Trinidadian bake and saltfish

By Camille Moore
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Bake is a staple in a Trini kitchen.  It’s the thing that our mothers made when they needed some type of bread or to bulk up a meal in a pinch.  It can be baked, deep-fried or pan-fried, but delicious all the same.  Traditionally bake is eaten with saltfish, but I like to use it in place of bread as often as I can – because it’s delicious, simple and reminds me so much of home.  

If I had to choose one dish steeped in memories and nostalgia from my mom’s kitchen it would be saltfish. Made from salted cod sautéed in sweet onions and tomatoes, it was her go-to breakfast on Sunday mornings before we all rushed out the door to go to church, as well as her go-to dinner dish on hectic weeknights when someone forgot to thaw meat from the freezer. The way my mom made it had the perfect balance of salty fish, almost-caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes that would soften in the pan, all topped with the brightness of green onions to finish – but I am well aware that every household has their own way of making it, not to mention the addition of ackee popular in some Caribbean islands. Either way, the dish requires nothing more than pantry staple ingredients.

Preparing saltfish requires a touch of patience though, as the cod fillets need to be purged of some of the excess salt of course. But don’t worry, that’s the “hardest” part of this recipe – the rest is all kinds of easy. A tip when purchasing salted cod: if you can, choose the kind that comes as the whole fillet rather than the smaller bits. Using the smaller bits is perfectly fine, but please be sure to taste it after the second simmer to see if another is needed to release more of the salt.

SERVES
4
 TO
6
TOTAL TIME

Ingredients

Trinidadian Bake

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out dough
  • 3.5 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup water, more or less
  • Oil, for frying dough

Trinidadian Saltfish

  • 450 g salted cod fillets, boneless
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 large onion, sliced (or two smaller onions)
  • 2 tomatoes, cut into large chunks
  • 3 stalks green onion, green parts only, sliced diagonally

Directions

Trinidadian Bake

  1. To a large bowl add all bake ingredients except water and stir with a wooden spoon or clean hands to incorporate. Add half the water and stir to begin forming the dough. Add more water, a little at a time, and stir until dough becomes moist. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with your hands until dough is moist and pillowy, but not sticky. Once formed, return dough to the bowl and cover with a lightly dampened kitchen or paper towel; allow to rest for 15 minutes. 
  2. To roll out bakes, dust a work surface and your rolling pin with flour. Divide dough into 4 equal portions and roll each into a ball. Roll each ball of dough out to approximately ¼-inch thickness.
  3. Heat a cast iron pan over medium heat. Once heated, add a thin layer of oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan entirely. Working one at a time, fry bakes until golden brown and crisp on one side before flipping to repeat on the other – should take about 2-3 minutes per side. Note: be sure to watch the heat closely and raise or lower as needed – every stove is different, and you don’t want the dough to colour too quickly. Hold cooked bakes on a paper towel-lined plate until service. Serve hot or at room temperature (though I must admit that there’s nothing quite like hot, fresh bake straight from the stove!). 

Trinidadian Saltfish

  1. Add the salted cod to a large pot and cover with cold water until well submerged. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Drain water, add fresh cold water to the pot, and repeat the process once more.
  2. After the second simmer, drain the cod in a colander and allow to cool to a manageable temperature. Once cooled, use clean hands to break the fish apart into small bits. Set aside.
  3. Heat a large frying pan (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Once heated add the oil and sliced onion. Sauté, stirring often, until soft and translucent – a little bit of caramelization is always welcome here.
  4. Add the flaked saltfish to the pan to marry with the onions, stirring occasionally for about 3-5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir to incorporate. Continue cooking just until tomatoes reach desired level of softness. Stir in sliced green onion and serve!

Note: If you like your saltfish less salty than I do, simply add 5 minutes to your simmering times to extract even more salt.    

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