Easter fare

No Caribbean holiday is thinkable without a delicious menu — and Easter weekend is no exception. Nazma Muller shares recipes for seasonal dishes from up and down the islands: Jamaican Easter bun, Bajan-style fried flying fish, and Martinique’s spicy matoutou crab stew

Illustration by Shalini SeereeramIllustration by Shalini Seereeram

Christianity — Roman Catholicism in particular — has played such a huge role in the history of the Caribbean that five centuries after Christopher Columbus claimed and christened much of the region, the religion is still followed by a majority of citizens, in one version or the other. Despite differences in ideology among the many Christian denominations — which also include Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Latter-Day Saints, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as innumerable “small churches” (some with congregations in the thousands) with their own self-appointed pastors — Easter is the one thing they all agree on and celebrate. And, as with most occasions in the Caribbean, there’s got to be food in there somewhere.

Instead of Easter bunnies, Jamaicans do Easter buns — but not the regular hot cross buns that everybody else eats at Easter weekend. No suh. The Jamaicans always have their own way of doing things. The Jamaican bun is really a spiced loaf, and you eat a slice with a local “red” cheddar cheese. In Barbados, meanwhile, fried fish is the speciality, while in Martinique, the dish of the day has got to be matoutou, a crab stew.

The Easter-season eating of spiced bun and cheese has become so ingrained in Jamaica that over time it has come to be baked all year round — mainly because it’s a cheap “fast food,” and is usually the stock-in-trade for many street-side cart vendors (alongside bottles of hot Guinness and Red Stripe beer). It seems bun-and-cheese eating started as the preferred breakfast on the morning of Good Friday. The reason, according to some Jamaicans, was that no fire should be lit before noon, because the heat would add to that which Jesus felt on the cross. Many shops and bars would therefore not open until after noon on Good Friday as a mark of respect. Others would fry fish on Holy Thursday night so they wouldn’t need to cook the following day. The next day would be spent in church, and since the service would last for three hours, many in the congregation would wisely pack fried fish and the infamous hard-dough bread, along with bun and cheese, to eat during breaks.

In the Barbadian calendar, Easter equals fried fish. The island that is famous for its flying fish has even created a week-long festival to celebrate the million and one ways to eat the delicacy. Thousands of locals and visitors flock to the south coast of the island for the annual Oistins Fish Festival, where you can sample freshly fried flying fish, fish cakes, seafood, and other local delights, such as guava cheese.

In Martinique, however, crab is king. Families head for one of the island’s many beautiful beaches where they spend the day or the weekend camping. On Easter Monday the meal to have is matoutou crab. Crab-catching starts five weeks before Easter, so that the star of the show is properly prepped for its culinary fate with a diet of coconut, bananas, breadfruit, melon, and some chillies, to make them tastier. It’s said that this dish of spicy crab, which is served nowadays with rice, can be traced back to the Amerindians who first settled in Martinique, and made their own spicy crab matoutou, which they served with cassava.

 

Crab Matoutou recipe

10 crabs
60 ml vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
125 ml finely chopped shallots
2 onions, minced
500 ml long-grain rice
2 tomatoes
30 ml chopped chives
2 ½ ml hot chilli, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
30 ml minced parsley
Juice of 5 limes
5 cinnamon cloves
Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the garlic until golden. Drain and set aside. Sauté the shallots in the oil for a few minutes until transparent but not coloured. Add the rice and sauté the raw grains for two minutes. Add water, chives, chilli, bay leaf, thyme, salt, and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce the heat to minimum. Cover the pot and cook for fifteen minutes. Add the crabs with the parsley and lime juice. Cover and cook over low heat for five minutes, or until water is completely absorbed and the crab heated through. Fluff rice.

 

Fried Flying Fish recipe

10 flying fish steaks
2 limes
2 tbs salt
1 ½ cups water
3 tbs seasoning
2 cups seasoned breadcrumbs
1 cup flour
3 eggs
Canola oil

Method: Combine the raw fish, juice of the limes and their skins, salt, and water in a bowl. Allow to sit for ten to fifteen minutes. Rinse the fish and cover in the seasoning. Place the flour in one plate, the breadcrumbs in another, and the eggs (beaten with salt and pepper) in a bowl. Pour the canola oil into a frying pan to just cover the bottom (a 1⁄8- to ¼-inch layer) and heat. Dip the fish in the flour, then egg, then bread crumbs, and finally in the oil to fry.

 

Jamaican Spiced Bun recipe

Makes one loaf (serves eight)

2 oz margarine
1 bottle stout
½ cup wine
1 tsp vanilla
½ tbs browning
1 tbs guava jam
1 medium egg
8 oz dark sugar
1 lb flour
1 tsp nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tbs baking powder
1 tbs mixed spice
¼ lb mixed peel, chopped
¼ lb raisins, soaked

Method: Melt margarine then leave to cool. Add stout, wine, vanilla, browning, guava jam, and beaten egg. Stir in the sugar and mix until all the granules are dissolved. Mix together all the dry ingredients then add the chopped mixed peel and raisins. Combine liquid mixture with dry ingredients and mix well. Scrape the batter into a greased loaf pan, 12 x 4 x 3 inches. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C/350°F until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool on a cooling rack.

To glaze: combine two tablespoons honey with two tablespoons water and bring to a boil; remove from flame and use a pastry brush to apply it over the surface of the bun.

Serve with slices of cheese.