With London’s biggest street festival just around the corner, regular demo chef Jenny Chandler offers her tips on cooking up a Caribbean storm
Words: Jenny Chandler
This Friday in the Market’s demo kitchen I’ll be getting you revved up and ready for Europe’s biggest street festival, The Notting Hill Carnival. This huge celebration of London’s racial diversity, particularly its Caribbean communities, kicks off on Sunday, with two entire days of parading, dancing, music and revelry—and that, of course, includes plenty of great food and drink.
Carnival by its very definition is a time of indulgence. The history of our European carnivals is strongly tied in with Catholic pre-Lenten tradition, a time to indulge before 40 days of fasting. Some say that the very word carnival evolved from the Latin carne levare, to put away the meat.
Whatever the true origin, it’s certainly a more gregarious way to approach a time of penitence than our rather restrained pancake tossing. Rio de Janeiro’s world famous carnival continues to be held before Lent, but London’s big party has always been a secular event celebrated in summer.
Smoke and heady spices
While we can’t guarantee a Caribbean heatwave this weekend, you can be sure of huge crowds and the waft of smoke and heady spices coming from all the street food stands where jerk chicken will be top of the menu.
I’ll be making my own home cook-friendly version in the demo kitchen, dispensing with the traditional split oil drum barbecue and piles of pimento wood and taking a slightly simpler approach. Jamaican jerk specialists would surely not approve of my technique, but this unorthodox recipe certainly makes a fabulously tasty dish to feed a crowd.
Another mainstay of Caribbean cooking and a brilliant way to cater for larger numbers is rice and peas. Recipes vary throughout the islands. Some, rather confusingly, contain no peas at all. The most traditional pigeon pea (also known as a cow pea or gungo pea, depending where you are) is a dried pulse and interchangeable with red kidney beans in Jamaica. I love the colour contrast of the deep carmine red of the beans and the white, coconutty rice.
At your peril
The dish is crowned with a fiercely hot scotch bonnet chilli that you can dive into at your peril. It’s a great recipe to have in your repertoire, a particular favourite of mine with simply barbecued fish.
Back in my sailing days a couple of decades ago, I picked up a fabulously fresh tasting prawn curry from Trinidad (home to the Caribbean’s biggest and most famous carnival, and the inspiration behind so many of Notting Hill’s most eye catching costumes). The prawns are usually served up in a freshly made roti but work just as well with any flat bread if you’re short on time. The recipe’s a cinch, so I absolutely have to share it.
Then to the drinks, assuming that we’ll be basking in rays of a late summer sunshine, you could certainly do no better than a good fruit punch. A fiery ginger beer, plenty of citrus juice, a hint of bitters and some fresh mango is my desert island cocktail; add a dash of deep golden rum if you’re after an alcoholic version, turn up the calypso and get ready to party.
Join Jenny for tips, tastings and recipes on Friday 26th August in the Market Hall, 12:30-2pm