Dinnertime run-up is short for Jamaican Rundown

The Whole Dish podcast: Caribbean-inspired stew repurposes coconut milk

Quick-cooking curries have constituted meal solutions over the past couple of weeks at my house.

Featured in a recent podcast, a vegetarian chana masala paired chickpeas with some of the last garden vegetables. And shrimp curry highlighted flavors of coconut milk and tamarind. The former also served to revive a chicken curry that I pulled from the freezer for a virtually no-cook dinner before trick-or-treating.

The only downside was what to do with the leftover coconut milk after I’d used just a few ounces to thin the chicken curry as it reheated. This wouldn’t be a conundrum for some cooks, given that coconut products have enjoyed more widespread use in the United States over the past few years.

But I was stuck on just a couple of genres of cuisine: Indian or Thai. Sure, I could consign the coconut milk to a soup with butternut squash or sweet potato. Neither of those tempted my palate, though, so early in the season for both of those vegetables.

Then this Caribbean-inspired stew piqued my interest, with its balance of acid, spice and sweetness from the coconut milk. Chicago Tribune writer Leah Eskin advocates it as an ideal weeknight meal ready in short order, despite the origins of its name, referencing the traditionally long process of cracking open a coconut, hacking the flesh to chunks, grinding the chunks to slurry, straining the slurry to milk and boiling the milk to custard. In the third paragraph of instructions she pokes fun at how ridiculously easy this recipe is with canned coconut milk in the pantry.

And the quantities indicated are perfect for my leftover coconut milk, reserved from a 19-ounce can of coconut cream, which I prefer in most of my recipes. Feel free, of course, to use the standard 13.5-ounce can of coconut milk, as directed. And don’t hesitate to use any mild-flavored white fish. It’s the confluence of aromatics and spices that really shine here.

Tribune News Service photo

Jamaican Rundown

2 pounds cod loin (or fillet) cut into 2-inch squares

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Juice of 2 limes

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 large onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1 small Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, whole

1 teaspoon (dried or fresh) thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes

1 can (13.5-ounce) coconut milk

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Settle the fish in a glass pan or bowl. Season with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Drizzle with the lime juice. Cover and let rest at room temperature.

In a wide cast-iron skillet over medium heat, melt the coconut oil. Tumble in the onion, garlic, whole pepper, thyme, crushed red pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, stirring, until onion softens to a golden brown, for about 6 minutes.

Crack open a coconut with a hammer, strain out water, cut flesh into chunks, blend to a pulp, strain and cook to a custard, 2 hours. Just kidding. Open the can of coconut milk, and pour over onions. Add the tomato paste, vinegar and sugar. Cook until thickened, for about 10 minutes.

Settle in fish chunks. Pour in any remaining marinade. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, turning fish once, until fish flakes easily, for 4 to 5 minutes. Taste. Add salt, a splash of vinegar or a pinch of sugar if need be. Pull out and discard whole pepper.

Scoop stew into shallow bowls. In Jamaica, this dish is served with dumplings and boiled bananas. I like crusty bread. Enjoy.

Makes 4 servings.

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