Walk into a Caribbean kitchen and you’ll stop and wonder whether you’ve seen so fine a display of food. Fresh red snapper fried whole until the skin is delicately craggy, salty, crisp. Oceany conch, a bit like clams or scallops, with a mild taste of the sea, thrown into a pot of coconut stew. Caribbean spins on foods like goat and chicken, oxtail and pigeon.
These crowning ingredients are quietly stewed or fried or fricasseed—and slowly enrobed in flavors. The haunting aromas of Jamaican curry powders, hot sauce, jerk sauce, all spice, tamarind pods, and scotch bonnet peppers. Mountains of plantains, coconut, yams, cassava cakes, and soursop pulp. When these ingredients are cooked with creativity and wit—and that’s what Caribbean food is, an innovative mashup that may include African, Chinese, Indian, and European influences—they produce deep flavors. On the rare occasion, if you want something “jerked,” they spark a riot in your mouth, too.
Even though Caribbean menus skew fresh and delicious—overflowing with fruits and vegetables, seafood and lean proteins, with haunting flavors built on marinades and spices—Caribbean food doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should. Give it a year, and the world will catch on. For now, let Caribbean food be our secret. Here are 9 Caribbean foods to try for your next catering event:
1. Curry Goat
If you’ve never invested a lazy summer afternoon in Caribbean goat curry, you should. The Styrofoam box snaps open with a push of a thumb—unlocking intensely fragrant steam of Jamaican curry powder and caramelized onions, which clings to your face as you whiff. Chunks of luscious goat, fatty and rich, and an undercurrent of habanero peppers, which sends your palate a gentle teasing.
There’s something refreshing about having creamy papaya with a squeeze of lime. Perfectly sweet, ripened papaya with an air of funk that, mingling with a tropical perfume, is simply divine.
The firm white fish is seasoned with garlic and sliced onions. A trickle of vinegar-and-olive oil pickling sauce keeps the palate in check.
4. Trinidad Pelau
You’ll love this rice dish for its quirks. Sugar is swirled in a heavy pot over a flame—when the lacework of caramel starts bubbling, hunks of chicken are thrown in. Then in goes a splash of coconut milk, a West Indian herb paste, rice, scallions, thyme, tender squash peas, and a little Scotch bonnet pepper. A play of savory and sweet and hauntingly aromatic heat.
5. Oil Down
Take steady sips of the warm, silky coconut broth. Past the oil-speckled surface, you’ll arrive at the chicken and dumplings. Use your dominant hand to bring the morsels to your mouth—then throw your whole life into it.
6. Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish Fritters
You’ll be a sucker for these puffs of fritters studded with delicate saltfish and fried hard for a golden crunchy shell. A special tropical fruit called ackee is mixed into the batter to give the fritter a buttery-creaminess.
7. Braised Oxtail with Butter Beans
The oxtail is slowly braised with a knob of ginger and allspice. A single Scotch bonnet chili is thrown in, just to open an extra dimension of flavor. The butter beans are anointed by the pan juices.
8. Pot Fish
No one returns home feeling more homesick than the traveler who got his first taste of pot fish, while taking in a view of turquoise waters, only to leave the Caribbean the very next day. Fresh reedfish is fried whole until the skin is delicately craggy—then topped with sweet onion gravy. It is like waking to a beautiful Caribbean food filled dream.
9. Fricassee Chicken
When you feed on this dish for the first time, you’ll go bonkers. Pieces of chicken are shallow-fried and cooked down with caramelized bits of chilies and aromatics, which coats the meat in a tawny-red gunk that tastes gloriously meaty. That cooked-down deliciousness is sticky, spicy, sweet, savory, and fragrant. You’ll want to swipe your finger in that stuff and daub it all over your mouth.
Hungry for the deep flavors of Caribbean food?