Cooking in the Islands
Callaloo
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Calaloo, Strange Calaloo
Mysterious curious roux
Try as you might to avoid the hoodoo
Sooner of later we're all in the stew

We got Crab and pigtail
Squid ink and fish scale
Okra and daheen leaves
Chitchat and chatter
Fill up the platter
With a garnish of pure make believe
--Jimmy Buffet, "Callaloo" from
Don't Stop the Carnival
(see this YouTube video)

Start by getting a bunch of stuff all spread out and get everyone involved cutting and chopping and making suggestions-- a recipe of recipes. Condense these into the pot. It's ok to add things later. But never boil twice. Just simmer and linger longer.

Teaching to cook callaloo is teaching to cook. Vary "measures" to gain a sense of proportion. Plan to learn from mistakes. Take notes of successes. If it's not as good, tell an interesting story.

This is how to make callaloo.

 

History

Callaloo, the Caribbean version of gumbo, comes out of Africa with a history as rich as the dish itself. See Callaloo. Its foundation in green leaves and vegetables, the ways of cooking callaloo apply to many other vegetables and dishes.

Pick healthy green dasheen leaves with a large purple dot, or substitute other related varieties, another callaloo-named green called Chinese spinach or Indian kale, ordinary spinach, Swiss chard, or even wild greens like tender lamb's quarters or delicate French sorrel.

Okra is often added for taste and as a thickener (see recipe). The tender Caribbean eggplant is a welcome, and thickening, addition.

Sautéed and Long-Simmered

For the traditional long-simmered "stew" that serves as a main dish, start by sautéing the Callaloo seasonings in the bottom of a large pot to flavor the cooking oil as well as the greens, wilting them down to preserve color in the process.

Crab or lobster and ham are the major ingredients added to make the callaloo a main dish. Potato or breadfruit may be added, along with the usual onions, sometimes celery stalks with leaves as well as other vegetables characteristic of creole cooking, such as bell peppers and even tomatoes and broth or stock.

Lush Green Velvet Soup

For a lush green velvet dish that serves only as soup, start by adding water, the greens (remove central stems), Callaloo seasonings and perhaps a small onion. Bring to a boil and simmer until greens are tender. Puree in a blender. Return to the pot and add diced cooked ham and lime juice. Finish by simmering again, but do not allow to boil a second time.

This is Calalou Chez Clara from a small seaside restaurant in Guadeloupe (found in Sky Juice and Flying Fish), served as an appetiser that traditionally follows a ti-punch. Callaloo is spelled calaloo in the French Antilles.

Crab or Lobster

Crab is often added to callaloo. Sauté the crab in a separate process with its own flavorings. Picked crabmeat can be used. Or even canned non-cream crab soup. Add the crab subdish to the pot in just time enough to avoid being overcooked, unless a long-simmer process is desired.

For an exotic presentation, use whole crabs. Remove the shells and place them in the pot to cook. Clean the crab by removing its innards and the gills. Cut the crab in sections, leaving on the appendages. Finish cooking. Remove a small appendage to taste for doneness.

Lobster can be used as well. Cut the tail in medallions and cook like the crab. Clean the head by removing the stomach sac. Place the head and carapace back in the pot, leaving the appendages attached. Finish cooking.

Presentation

Allow the shells and appendages of the crab or lobster to protrude from the callaloo. The lobster's head and carapace can be arranged like a sea serpent. Warn diners about its protective spines that give the Caribbean Spiny Lobster its name.

Draw a sailing ship, the HMS Rhone or some scene with annatto oil squirted out of a squeeze bottle, its bright yellow-orange color contrasting nicely with the green callaloo (your callaloo is green, isn't it?). Drag a toothpick to show motion like the sails or smokestack in the wind.

Play a Quito Rymer tape, Beenie Man's Going Away or some reggae or calypso, like this tune:

My friend Joe, from Port of Spain
Met a girl time and again.
Joe went home with her one day,
So I hear the people say.
There she give him kallabo,
Married Joe before he knew

Chorus:
I don't want no kallabo.

--1970s calypso song from
Virgin Gorda: On Foot or By Car

Ham

Every form of ham is often added to callaloo, including diced cooked ham, bacon slabs, ham hocks and pigtail. Bacon can be browned to produce fat in the place of the cooking oil.

Ham hocks and pigtail should simmer for a couple of hours until the meat is ready to fall off the bone; then cut into bite or serving size pieces.

Seasonings

Garlic, scallions, thyme and a Scotch bonnet pepper are  a basic combination of seasonings for Callaloo. It is essential to get a sense of amount and proportion of these basic seasonings. Pick basic combinations to flavor various foods of particular "cuisines."

The cooking oil is a handy medium for the transport of flavor to food items, often in combination. However, if this is overdone, everything ends up being "herbed." Couple a particular flavoring that you favor with a food item for strong results.

Elegance in cooking is a simple approach that works wonders on the taste buds.

See Callaloo Seasonings for their particular use as well as Barbados Seasoning.

West Indian Sauce

Often called a creole sauce, a basic West Indian sauce combines bell peppers with onions and tomatoes, although in the Caribbean tomatoes are sometimes omitted.

Sauté onions and garlic until translucent. Add tomatoes and bell peppers of mixed colors and sauté with the rest of the Callaloo seasonings and cook a few minutes to taste. Remember all these ingredients can be eaten raw so the cooking process is intended to infuse things one with another.

Sofrito in the Spanish Caribbean is very much the same, characteristically adding the yellow, flavorful annatto.

The real secret that island cooks have used to make a great sauce is adding some homemade broth created in cooking the main dish.

To go upscale, use shallots for onions, roast your garlic, garnish with chive sticks and finish with a folk art garnish.

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