Cou-cou and flying fish

  • medium
  • 4
  • 60 minutes

A traditional recipe passed down through generations, flying fish and cou-cou is honoured as the national dish of Barbados. This classic recipe for the fresh fish stew (here using sea bass fillets) and thick cornmeal or polenta, from Bajan chef Jason Howard, includes a recipe for homemade Bajan chopped seasoning – a wet, spicy seasoning flavoured with fiery scotch bonnet chilli for a true taste of the Caribbean.

First published in 2016

This is a dish that is cooked all over Barbados, and it has plenty of fond memories attached to it for me. Usually this conjures up memories of grandmothers cooking it at home, which is what I always think of when I hear the name.

Cou-cou and flying fish is Barbados’ national dish and has the respect of both young and old generations. With mellow flavours, the fresh fish stew is also perfect for a typical British rainy day, as I have had here on many occasions. Flying fish is not very readily available outside of the Caribbean, but sea bass works just as well for the recipe and is much easier to find! In Barbados we always celebrate freshly caught fish in recipes such as this, so get the fish as fresh as you can and feel the love and warmth of Bajan cooking when you make this at home.

Barbados is known for its fresh flavours and love of chilli, but it is also an island of rich stews and of course, some great rum. Bajan cuisine is more of what I would call 'food for the masses', for example, many people have heard of classic jerk seasoning. We also have though a specific Bajan seasoning, often known as chopped seasoning, which is fresher and not quite as spicy – the perfect balance of heat and flavour. This does use a scotch bonnet chilli, so feel free to only use half if unsure of the heat.

This dish stands alongside other traditional recipes such as pudding and souse – pork boiled in salted water with plenty of herbs, then cooked down with sweet potatoes and stuffed into cleaned pigs intestines (almost like a sausage) then steamed before serving. These are eaten each and every Saturday on the island in vast quantities.




Flying fish

Bajan chopped seasoning

Fish stew

Bajan cornmeal (cou-cou)

  • 140g of cornmeal, fine ground
  • 620ml of water
  • 4 okra
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme


Begin by making the Bajan chopped seasoning as this needs to be made in advance. Place both types of onion, the garlic, ginger, scotch bonnet, thyme, mixed spice and lime juice in a food processor. Blitz to form a rough paste
Transfer the paste to a jar and add the vinegar. Seal the jar and shake vigorously to incorporate. Season to taste and leave to infuse for a few hours before using – any remainder can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or frozen
To prepare the fish, season the fillets well with lime juice and salt. Cover and leave to marinate for 10–15 minutes
Meanwhile, begin the stew by placing the oil in a deep frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, pepper, tomato, thyme, curry and garlic powders and fry for a couple of minutes to lightly soften. Stir in 1 tbsp of the Bajan chopped seasoning along with the butter
Rinse and pat dry the fish fillets. Season again with a little salt, pepper and garlic powder then roll each fillet up to form a cylinder. Place the rolls into the stew, cover the pan and simmer gently over a low heat for 12–15 minutes
Whilst simmering, add the water, okra, onion and thyme to a large pan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Strain the water, reserving the okra slices and liquid separately but discarding the onion and thyme
Place the pan back over a medium heat with the cornmeal. Whisk in the reserved water a little at a time to create a smooth mixture. Reduce the heat and continue to whisk vigorously until the mixture begins to thicken. Stir in the okra until fully incorporated
Scoop the cornmeal mixture into serving bowls and top with a rolled fillet, spooning over the fish stew. Season to taste and garnish with the parsley (and edible flowers, if using) to serve

Born in Barbados, chef Jason Howard is now based in London and specialises in modern Caribbean cuisine, combining his love of native Caribbean ingredients with his classical French training.

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