By: Nikia Wells
To the uninitiated, ackee could easily be visually confused for scrambled eggs. But, the fruit (yes, ackee is not only a fruit, it is the national fruit of Jamaica and surprisingly falls in the same family as the lychee), is instead a savory staple of Jamaican cuisine that is known for its distinctive red outer pod, shiny black seeds, and vibrant yellow interior. While the red pods may seem innocent and unassuming, there have long been warnings about the dangers of unripe ackee in its potentially poisonous and fatal underdeveloped form (it even made Time Magazine’s Top 10 Most Dangerous Foods list). However, once the pods naturally burst open, a sign that the fruit is ripe, ackee is not only safe to be cooked and enjoyed, but it is also delicious.
How is it used?
While most might be familiar with ackee and saltfish (boiled ackee and dried salted fish sauteed in oil with garlic, hot pepper, scallions, thyme, onions, plus sweet peppers, and more than likely served with a side of crispy fried dumplings and boiled “food” aka cassava and yams), ackee can be paired with other vegetables, like callaloo.
How is it cooked?
Locally, ackee is usually found canned in a brine liquid, but for the rare few lucky enough to have an ackee tree, the fruit is ready to eat when it has naturally burst open to reveal large black seeds and yellow flesh (never force an ackee pod open – this is where the danger resides). Once the outer pod and seeds have been discarded, and the ackee has been cleaned, the fresh fruit is then boiled before being cooked in the dish of your choice.
Get adventurous with your ackee leftovers
If you want to get a bit adventurous with your usual ackee and saltfish recipe, swap out the dried fish for fresh shrimp or scallops. And, if you have any leftovers, add it to the pizza dough of your choice, top with some cheese and bake until golden brown.