Monday, 5 October 2009

Cooking a la Levi Roots

I have pretty much zilch experience of Jamaican or Caribbean food, so was recently rather chuffed to win a copy of Levi Roots' new cookery book (thanks @Octopus_Books) which ties-in with his BBC tv show. There's something about Levi Roots that's very likable. Despite the risk of coming across like a parody of a Jamaican person with his blinged up style, frequent proclamations of 'respec' and calling food 'deliciosious', he is in fact a very articulate champion of Caribbean cooking, a pretty astute businessman and a natural television presenter.
The book begins with an introduction to basic Caribbean ingredients, most of which I'd heard of even if I wasn't sure what they actually were. The rest of the book covers both classic dishes from a number of the Caribbean islands, as well as recipes which are not traditional but give a Jamaican twist to familiar ingredients.
I decided to give the lime, chilli and coriander butter with salmon and lobster a go. Levi describes it as one of his favourite creations and it certainly sounded good.

75g butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped, fresh coriander
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
zest and juice of 1/2 lime
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
salt and pepper

(Levi's recipe serves the above with 4 salmon steaks, and I've found it makes more than enough for 1 lobster, two small salmon fillets, and six large prawns).

The recipe actually recommends the butter be served with a barbecued lobster, but due to the lack of barbecue and indeed a raw lobster, I used a cooked one instead. This was split and once I'd made up the butter, I daubed it generously over the lobster and the salmon fillets. I also included about half a dozen large, shell-on raw prawns which were de-veined and also had butter stuffed in them. The whole lot went into a really hot oven for around 10mins, or until the prawns and fish had cooked (which was enough time for the lobster to warm through).
I also cooked a couple of side dishes which were inspired by reading the book and watching the tv show, rather than specific recipes. I roasted some sweet potato wedges in the oven with lots of thyme, plenty of seasoning and little oil. I also cooked some spinach as a callaloo substitute. I started by gently frying some crushed garlic, and after a few minutes I added a chilli that I'd pierced a couple of times with the tip of a knife (to add flavour without too much heat). After another minute or so, about 250g of chopped fresh spinach leaves went in. This was all cooked down with a bit of seasoning until all the liquid from the spinach had evaporated. Having (in retrospect perhaps wrongly!) decided that this would not be enough food, I also made some aromatic rice. This is something I'd usually have with Indian food, but as Caribbean food has been influenced by the Indian diaspora that settled there, I thought it might work here too. So into a saucepan went a knob of butter with a bay leaf and a stick of cinnamon. Once these were sizzling I dropped in a cup of rinsed basmati rice, after a couple of quick stirs to coat the grains in the butter, I added double the quantity of water. When the rice had come up to the boil, I reduced the heat to the lowest possible, covered the pan and left the rice to absorb all the liquid. And so all of the above resulted in all of the below.

Although myself and the male companion person feared we had cooked way too much food, it was so lovely that we managed to devour most of it. I was slightly concerned that all the different herbs and spices might clash with each other, but in fact this was not the case at all. The simple side dishes were a great accompaniment to the rich seafood. The butter mellowed the strong flavours of coriander and chilli, and the lime added a hint of freshness. We got stuck in pulling the prawns and lobster apart, and using the rice and potato to mop up the lovely buttery juices.
This was definitely one of the nicest (and most extravagent) meals I have cooked recently, and confirms my view that Levi Roots rocks!


Unknown said...

Yum! I've really been enjoying the series too, his recipes are something I don't have much experience of either.
You know what I'm going to ask you next - where did you buy your lobster? :)

meemalee said...

Reggae Reggae Sauce - yeah!

The lobster sounds amazing - I find myself warming to Mr Roots despite myself :)

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

I received a copy of the book for my birthday a few days ago. Like you, I know nothing about Caribbean food, but flavour and ingredient combos sound incredibly appealing. Can't wait to get stuck in, esp now having read your review!

TheFastestIndian said...

Hi Deepa

Know you're well aware of Cam's fresh fish issues, so both giant prawns and lobster were frozen and came from.....Asda! They're part of whatever their 'Finest' range is called- and are actually really good and not too expensive. I just defrost over night in the fridge and they're ready to go!

TheFastestIndian said...

Hello Meemalee and Aforkfulofspaghetti!

Know what you mean about Levi- he could easily be a reggae reggae twerp. But he writes and speaks really eloquently about his family and having to leave Jamaica as a child, and his enthusiasm for everything seems very genuine.

The book was definitely really helpful in informing me what ackee actually is and what goes into jerk seasoning! I have plans for trying out some fish with rice and peas next!

Unknown said...

Never would have thought to look there! I'll keep my eyes peeled next time. Apparently a lot of the chinese supermarkets have good big frozen prawns but I can never seem to find them amongst the tongue and the pig spleen ;)