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Sunny Caribbean Cooking
Posted by Lori Ross - Viewed 78097 times

Story and Photography by Lori Ross   

For many, the Caribbean evokes tantalizing images of turquoise water, cloudless blue skies, sea breezes, and warm, sunny days on a palm-strewn beach. For me, the Caribbean brings to mind exotic fruits, rainbow-colored fish and mollusks, hot sauces, and cool, refreshing rum drinks. The islands of the Caribbean—the Bahamas to the north; the Greater Antilles, including Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico; and the Lesser Antilles, the Windward and Leeward Islands—each offer unique flavors and cuisine that make up what we consider Caribbean cooking.

When we bought our winter home in South Florida, a local friend presented us with a “welcome” gift basket that held what she dubbed “everything you need to live in South Florida.” The basket contained black beans, long-grain rice, adobo and jerk seasonings, mojo marinade, a coconut, habanero peppers, a sour orange, a mango, and some guava paste. This gift piqued my interest in Caribbean/Floribbean cooking and launched us into some delicious experiments.

Some experiments were more successful than others. Marinating jumbo shrimp and scallops with mojo marinade and then grilling them quickly over a hot fire resulted in significant compliments at my first dinner party, even from locals. A week later, I mistakenly used a whole package of jerk seasoning (instead of a quarter of it) for two chicken breasts and nearly disabled my husband’s taste buds for a week! Even the dog wouldn’t eat it. In general, my experiments have been delicious and impressive, and I want to share some of my successes with you.

The cuisine of the Caribbean is a study in contrasts: cool, juicy fruits; sweet coconuts, potatoes, and pumpkins; soft, mild tubers and starches; earthy greens and beans; brightly seasoned sauces; crunchy salads and cooling salsas; searing peppers, curries, and pickles; and comforting soups and stews. The staples of Caribbean cooking include seafood; coconuts; guava and other tropical fruits; tubers such as yams and sweet potatoes; starches such as yucca, cassava, and rice; and vegetables such as pumpkins, corn, tomatoes, and peppers. 

French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese invaders introduced pigs, cows, chickens, goats, sugar cane, citrus, and the bright and smoky herbs and spices we use today: cilantro, parsley, saffron, curry, and cumin. Colonists also brought with them new methods of preserving and cooking foods, such as salting and smoking fish and meat, preserving fish and meat in fat, and “cooking” fish in citrus, salt, and sugar (gravlax and seviche). African slaves brought okra, nuts, greens, grains, and hot peppers, and indentured servants from India, Indonesia, and China gave the islands chutneys, sweet spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and mace), and various exotic fruits, vegetables, and sauces.

Each island features specialties based on what’s available and fresh. For example, conch is a favorite of the Bahamas; Jamaica is the land of jerk cooking and seasoning; Barbados’ national dish is flying fish; Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic are famous for Spanish-influenced criollo dishes that make use of cilantro, annatto, and adobo. The French Caribbean islands of St. Barts, Martinique, and French St. Martin serve up fine Creole foods, and the Dutch-influenced islands of St. Maarten and Curaçao add Indonesian touches with soy sauce, satays, and nasi goring (fried rice). The British islands (Trinidad, Jamaica, and Barbados) use more intense seasonings in their rice, pea, and curry dishes, reflecting Asian Indian, African, and Native American influences.

Hot sauce is to Caribbean foods what salsa is to Mexican dishes. Caribbean hot sauces can enhance barbecued steaks, grilled fish, chicken wings, stews, soups, pastas, and vegetables. Each island has developed its own preference for a hot sauce. Barbados has its herb- and mustard-based sauces, Guadeloupe its chive and garlic bases, and Trinidad is well known for its papaya and Scotch bonnet sauces. The first Caribbean hot sauce was developed by the Carib and Arawak Indians, the original settlers of these islands, who used hot pepper juice with cassareep (cassava juice cooked with brown sugar, cloves, and cinnamon to a syrup-like consistency) to season their foods. Now, many varieties of sauces from the Caribbean are becoming better known to North Americans. Solomon Gundy, Jonkanoo hot pepper sauce, varieties of Pickapeppa sauce, calypso sauces, West Indian hot sauces, and flambeau sauces each claim to be hotter and tastier than the others and can be found on many supermarket shelves.

Not all Caribbean foods sear the palate. Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, for example, use spices and herbs instead of chili peppers to flavor their foods. If they do use chilis, they are typically mild and sweet. Adobo seasoning, a blend of black pepper, garlic, and oregano, is used with vinegar, lemon, lime, or sour orange juice to marinate meats or to give zest to stews, rices, and soups. Sofrito seasoning, which contains bell pepper, onion, tomato, and spices, is a piquant Spanish tomato seasoning for stews, rice, and sauces. Cuban mojo is a mild sauce used to marinate beef, pork, and chicken.

Great Caribbean cooking, in my view, combines fresh, ripe local ingredients with marinating and cooking techniques that elicit maximum flavor, enhancing each dish with a contrasting texture or taste. Spicy jerk chicken paired with sweet, smooth coconut rice and a cool lime-avocado salad is a perfect balance of hot, cool, and sweet. Grilled fish served with a hot-sweet tropical fruit salsa, yellow rice, and a tangy parsley and cilantro salad makes my mouth water with every bite, as do smoky braised beef or pork, stewed buttery greens, sweet plantains, piquant cucumber salad, rich black beans, and a fiery hot sauce. While some ingredients in Caribbean cooking are exotic, many can be replaced with little loss of flavor or texture. The key is achieving a nice balance with the foodstuffs you have aboard. So kick it up a notch and try some Caribbean cooking next time you’re on the boat!

Mojo (pronounced “mo-ho”), the essential condiment of Cuba, combines citrus juice, garlic, oregano, and pepper and is used as a paste-rub, a dressing, a sauce, a condiment for sandwiches, and a marinade for shrimp, pork, and chicken. Mojo is produced by a number of manufacturers and is available in most grocery stores in South Florida, as are sour oranges (bumpy, thick-skinned oranges) or bottled sour orange juice, should you want to try the recipe below. In lieu of sour orange juice, you can use equal parts orange juice and lime juice.

2 lb. large or jumbo shrimp, peeled (or scallops or fish cut into 2-inch cubes)
8-10 wood or metal skewers

Mojo Marinade:
1 small head garlic, peeled and chopped (about 4 T.)
1 tsp salt
1⁄4 cup sour orange juice (or equal parts lime and orange juice)
1⁄4 cup olive oil
1⁄2 tsp fresh oregano (or a pinch of dry oregano, crushed)
1⁄4 tsp ground cumin
 Salt to taste

Blend the chopped garlic and salt by hand or in a food processor. Add citrus juice, olive oil, oregano, and cumin, and salt to taste. Pour 1 cup of marinade over the shrimp; marinate 2{3 hours or more in fridge. Thread shrimp onto skewers and grill on high 2{3 minutes on each side.

Lechón asado typically is made with fresh ham or boneless pork loin roast. On the boat, I like the convenience of tenderloin.
2 lb. pork tenderloin, boneless pork shoulder, or pork loin
1/4 tsp each dried bay leaf, parsley, oregano, and cumin
1 tsp lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1-1/2 cup sour orange juice (or 1-1/4 cup orange juice and 1/4 cup lime juice)
1 tbsp salt
Black pepper to taste
1/2 cup rum (optional)
Pierce holes in the meat. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over pork; marinate 2 hours or more in fridge. Roast at 350aF for 8{10 minutes per pound, or grill on medium high for 10 minutes per pound, turning once about halfway through. After cooking, let meat rest for 5 minutes, then slice. Use leftovers for Cuban Sandwich recipe.

3 lb. bone-in, skin-on, cut-up chicken pieces (or 2 lb. boneless chicken breasts or thighs cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes)

Homemade Jerk Marinade:*
4 scallions, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 sweet pepper, chopped
1-4 fresh Scotch bonnet, jalapeño, or habanero chilis, stemmed and seeded (depending on how much heat you desire)
1tbsp. each sugar, fresh thyme leaves, and salt
2 tsp. each ground allspice and black pepper
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tbsp. soy sauce
3 tbsp. olive oil
More salt to taste

Blend marinade ingredients by hand or, if you prefer, in a blender. Pour over chicken. Marinate 12{24 hours in the refrigerator. Let chicken stand at room temperature 1 hour before cooking. Preheat grill on high. For bone-in chicken: sear chicken in batches on lightly oiled rack until well browned on all sides, about 3{5 minutes per batch. Reduce heat to low and cook with lid on 15{20 minutes, or until juice runs clear when skin is pierced. For boneless chicken: skewer chicken pieces and sear on hot grill 2 minutes on each side, then reduce heat to low for 5{7 minutes to finish cooking chicken. Alternatively, you may roast chicken in a large, shallow baking pan in a 400aF oven, 40{45 minutes for bone-in chicken and 15{20 minutes for boneless chicken skewers.

*Delicious dry jerk seasonings (e.g., Walkerswood, Ocho Rios) are sold online and in specialty food and grocery stores and may be mixed to taste with lime juice, oil, and soy sauce. Most are hotter than those in this recipe, so use carefully!

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cumin seed
1/4 tsp crumbled saffron threads or turmeric
2 cup long-grain rice
4 cup water
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking; sauté cumin seeds 10 seconds, or until seeds turn a few shades darker and are fragrant. Stir in saffron and rice and sauté, stirring, 1{2 minutes or until rice is coated well. Stir in water and salt. Boil rice, covered and without stirring, 8{10 minutes, until surface of rice is covered with steam holes and grains on top appear dry. Add raisins (if using). Remove pan from heat. Let rice stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

The sofrito gives fabulous flavor to the beans.
1-1⁄2 lb. dried black beans
Water (for cooking beans)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small sweet bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp each dried oregano and cumin
2 tsp each salt and pepper
1 cup chopped cilantro

Place beans into a large pot, cover them with 2{3 inches cold water, and bring to a boil. Turn off burner and let beans sit on the warm burner, covered, for 1 hour. Drain and thoroughly rinse the beans and the pot. (This de-gasses the beans.) Place beans back in the pot and cover with water again. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low, and simmer until beans are tender, about 1-1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add onions, scallions, garlic, and peppers. Sauté on medium high 10 minutes. Add tomato paste, vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, and cumin; cook on low 10 minutes more. When beans have cooked, drain them and add to the skillet, heating and blending gently. Add more salt and pepper to taste; add more hot peppers if you wish. When ready to serve, top with chopped cilantro.

3 cups mixed fruit, diced (e.g., mango, papaya, pineapple, star fruit, lychee, orange, cantaloupe, peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots)
3 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup diced sweet pepper
1-3 hot peppers, seeded and diced (I used one Scotch bonnet, and it was pretty hot!)
2 tbsp lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate 45 minutes to 1 hour before serving.


While wintering in South Florida, we fell in love with Caribbean and Floribbean cuisine.  We dined on Cuban Sandwiches, ceviche, conch and fish salads, fish and shrimp with sweet plantains, jerk chicken with salsa and Cuban pork with rice and beans.  We also experimented with the ingredients, flavorings and spices unique to Caribbean cooking – pepper, coconut, nutmeg, mace, allspice, cinnamon, garlic, mango, papaya, plantains, greens.  And we discovered wonderful sauces, rubs and marinades for meat, chicken and seafood from Haiti, Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Caymans and the Dutch and French Islands.  In this blog, I share a few of my favorite sandwiches, salads and side dishes with you.  In PassageMaker’s new newsletter, I share the recipes for sauces, rubs and marinades and in an upcoming issue of PassageMaker, I offer a few Caribbean menus that are easy to make aboard. 

12-inch loaf Cuban bread, split lengthwise
1/4 lb. thinly sliced ham
1/4 lb. thinly sliced cooked pork roast (see recipe above)
4 slices Swiss cheese
6 pickle slices
Mustard and mayonnaise
Spread mustard and mayonnaise on insides of the split loaf. Add layers of ham, roast pork, and cheese. Top with sliced pickles. Heat both sides of the sandwich on a grill or in a Panini press. You can also fry it in a pan on the stovetop (like you’d cook a grilled cheese sandwich), weighting the top with a plate and turning once. Serve hot or warm.

This is the basic recipe for raw conch salad, should you find yourself with fresh conch. It is also delicious when made with any raw or cooked fish or scallops.
1/4 cup lime, lemon, or sour orange juice
1 tbsp grated lime, lemon, or orange peel
1/2 tsp minced hot pepper (jalapeño, habanero, or other hot pepper)
1/2 cup chopped onion or scallion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tbsp olive oil
2 lb. fresh raw (or cooked, if you prefer) conch, scallops, salmon, tuna, whitefish, or shrimp, cut into bite-size pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients except seafood in a mixing bowl, blend well and season with salt and pepper. Add seafood and marinate 30 minutes in refrigerator. Serve on lettuce leaf cups with a bottle of hot sauce on the side

There are more variations on coleslaw recipes in Caribbean cuisine than I can count.  This is one of the best I’ve tasted.
2 tbsp chopped green pepper
1/2 cup diced apple
1 tsp each salt and sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
3 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded carrot
3 slices pineapple, chopped
Combine all ingredients and serve. 

1 large cucumber
1 tsp seeded chili peppers, minced
1 cup white, cider or rice vinegar
1/2 tbsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash the cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and slice it into moon-shaped, 1/3-inch-thick pieces. Place it in a bowl along with the chili peppers. Mix vinegar, sugar, and salt and pepper. Pour onto cucumber mixture, chill, and serve

Near our Florida home is a great little Caribbean restaurant called Calypso in Pompano Beach that makes the most delicious plantains I’ve ever tasted.  I spent the winter trying to replicate the recipe and here is the one that comes closest to the original.

3 ripe black plantains, peeled* and cut into 1” inch rounds
5 tbsps butter
1 tsp gound cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp brown sugar

Heat 4 tbsps butter in a large skillet and place over medium low heat (to avoid burning the plantains). Sautee the plantains in a single layer, until golden on the bottom then turn over with a spatula. Add the cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar and let cook a few more seconds until the sugar melts.  Remove pan from heat and leave plantains in pan.  Just before serving, melt remaining butter and gently blend plantains into caramelized sauce and heat on low until thoroughly warmed. Serve immediately.
*To peel the plantains, cut off ends and discard. With a paring knife, make 3 shallow slits lengthwise along the seams of the skin and peel away. Split the plantains lengthwise.

3 cups long grain rice
2 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover tightly, reduce heat to very low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff rice when cooked.  To make it a bit sweeter, add ½ tsp of sugar or crystallized ginger.

Variation: Coconut Rice and Peas
To the recipe above (without sugar) add and combine in a saucepan:
3 cups canned and drained pigeon peas or chickpeas
1 cup chopped scallions
½ tsp dry thyme or 1 tbsp fresh thyme
1 Scotch Bonnet or 2 jalapeno peppers, whole and uncut
1/4 cup olive oil
Follow directions
Grapefruit, lime avocado salad

During our winter in South Florida, I had an opportunity to explore the cooking of the Caribbean Islands, a cuisine that is very popular in the Sunshine State.  While we often associate Caribbean cooking with hot, spicy sauces, marinades and rubs – and the Caribbean has its share of fiery condiments and dishes -- there is significantly more depth and flavor than heat in most Caribbean dishes.  Brightly seasoned sauces, flavorful rubs and marinades and complex seasonings characterize Caribbean cooking.   A culinary melting pot, Caribbean cooking has been influenced by indigenous people, immigrants from Europe, Africa, India, China and the Middle East.  Our entertaining in Florida featured several sauces, rubs and marinades that delighted Northern guests and even surprised South Florida natives.    In this newsletter, I share the recipes for sauces, rubs and marinade and my April blog features a few of my favorite Caribbean sandwiches, salads and side dishes.  In an upcoming issue of PassageMaker, I offer a few Caribbean menus that are easy to make aboard.  Get lost in the Caribbean with me!


The name of the first sauce - Sauce Ti-Malice-  (“soos tee malees”) is based on a story in Haitian folklore. Two characters, Ti-Malice (“Little Malice”) and Bouki, are good friends but Ti-Malice is a prankster. Bouki shows up at Ti-Malice’s house every day around lunchtime. Ti-Malice, being good-natured, ends us sharing his lunch with Bouki  every day. One day, Ti-Malice prepares a very hot sauce as a condiment for lunch, hoping to deter Bouki from coming back each day. But the ploy backfires! When Bouki tastes the meat with the hot sauce on it, he runs all over town, bragging, “Come taste the sauce Ti-Malice made for me.” This delicious green sauce can be served on warm or cold, on meat, fish, or rice dishes; eaten with vegetables; spread on sandwiches; or enjoyed as a salad dressing.

1/2 cup vinegar or lemon or lime juice, or a blend of all three
1 medium onion or four shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup chives, scallions, or parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 or 3 jalapeños or other hot peppers (depending on how hot you want the sauce)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tbsp salt
Blend all ingredients by hand or in a food processor. Taste and add more salt if needed. Let sauce sit 2-{3 hours before serving.

Sauce chien is translated literally as “dog sauce, ” named for the fierce bite of its peppers! Serve with grilled fish, shrimp or lobster.

3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 medium shallots or a small onion, peeled and quartered
1-3 jalapeño, Scotch bonnet, or habanero chilis, seeded and quartered
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives or scallion greens
1/2 tsp fresh or ¼ t. dried thyme
1 scant tsp salt, or more to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of ground allspice
1/3 cup fresh lime juice, or more to taste
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
By hand or using a food processor, chop the garlic, shallots, chili, ginger, parsley, and chives. Add remaining ingredients, and process just to mix. If desired, add more salt and/or lime juice to taste. Let flavors blend for an hour or more. Serve with grilled shrimp or lobster.

This garlic and pepper sauce is widely used in Puerto Rican cooking, ajili-mojili is delicious with beef, lamb, or pork.
2 sweet red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1-3 jalapeño, habanero, or Scotch bonnet chili peppers, seeded and minced
1/4 cup chopped garlic
2 tbsp lime juice
1/4 cup vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp cilantro, chopped
Blend all ingredients by hand or in a food processor. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Let sit 2{3 hours before serving.


This tangy rub hails from Cayman Brac where it is used to flavor meats for grilling.
1/2 cup of sea or kosher salt
1/2 cup of course ground black pepper
1 cup dried lime zest or fresh grated lime zest dried in a 150 degree oven for 24 hours
½ cup dried lemon zest  or fresh grated lemon zest dried in a 150 degree oven for 24 hours
Mix ingredients thoroughly and store in dry, airtight container.  Use as a rub for steaks, roasts or chops.  Makes 2 ½ cups.

Puerto Rican Adobo is a rub used on meats, seafood and chicken.  Widely available in grocery stores in South Florida, I don’t often find it in Maryland, so I make it myself to keep on the boat.
4 tbsp salt
3 tbsp onion powder
3 tbsp garlic powder
3 tbsp black pepper
1 ½ tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried lime zest (or lemon or orange or a blend)
1 tsp of achiote powder (optional)
Blend ingredients well and store in a dry, air-tight container.
Makes one cup.


This delightful marinade from the small island of Anguilla where it is used primarily as a marinde for beef.  I love it on pork and lamb too.
1 tbsp of salt
Black pepper to taste
2 tbsp of molasses
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup wine vinegar (white or red)

Said to be a favorite marinade for fish at Chef Tell's Cayman Island restaurant, it is spicy and flavorful.
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp sage
1 tbsp marjoram
2 tbsp garlic
6 scallions
1 tbsp hot peppers chopped
3 tbsp black pepper
3 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp ground cloves

Combine all herbs and spices. Mix in blender or food processor and let sit for 2-3 hours, or even overnight. Put the spice mixture on the fish and grill or pan fry to taste.



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