Monday, January 3, 2011

(Un)usual Comfort food

I really didn’t plan on doing any writing today, but after spending a strangely weird (but fun) day at work, my mind was on just one thing. Comfort food.
Bear with me, because I’m sure you’re immediately thinking of the basics like bread and cheese, bake and saltfish, or even my ultimate comfort food … mashed potatoes.
But none of these things were calling me. Truth be told, I wanted to eat something slightly burnt (oddly enough), and I wanted to hear it crunch between my teeth as it bit into it. Whatever it was had to be able to allow itself to be spooned into a warm and pillowy hops bread…

I wanted corned beef… just like my Granny used to make.

I know… I know… you’re screwing up your face and sing-songing “Cornbeef?!?” (which is how we Trinis really say it.) “But dat is bachelor food!
Or you’re remembering the old Rainbow corned beef ad where the man came from work and said, “Woman, just puh food orn dah table!” and she cooked corned beef for the man…
Flick that; I love corned beef and I have nothing but good memories of it. Let me break it down for you. Back in the day, when my Granny was a Miss, she couldn’t even afford a tin when she first came to Trinidad in the 1930s, yuh hear? But when she became a “Mrs”, she was able to buy it and cook it up nice-nice and drop it off at the San Fernando Police station for my Grandpa. When she became a Granny, we had had it every Thursday, which marked the start of one of my many comfort food rituals.

As a main meal, we ate corned beef and cabbage, cooked down until the cabbage was nice and tender and spooned atop warm potatoes. She called this dish “Jiggs”, because of the newspaper cartoon “Bringing up Father”; Maggie always cooked it (rather badly) for Jiggs. However, I loved it the most when it was cooked plain and accompanied by boiled rice, slices of ripe zaboca (avocado) and ripe boiled plantains.

But today, I needed Granny’s special Corned beef and hops bread.

First, I cut up a medium onion, three pimento peppers, some local celery leaves, a few bulbs of chive, and two tomatoes.

Opened a tin of corned beef and took off that fatty looking stuff. When I was little I always thought it looked like candle wax for some reason…

It gets mashed up…

I added a little fresh lime juice, just like Granny used to. She said it took away the scent of the metal.

Stir until you can stand your spoon in it... okay, ah lie. We do this standing spoon trick with cake batter, not corned beef, so fellas, don't get any ideas about eating corned beef for *ahem* potency, eh?

I got out 'Old Faithful' (you can’t miss the wear and tear) and put in a little olive oil. You see, when cooking nostalgic dishes like these, you need a pot or pan that’s seasoned and able to take some licks! You’ll see why in a minute…

Flame on high, I spooned in the corned beef and flattened it in the pan for a couple of  minutes.
You see? That is why you need a seasoned pan. I love my corned beef with burnt bits!
Next, I put in the veggies in the following order; onions...

 Then the pimentoes, chive and celery and turned it up good and proper.
 I put in a good blob of ketchup and roughed him up some more.
He looking GOOD!
So I left him alone for a minute or two to make some more “bun-bun” on the bottom. Now if you don’t like the bun-bun, skip this step altogether and turn off the flame.
All ready! Fire's off and I covered it down. Don’t laugh at the size of the cover; if you’re a True Trini like I am, you tend to use covers that don’t always match sometimes, ent?

And now for the moment of truth! Heated up my hops and spooned the steaming corned beef into it.


As for the rest, ah cover him down to put in the fridge for tomorrow!
*1 hour (and a few belches) later*

Yup…jus' right. Did I feel comforted after all that? Most definitely. The taste is always as I remember, and with the perfect crunch on the hops. Funny how simple things like a little frying pan of corned beef can bring on happy feelings and good vibes. So, if you're into corned beef, this is an easy one to try. 
(Incidentally, my Granny’s recipe for “Jiggs” (Corned Beef and Cabbage) will be featured in my upcoming cookbook, “What We Eating.”)

So, thanks for letting me share this one with you, and I look forward to writing on a few more comfort foods as time goes on. Allyuh take care, and don’t forget to mind de pot!


  1. I am dying to try to create a cornbeef and baked potato, covered in cheese and chive... what do you think?

  2. I love love the commentary and the writing-I know you are Trinidadian. Corned Beef this way is real boss food.