As a non-Christian married to a Catholic, our family’s Christmas and Easter holidays are a combination of the secular/commercial ways they’re celebrated in modern America, and the traditions my husband grew up with in Trinidad. So while Easter to me means the Easter Bunny, Easter egg hunts and chocolate Easter bunnies, for my husband, it’s the sacred religious holiday it’s supposed to be as well as an occasion to celebrate with family and a great meal, of course. He remembers having chocolate Easter eggs and the Easter ham, but dyeing colorful Easter eggs and hunting for them was not something he knew about until we had kids. He often enjoyed salt fish for breakfast on Good Friday, which is celebrated with equal importance as Easter in Trinidad. Salt fish, usually cod, or smoked herring are two common fish dishes are served on Good Friday.
The history of salt fish is an interesting and ancient one. Salting and drying cod to preserve it began at least 500 years ago, when Europeans arrived in Newfoundland. After salting, salt fish has a shelf life of several years, which made it valuable both for personal stockpiling in the days before refrigeration, and for trade. It was a commodity as one leg of the triangular trade between the New and Old Worlds, and as such, became part of the cuisines of Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, West Africa, the Caribbean and Brazil. There are endless ways to prepare salt fish. In Portugal, there is bacalhau, served with potatoes or as croquettes; in Italy, baccala, which is stewed with tomatoes; in Jamaica, as part of the national dish of ackee and salt fish; and in Trinidad, buljol.
Buljol is enjoyed as a hearty breakfast sandwiched in bake, a type of bread. There is no one recipe or one right way of preparing buljol; every family has their own way. The most important part of the technique is to soak the salt fish in a large amount of water and squeeze out all of the salt, or else it will be unpalatable, and also dangerously high in sodium. (This process can be done by soaking the fish overnight in cold water, but in Trinidad the method consists of boiling the salt fish for a few minutes.) The rest of it is up to you. Trinis usually fry salt fish with onions, bell pepper and tomatoes, and often serve it with bake, sliced avocado and boiled provisions* on the side. If you’re unable to make or purchase Trinidadian bake, ciabatta is similar in shape and texture. This past Christmas, when I visited my husband’s family in Trinidad, I helped my mother-in-law, affectionately known as Mommy, and my sister-in-law, Jean, prepare buljol. Mommy had done the hard part of soaking the fish, squeezing out the excess salt, and picking out the bones the night before, so it took only minutes to prepare for our Christmas Eve breakfast. If you’re looking for a new Easter/Good Friday tradition with centuries of history and a Trinidadian accent, buljol would be a worthy addition.
Cleaned and shredded salt fish
* * *
1 1/2 lbs salt fish (cleaned of skin and bones—I have found this most readily available at Italian specialty food stores)
1 ½ small onions, sliced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 celery sticks, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 tomato, diced
3 pimentos, minced (these are available fresh in Trinidad; skip this you can only get the jarred version)
2 Tablespoons Canola oil
juice of 1 lime
black pepper, to taste
*Provisions (Trinidadian term for boiled root vegetables; any combination of taro, cassava, sweet potatoes, eddoes, green figs/bananas)
Bake (to make your own, there’s an easy recipe for coconut bake at Candi Cooks)
optional: sliced Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers for a spicy garnish
1. Prepare salt fish by placing in a pot with enough water to cover by a inch or so. Bring to a boil., drain cooking liquid and squeeze out excess liquid. (You can taste it now and if it is still too salty, repeat the boiling and draining process again.) Allow to cool and then carefully remove any remaining bones. Shred into flakes with your fingers.
2. Heat a large frying pan, add oil, and fry the prepared salt fish for a few minutes, then add remaining ingredients and sauté for another minute until vegetables are just slightly softened.
3. Squeeze lime juice and sprinkle freshly ground black pepper onto the prepared buljol just before serving. Garnish with sliced Scotch bonnet or habanero if you like heat.
4. Serve with bake (or ciabatta), sliced avocado, and provisions.
Thank you for coming by and reading! If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends and leave a comment. To learn more about Trinidadian food, please read my Christmas in Trinidad post, which has links to other Trini recipes on Spicebox Travels. Happy Easter!