Saturday, April 23, 2011

A (Good) Friday Fish Pie Adventure

It is Easter, and here at home, we Trinidadians love our holidays – especially long weekends. No doubt most households would have been cooking some type of fish stew yesterday. Back in the day my Grandmother was a stickler for the traditional Good Friday meal of provision and fish. She loved cooking tinned salmon with tomatoes, onions, chive and hot yellow pepper... yum!

The meal I was planning to cook yesterday was definitely fish oriented, but more for nostalgia’s sake than anything else. I had some shark fillets thawing out for our lunch which I was going to stew up and make a nice thick sauce to pour on some boiled potatoes, dasheen and plantain, together with some white beans and a simple salad. However, the lunch was never made.

You see, I was feeling for a nice hand-held fried pie for breakfast yesterday. If you’re not familiar with the fried pie, it’s one of those Trini staples that consist of a soft dough that’s filled with a tasty meat or vegetable filling, then fried in hot oil, drained and served with some tasty pepper sauce or others made from mango, pommecythere or tamarind. The most popular of these pies is the potato pie, followed closely by the beef/mincemeat version. After that, the fillings tend to get very creative and can include chicken, cheese, shredded carrot and cabbage, lentils or even split peas. Usually, the doubles vendors I patronise have beautiful, soft potato pies for sale, along with saheina, my next favourite East Indian snack made with split peas, dasheen bush and other seasonings. Of course, yesterday being Good Friday, the vendors were not out, so, I was going to have to do this on my own.

No matter. I was truly in the mood to knead some flour and enjoy a nice, tasty fish-filled pie. The only fish I had though, was some canned tuna and a pack of frozen white fish fillets. I could've gone either way, but the fillets would have taken more time since they’d need to be steamed, and then seasoned, but with the tuna, all I needed to do is just open the cans.

But before doing that…

I started off by combining 4 cups flour, 2 teaspoons instant yeast, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt in my giant measuring cup/mixing bowl.
Mixed it thoroughly with my whisk so everything was distributed evenly.
In went about 2 ¾ cups lukewarm water. the amount is never the same each time I make it, so as a precaution, I always add my water in stages. 
I mixed it with a wooden spoon.

Sprinkled some flour on my board…
and turned out the spooned dough to knead it. Here, I had barely begun shaping it with my hands when my camera went dead so, there aren’t any pics of the actual kneading. After that I had placed dough in an oiled metal bowl and swished it around so it was covered with the oil, then covered it with cling wrap and placed it to rise for ½ an hour.

Next… tuna. I opened and drained all five cans in a large sieve, pressing my spoon against it to remove as much liquid as possible.
Into it went 2 teaspoons lime juice and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.

Now for the tuna's seasonings. Fresh thyme, chadon beni, chive, pimento peppers & parsley were chopped (in varying amounts).
At the last minute I decided to add in a chopped onion and then mixed everything up.
In went a ½ teaspoon salt and 3 heaped tablespoons of sweet relish. Tasted it and decided to add a spritz more lime and some more fresh thyme, then set it aside to work on the risen dough. :-)

This actually doubled in size (felt really proud). I just removed the cling film and turned it out onto my floured board.
A little light kneading again; I used my hands to just fold the dough onto itself.  I must emphasize that you need to resist temptation to tumble this dough about too much, because then your pies will become stiff.
So, after the light knead, I cut the dough in half. You can use a knife for this, but I recently began using this plastic bench scraper, which works well for me.
Then I split each half into two and began chopping off some good sized nubs to make into balls.
The balls were rolled and placed on an oiled baking tray, then sprayed with cooking spray so the tops wouldn’t harden. Left them for about 15 to 20 minutes to rise again. All in all, I got about 22 balls.
After they rose, I floured my board a bit.
Took a ball (don’t forget to handle these with care, they will feel like a soft marshmallow) and dipped it into my little bowl of flour to cover it all over. I do this instead of flouring the rolling pin… it's much easier.
Pressed it a little…
Rolled the ball out thinly to about a 5 inch circle.
I placed a good spoonful of tuna to cover one half, leaving a ¼ inch or so around the edge.
I used my fingertips to wet the uncovered edge with a little water, and then brought up the wet half to cover the tuna.
I then pressed the edges to pinch them together.
I used extreme care to place them one by one on the oiled baking sheet. Remember, they're as soft as marshmallows!
Now for the best part, frying them up! I put 3 cups of soya oil into my pan and heated it on medium high. Carefully added them in twos and threes and fried them until they were a nice light golden brown colour, about a minute or two, tops.
Looks good coming out, ent?
Place to drain on some paper towels or brown paper, and boom! Your pies are done!
Bust it open along the seam and add a little of your favourite spicy sauce, then take a bite! YUM!!!

And thus ends my Good Friday Tuna Pie adventure. Wow… that was definitely one of my longest postings to date, but I think it was pretty much worth it.
I also must apologise for not posting this on Good Friday itself (which was my original plan), but I was SUPER tired after making them. Plus, it’s not easy taking photos when your hands are in a combination of flour and oil, so it was very slow going. So, when I eventually ate my two pies after midday and sat on my bed, I didn't wake up until 6 hours later, and that’s why no Good Friday lunch was cooked. My family didn’t seem to mind, because no one woke me to ask if I was still going to cook, hahaa! They just kept munching on these throughout the day. In hindsight, we had our fish for Good Friday, and everyone was happy.

If you’d like the full recipe for my fried tuna pies, I’ll be happy to send it to you via email. Just hit me up at

Until next time, everyone take care, enjoy your Easter, and don’t forget to mind the pot!


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Jonesing for Pineapple Chow

Okay guys. Last Thursday night, I finished off my own test version of a Maracas beach style pineapple chow. (Insert shameless belch here.)
I told myself there wouldn’t be any photos, because I didn’t know how the result would turn out, but I knew how I hoped it would turn out.
Was this a night vaps? Definitely yes, and all the more weird because I came home tired as hell from another draining workdayintoevening and stepped into the kitchen to find these… well, they were actually a trio before I hewed into the smallest of the three.

They had looked so cute, the three of them, minus their green, spiny tops. The smell coming from the kitchen was so inviting that I almost forgot how pooped I was… for all of five seconds.
A shower and a nap later, I had entered the kitchen, still smelling like a fruit stall. I took the smallest of the group, barely a handful, sniffed the yellow scar and grabbed my Santoku. 


Peeled and sliced, I seasoned him up, guided by memories of trips to Maracas beach and busting open the plastic bag of said chow speckled with bits of hot red pepper that we’d always purchase on the way. And at the first bite, we’d always make that sound. (You know the one… when you bite the pepper and do that sharp intake of breath while a rush of saliva tries in vain to coat your tongue and lips… *thhhhhhhhhhhhh..*).

*snaps fingers* 

Okay, that was Thursday night. Today is Saturday and the evening is scorching. The memories of beach limes were playing with my brain, which then commanded my feet to head back to the kitchen and to make yet another batch, only this one would not have those bits of red habanero pepper, since I hadn’t any more. Peppersauce wouldn’t do this one justice, in my opinion. So, I worked with what I had...

I peeled the  pineapple by cutting off the top and bottom, then took my knife and ran it downward along the outside of the fruit in strips, like this.
All peeled...
Once peeled, the next problem is dealing with the eyes. Some people go around each one with the tip of a knife, but I prefer to slice them off in threes and fours, a method I learned from watching a Rastaman selling fruits on Chacon Street in Port of Spain some years ago.

After which, it will look like this.
Next, I cut some slices. I’m going for a ¼ inch sized slice or so here.

Transferred them to a bowl.

Now for the seasonings. First thing was the chadon beni, a leaf that’s similar to cilantro in the US. I washed these and just used a couple of the leaves, since the pineapples were really tiny.
I folded them up and began slicing them finely.
Then took my knife and ran it through to mince them up and added them to the slices.
Next was the garlic. Now you have to be careful with this, in my opinion. Too little, and your chow tastes weak. Too much and people will cry because of the burn. One large clove is all I needed here. So, first I sliced him up.
Then minced him up.
I decided to try a technique I saw on TV to get it even finer. I took a pinch of salt and sprinkled it on the minced garlic.
Then, I took my knife and literally tried pushing the salt into it by swiping my knife against the garlic a few times on the board.
 In no time, it was broken down into a thick, salty, garlicky paste.
(Now, if I were adding fresh cut habanero, I would have used about a 1 inch piece, finely minced, minus the seeds. I could have substituted red pepper flakes, but I chose not to use them since I just wanted some flavour, not heat.)

All I needed now was a clean hand to do the mix-up. Had to move gently of course, since these slices are thinner than what we get in the plastic bags, which are about ¾ of an inch or so.
And that’s all there is! Looks delicious already!
Now all I had to do is put the majority into a container, making sure to put in all the liquid – that’s one of the THE best parts of a pineapple chow – take out my portion, cover the rest, take a bite and say “Mmm-hmmm!”

So, there you have it. Halcy’s Pineapple chow. It may not be exactly like the Maracas version, but this works for me. It tastes even better when you leave the seasoned pineapple soaking for a while on the counter. Just turn them gently in the container it’s sitting in (make sure that the container has a tight cover), so the juices and flavours continue to meld.  I’m enjoying mine cold and the garlic, salt and chadon beni are just as sharp, literally making my taste buds dance.  

Be sure to give it a try, with or without the habanero. I promise you’ll love the taste. Who knows, you might even want to pack some to take with you on your next beach outing and save a few dollars, ent?

So, continue to enjoy your day, and like I always say, doh forget to mind de pot. Take care of yourselves! :-)