A TRIP TO BARBADOS is not complete unless you delight in our national dish, Cou Cou and Flying Fish, available throughout the year from local restaurants. Made from corn meal, okra, and flying fish and topped with an aromatic tomato sauce, onion, chives, thyme, fresh pepper, garlic and other herbs, this dish was ranked at No. 3 on the National Geographic’s top 10 National Dishes in 2011.
In fact, the food experts described the dish as a “a polenta-like cornmeal and okra porridge, Cou Cou pairs perfectly with flying fish – once abundant – which is either steamed with lime juice, spices and vegetables or fried and served with a spicy sauce”. In contrast, the Italians prepare a similar version of the dish called Polenta, thus supporting the comparison.
From experience, the creaminess of the Cou Cou and the spicy yet sweetness of the flying fish make a perfect combination especially if you’re a food enthusiast (foodie). But obtaining the creamy texture of the Cou Cou is no child’s play! One must continuously stir the mixture vigorously with a tool specifically created by Barbadians for this dish, a Cou Cou stick or a long stick that resembles a miniature cricket bat. The vigorous stirring is to ensure that the Cou Cou is lump free as a means of having a smooth, fluffy meal.
Also known as Fungi in other Caribbean islands, namely Dominica, Antigua and the Virgin Islands, the recipe was passed down from African slaves who came to the island in 1644. Traditionally, Cou Cou was served in an oval form and had to be placed in an enamel bowl to obtain the shape.
So without further ado, here’s the recipe for our cherished National Dish, compliments the Food Network:-
2 cups water
10 small okra, finely sliced
1/4 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pound fine cornmeal
8 Flying Fish (about 1 1/2 pounds), scaled, boned, and butterflied
3 tablespoons Bajan seasoning (also called green seasoning)
Lime juice, as needed
Salt, as needed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 large onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons catsup
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup water or fish stock
1/4 green bell pepper, sliced
1/4 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1/4 red bell pepper, sliced
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons mixed chopped herbs, like dill, chives, parsley, and thyme
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
Make the Cou Cou: Combine the water, okra, red pepper, salt, and hot sauce in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until very thick. Transfer half of the okra mixture to a bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons of the butter to the okra mixture in the saucepan, and reduce the heat to low. While stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon, sprinkle in the cornmeal a little at a time, and cook until thick. Add the remaining okra mixture and 2 tablespoons butter and stir until smooth. Cover to keep warm.
Make the Flying Fish: Rub the flesh side of the fish with the Bajan seasoning and lime juice, and season with the salt, to taste. Roll each fish up tightly and secure with a toothpick.
Heat the butter in a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid, over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and bay leaf and cook, stirring, until soft. Add the catsup, curry, mustard, and sugar and stir. Add the water, stir to combine, and bring to a simmer. Arrange the rolled fish in the skillet and cover with the bell peppers, tomato, herbs, and hot sauce. Cover and simmer until the fish is just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, to taste.
Divide the cou cou among the plates, make a well in each, and spoon the fish and sauce over the top.