Secret to a faster Jamaican fish stew Canned (not fresh) coconut milk

  • Jamaican rundown (fish stew) gets its name from the long simmering time needed to thicken fresh coconut milk. But that’s avoided when you use canned. Abel Uribe

Chicago Tribune
Friday, April 27, 2018

Rundown is a spicy fish stew, the bouillabaisse of Jamaica. It simmers so long it runs down, which is to say thickens up.

I expected a long day of running down rundown. I cooked up Jamaican staples: tomato, pepper, onion, pepper, garlic, pepper and coconut milk. I dropped in cubes of fresh cod, which seemed to cook on contact. Done. Early. An eerie feeling.

Apparently the long run-up to rundown is cracking open a coconut, hacking the flesh to chunks, grinding the chunks to slurry, straining the slurry to milk and boiling the milk to custard.

But in my kitchen — so far from palm tree, so close to grocery store — all it takes is a twist of wrist to crack open a can. Making rundown a home run.


Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

2 pounds cod loin (or fillet) cut into 2-inch squares

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 2 limes

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 large onion, 1/2-inch dice

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 small Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, whole

1 teaspoon (dried or fresh) thyme leaves

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1. Marinate: Settle fish in a glass pan or bowl. Season with 1 teaspoon salt. Drizzle with lime juice. Cover and let rest at room temperature.

2. Soften: Heat coconut oil over medium in a wide cast-iron skillet. Tumble in onion, garlic, whole pepper, thyme, crushed red pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, stirring, until onion softens to a golden brown, about 6 minutes.

3. Thicken: Crack open a coconut with a hammer, strain out water, cut flesh into chunks, blend to a pulp, strain and cook to a custard, 2 hours. Just kidding. Open the can of coconut milk, and pour over onions. Add tomato paste, vinegar and sugar. Cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.

4. Run down: Settle in fish chunks. Pour in any remaining marinade. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, turning fish once, until fish flakes easily, 4 to 5 minutes. Taste. Add salt, a splash of vinegar or a pinch of sugar if need be. Pull out and discard the whole pepper.

5. Serve: Scoop stew into shallow bowls. In Jamaica this dish is served with dumplings and boiled bananas. I like crusty bread. Enjoy.