Ackee and saltfish

  • 4
  • 1 hour 10 minutes plus soaking time for the saltfish
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Ackee and saltfish is often called the national dish of Jamaica, and makes a delicious weekend breakfast. The ackee in the name is a fruit that was brought over to Jamaica from West Africa on slave ships, and saltfish refers to salted, self-stable white fish. The whole dish comes together quite quickly, and is best enjoyed with callaloo and dumplings.

This recipe is taken from Motherland by Melissa Thompson (Bloomsbury Publishing, £26). Photography by Patricia Niven.

First published in 2023

Melissa says: "When I go to visit my parents and Dad makes this, I’m immediately transported to my childhood. The dish is so evocative for me. Still, to this day, my parents split the tasks: Dad on ackee and saltfish, Mum on plantain and dumpling duty.

Because canned ackee is so expensive, Dad would only use one can and that determined how much could be made. So instead I’d monitor Mum as she mixed the dumpling dough, willing her to make loads.

This is a dish I always eat with my hands, using torn bits of fried dumpling to scoop up mouthfuls. And I mop up every bit of sauce.

Ackee and saltfish encapsulates the essence of Jamaican food in its conjoining of ingredients from various sources to create something that, to me, is greater than the sum of its parts. Saltfish imported from North America, primarily Canada, was traded with Europe as part of the Triangular Trade. In the Caribbean, a poorer-quality version called ‘West India Cure’ or ‘Jamaica Cure’ – that would have been rejected by Europeans – was eaten. This featured heavily in enslaved people’s diets as a protein source. Ackee, in turn, is a fruit that was brought to Jamaica from West Africa on a slave ship in 1778.

The exact moment the two were paired has never been definitively pinpointed, to my knowledge. But perhaps, back when saltfish was not of the highest quality, other ingredients were added to dilute its taste."






Put the saltfish in a pan of water and bring it to the boil. Simmer until the fish is cooked through and soft; the time this takes will vary depending on the type of fish, so expect anything from 8 up to 20 minutes

  • 225g of saltfish, rinsed and soaked overnight

Once cooked, drain. When it is cool, break the fish into smaller pieces, checking for bones and removing them as you go and removing the skin as well


Pour the oil into a frying pan and fry the onion, red pepper, garlic and Scotch bonnet over a medium heat until they soften, without letting them colour; 8-10 minutes


Add the saltfish, cook for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes, spring onions, thyme and measured water


Cook for a further 5-8 minutes until the tomatoes and spring onions soften


Gently stir in the ackee, being careful not to break the curds up. Warm through for 2-3 minutes

  • 540g of can of ackee, drained

Serve with Seasoned Callaloo and Fried Dumplings or Festival  (see pages 111, 224 and 223 of Motherland), or other hard food

First published in 2023

Melissa Thompson is a London-based recipe developer and food writer of Jamaican and Maltese heritage. She runs food and recipe project Fowl Mouths and is a columnist for BBC Good Food. In 2022, Melissa released her debut cookbook Motherland, which celebrates the food of Jamaica.

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