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Celebrating Caribbean American Heritage Month

From Our Kitchen

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Caribbean American Heritage Month has been observed in June since 2006 to recognize and celebrate Caribbean Americans’ contributions to the United States and to raise awareness about their culture, history, and heritage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, there are about 8.5 million people in the country who were either born in the Caribbean or reported Caribbean ancestry.

Caribbean cuisine is a fusion of African, Creole, European, Latin American, Middle Eastern, and Asian influences. From the spicy jerk chicken of Jamaica to the savory stewed greens of Trinidad, each dish tells a story of migration, adaptation, and cultural exchange. The most common ingredients used in Caribbean cuisine include rice, plantains, beans, coconut, sweet potatoes, cassava, and papayas.

Given the Caribbean’s abundant coastlines, fresh seafood like fish, shrimp, crab, and lobster is central to the cuisine. Staples include coconut shrimp; conch fritters; escovitch fish (a Jamaican dish where fish, typically snapper, is fried and then marinated in a spicy, vinegar-based dressing); bouyon (a hearty stew with fish, root vegetables, and dumplings cooked in a seasoned broth); and shrimp Creole (a French Caribbean dish featuring shrimp cooked in a tomato-based sauce with onions, bell peppers, garlic, and spices).

Caribbean cuisine is also characterized by its bold use of spices and herbs. Perhaps the most well-known Caribbean dish, jerk chicken features a spicy marinade of allspice, chile peppers, thyme, nutmeg, garlic, and other seasonings. Other popular dishes include coconut curry chicken; Caribbean black beans (flavored with spices like ginger, cumin, paprika, and garlic); griot (a Haitian dish consisting of citrus-marinated pork shoulder); pepper shrimp (with a spicy sauce made from scotch bonnet peppers, garlic, and other seasonings); and ackee and saltfish (made with salted cod, ackee fruit, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and spices).

Other Caribbean favorites include callaloo (a thick soup made from leafy greens, stewed meat, and coconut milk); maduros (fried plantains); rice and kidney beans or pigeon peas; pelau (a one-pot dish from Trinidad and Tobago made with rice, pigeon peas, chicken or beef, and caramelized brown sugar); and roti (a type of flatbread filled with curried meats, potatoes, and chickpeas).

There are also several notable Caribbean American chefs who have made significant contributions to the food scene in the U.S.:

  • Originally from St. Lucia, Nina Compton gained widespread recognition after coming in second on season 11 of “Top Chef.” She won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South in 2018 and operates two restaurants, Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro, in New Orleans.
  • Kwame Onwuachi is a James Beard Award-winning chef, restaurateur, and author who was named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs and Esquire Magazine’s 2019 Chef of the Year. He draws on his Nigerian, Jamaican, Trinidadian, and Creole background to create his vibrant cuisine.
  • A Jamaican-born chef based in New York City, Andre Fowles is a three-time Food Network “Chopped” champion. His contemporary approach to Caribbean cuisine has been featured in The New York Times, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, and Eater.

Try your hands at this traditional Caribbean dish at home:

Jamaican Jerk Chicken Wings
Servings: 8

¼ cup fresh green hot chile peppers
½ cup green onions
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons unsweetened lime juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¾ tablespoon fresh peeled garlic cloves
1 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
⅛ teaspoon fresh thyme
2 ½ pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken wings

  1. To prepare ingredients: Chop the green chile peppers. Slice the green onions. Mince the garlic. Pick and chop the thyme.
  2. Make a marinade by combining all the ingredients except for the chicken. Whisk well.
  3. Pour the marinade over the chicken and toss to evenly coat. Cover and properly store to marinate overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  5. Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the leftover marinade. Place the chicken on a sheet pan.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes or until proper internal temperature (165°F) is reached.

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