recall my mom also using left over stew pork as well. Usually this is a dish we would enjoy the day after we’ve had ground provisions. My mom would take the leftover pieces of yam, along with the saltfish or stew pork that was part of the original meal and cook it together for us to eat sada roti or fry bake with. Since I’m a novice at making roti (just waiting to get a good food processor that will help me make the dough), I make it into an entire meal and enjoy with a couple slices of zaboca (avocado).
Note: The yam I’m using in this recipe is NOT the type of sweet yams you get and use around Thanksgiving time in North America and will not come in a can. This yam is the real deal and makes up what we call ground provisions in the Caribbean. Also note that there are many varieties of this yam, including “Finger”, “Kush Kush” and “Juba” to name a few. All of which is rather soft when cooked and is fairly white in colour. However I’ve been to the local Caribbean grocers and have come across some varieties that comes from Jamaica (sort of a yellow yam) that very hard when cooked. I personally think that variety will not work with this recipe, as it it will be to hard when boiled.
Final yam note… this yam my dad purchased at an Asian store in Toronto for me, but I don’t know if it’s actually Asian in nature or actually African. I do know that unlike most yams from the Caribbean, this one cooks (gets soft when boiled) very fast and has a wonderful texture when cooked.
1-2 lbs of yam (not the yams you have for Thanksgiving in North America)
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion sliced
dash of black pepper
4-6 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 hot pepper (habanero or scotch bonnet) optional
1/8 of a green bell pepper diced small (sweet pepper)
4 oz salted fish (cod is great for this recipe)
Place the salted cod in a fairly deep bowl and cover with boiling water to remove the extra salt it was cured in. Allow this to soak for a few minutes until it’s cool enough for you to work with. In the meantime, peel the yam (see video below) and cut into pieces. Try to ensure that all the pieces are the same size so they all finish cooking at the same time. Rinse off the pieces of yam under cool water and place in a deep pot. The pot must be deep enough for water to cover the pieces of yam when boiling. Now place the pot over med-high heat and bring to a boil. When it starts boiling add the salt and turn down to the heat to a steady simmer/boil.
* Depending on the variety of yam you used and when that yam was harvested (if it’s harvested too early it will affect the cooking time) the time it takes to cook will vary. With the yam I used, it was cooked in under 15 minutes, but with normal Caribbean yam it won’t be done for at least 20 minutes +. Here’s how to test the yam to know if it’s fully cooked. Run a sharp knife through the pieces and if there’s no resistance, it means it’s done.
After you’ve tested that the yam is cooked (it will be soft, but firm) drain the water out and set it aside as we get ready for the next step. By now the hot water we poured over the salted fish should be cool. Drain that water, rinse with a new batch of cool water and squeeze off any excess water. The next step is to rip the fish into small pieces. I don’t think I mentioned it above, but I purchased the boneless type of salted fish.
In the same bowl you have the pieces of slated fish, add the sliced onion, hot pepper, black pepper and bell pepper.
Then in a fairly large saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the fish and all the other ingredients and allow it to cook for about 6 minutes. Remember to stir occasionally.
The final step is to pour in the cooked yam and crush it, then stir to allow all the ingredients to combine. I used a wooden “pounder” (pestle) that I have, but you can also use a potato masher as well. If you don’t have either, simply use the back of your cooking spoon to mash or crush the yam pieces. It’s important that you stir often and prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan. Cook for a couple minutes (until everything is blended) and serve hot.
As mentioned above this is amazing as a side for roti or fry bake and just as great all on it’s own.
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Here’s a video I did a while back showing you how to peel yams…