I remember when I was in my teens, working out so I could be strong enough to work long hours at my part time job as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. Lifting weights was a hobby of mine; I liked the way it made me look and feel!
I always got hungry after a hard and long workout. I needed to eat, and would eagerly wait for mom to finish cooking. My mother being from the Caribbean believed in big and hearty meals to make you “stout”, big and strong.
Fried fish is a staple food in the Caribbean, so pretty much I knew what was going on in the kitchen when I came home for dinner. One of my favourite meals that brings back memories was my mom’s Fried Fish and Cou-cou. It was a really tasty, nutritious and filling meal that truly satisfied this growing young man!
Whenever I’m feeling nostalgic, and craving a delicious and nutritious, hearty meal, I’ll make this, just like my mom did.
Just like my mom, I buy fresh fish from my local fishmonger in Toronto’s Kensington market. Usually I’ll pick up some red snapper or a white fish such as cod or sole. I wash it with lime juice and salt and cold water, then season it with herbs and spices. Put it in the refrigerator overnight so that the seasonings penetrate the fish for an excellent taste. The next day, coat the red snapper in cornstarch and flour and fry it in hot oil until fully cooked.
Cod or sole tend to be more delicate than red snapper so require a different treatment. First, beat a couple of eggs together and add a pinch of salt and pepper to it then dip the fish into the egg mixture and then into a seasoned cornstarch and flour mixture, then pan fry it. I love fried fish, but you need to have something with it to make it a meal. You need some cornmeal cou-cou.
Cou-cou is a Caribbean dish that goes way back to slavery days in the Americas. It’s a Caribbean version of a West African dish called fou-fou that was traditionally made with cassava, plantain or millet flour. In the Caribbean, cornmeal flour was plentiful, so I guess that’s how “fou-fou” turned into “cou-cou”. Okra is a common vegetable used in West African cooking, and it is what we put into cou-cou to season it.
On my quest to know more about okra, I discovered that okra is not a vegetable, but actually, a seed pod that grows on the okra plant. After the plant produces beautiful flowers (which are from the same botanical family as hibiscus) the okra seed pods are left over. These seed pods are harvested and eaten like a vegetable. They’re an excellent source of dietary fibre and are full of vitamins and minerals.
My mom always told me that okra was good for you. Turns out that okra is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and folates. They are a good source of vitamin A and contain anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene, and lutein. They are also a source of calcium and B-complex vitamins, such as vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, niacin, and pantothenic acid. All I knew growing up was that it tasted good!
Cou-cou is a thick cornmeal porridge cooked with okra. So simple to make. Similar to polenta, it’s filling and satisfies a hungry stomach when paired with fried fish. To make it, boil some water, chop up some okra and throw it in the pot, then add cornmeal. Cook it on low heat for five minutes then put it aside.
Top it all off with a savoury gravy, with tomato, bell peppers, celery, onion, garlic, thyme and green onion to pour over the fried fish and cou-cou. The gravy is what brings this whole dish together, making this simple meal something special.
If you are looking to cut down on your oil intake and fried fish is not your thing, then making a nice savoury fish stew to pour over the cou-cou would be an equally satisfying and delicious alternative. Basically just poach your fish in some broth, with the same ingredients found in the fish seasonings and gravy. And add some more okra which will thicken it up to make it a nice gumbo fish stew.
Either way, I hope you try this out. I promise you will not be disappointed!