|Catherine gave me this rustic nutmeg grater from Dominica. I have a fetish for foreign kitchenalia.|
|Catherine Phipps in the kitchen|
My supper club with Catherine Phipps, cooking Dominican food, proved that Caribbean cookery is about more than jerk chicken. I discovered Bread Fruit, which, when roasted till blackened on the outside, infused the house with the signature smell of Dominica, a mixture of charcoal and marijuana. I also discovered Christophene, a fresh tasting gourd family plant, also known as the Chayote or Cho-Cho, which can be eaten raw or cooked. Catherine decided to prepare a gratin from Christophene, par-boiled then sliced into an oven dish, dotted with ginger butter then baked. I already knew salt fish, and the fritters were popular with the guests, along with a dipping sauce of Scotch Bonnet jelly with red wine. I must confess, I'm still not keen on salt fish however.
|Bread fruit being roasted on top of the Aga. Ideally it would be done over a fire.|
|Salt fish fritters|
My contribution amounted to trying to remember two Caribbean dishes. The first, a coconut and ginger sphere the size of a tennis ball, bought for a pound at Notting Hill carnival years ago. The stallholder who made and sold these, I never found her again, despite repeated searches each year. I remember the sweet gingery fudge around the gleaming half moons of fresh sticky coconut flesh. Catherine knew this dish as Coconut Ginger Candy Drops, as did one of the guests who originated in Montserrat, another Caribbean island, where the coconut was grated finely. It's funny the tricks that memory can play when trying to reproduce a souvenir of flavour and texture. I also tried to make caramel from brown sugar. Usually the thermometer must reach 160º to achieve caramel, just after the hard crack stage. Brown sugar, however, and I tried twice, would burn, literally in an instant, at 150º, remaining at the hard crack stage. Brown and white sugar clearly cook differently. Any readers with technical knowledge of sugar please add your comments below. It's time like this I wish I could afford cookery school.
My other 'recovered memory' dish, from an old friend and Hackney squatter who was a brilliant cook, who I have lost touch with, was plantain fritters with green chillies. Catherine suggested unripe plantains and we duly peeled, chopped, boiled and mashed the fruit. The resulting fritters however were lumpen, dull and tasteless. I didn't serve them. I will try them again with ripe plantains.
For the coconut callaloo (spinach) and plantain soup, we added something strange: palm nut purée, used in soups in Ghanaian cookery. It was more of a texture than a taste but not unpleasant.
Catherine and I, being good friends, decided to sit down on Saturday afternoon for a bit of lunch and a natter. Our talk ranged from the curious fact that both of us have the surname 'Cook' in our family tree to the links between incest and osteoporosis. Mistake! Next thing we knew it was 6 o'clock and we were running late. It meant that when the first guests arrived, the cocktails weren't ready, Catherine had no makeup on, I smelt of chip oil and wore crocs for the night. I also realised, not for the first time, that I am not numerate. I counted 17 guests and in fact there were 18. The last two arrived late and they would have had to sit apart from each other. One of them objected and walked out, even after I had persuaded all the seated guests to move down one place to fit her in.The rum cocktails were a hit; along with hibiscus juice, and a traditional Planters punch, we served a lime, cinnamon and nutmeg punch. Caribbean tonic water is much sweeter than British so we hit upon the perfect recipe: half tonic, half lemonade. Catherine plans to write a Caribbean cookery book so this kind of on the job testing that a supper club makes possible is helpful.
|Lime, cinnamon rum punch with a grating of nutmeg on top.|
|The traditional Planter's Punch is with Seville oranges (which are more bitter) but I used blood oranges. It was perhaps not as accurate but it was darn good. You feel like you are on holiday just drinking it.|
|Stuffed crab back with parmesan and breadcrumbs|
The crab backs were raved about by the guests, as was the soup and the trio of desserts (mini pavlovas with ginger marinated mango, ginger cake and home-made rum and raisin icecream).
We used dark orange mangos(probably from Pakistan) and marinated them in grated ginger and sugar syrup. It's best to use a non-fibrous kind if possible. There are different kinds of mango; each one has a distinct flavour and texture.
|It's worth making your own rum and raisin icecream. I only had currants, which I marinated in a whole bottle of dark rum until they were bulging with alcohol and syrup.|
Mango painting by Margaret Rodgers