This week I cooked the food of my native land for the first time in several years. I made rice and peas and chicken, a staple of Jamaican cuisine, and I was pretty happy with how it turned out.
I can’t provide a recipe because, unlike almost every other kind of food, I never use one when I’m cooking Jamaican. For me, Caribbean food is all about eyeballing the spices, estimating measurements, and tasting as you go. I learnt how to cook Jamaican from my mother, to whom recipes are anathema. Cooking is a constant process of experimentation, fortunately mostly successful.
When it comes to foods that are not in my blood, I am very reliant on recipes. As a perfectionist, I can’t stand the idea that I could spend hours cooking and end up with something sub-par (though this has, of course, happened to me lots of times). With a recipe, if the food is bad, it means that the recipe was bad; I am not a bad cook. With Jamaican food, I can let myself take a risk a little more. I can focus on the process and not just the outcome. Each pot of rice I cook is unique.
The rice and peas wasn’t perfect, but then I did use tinned kidney beans (the peas) rather than dried. Using dried beans is what gives rice and peas its characteristic colour, but I couldn’t be bothered soaking peas for a midweek meal. I also couldn’t cook it in my Dutch pot, because that is currently being driven around Kent in the back of my aunt’s Vauxhall. Long story.