I’ve asked my mom this many times, how do you know the food is finished cooking. She looks at me and says “I just know.”
You see, in Jamaica, we don’t use timers, the cooks just know when the food is ready. This drives my non-Jamaican friends crazy when I stay with them and cook anything as they want to use a timer and I don’t use one, but get the food right anyways :-).
This totally baffles them as they don’t get it.
So how do Jamaicans know the food is cooked? Here’s a dialogue I had with two of my friends so you get an idea of what it takes:
Me: So when you guys baked in Jamaica, did you or your family use a timer? Or when you cooked, did you have a timer? Do you have a timer today?
Sharon: No, no timer, you just know
Me: But how do you know?
Richard: Never used a timer. You check your meat and tender is tender
Sharon: Comes with practice
Me: How do I explain “tender” to a non-Jamaican audience? 🙂
Sharon: Everyone who’s cooking knows about meat being tender. Means soft.
Richard: Just right without any difficulty chewing; falls off the bone tender
Me: But how do you know that by looking at the meat?
Richard: Well you can’t just look. You have to stick it with a fork and tasting is also important. If the meat is still rubbery then it is not tender enough.
So there you have it, now you know how to figure out when your Jamaican food dish is done? Or do you? :-).
As you can see, its not an exact science. It’s something that is learned over time. But how do you know the first time you cook Jamaican food?
It takes time. You really have to feel the cooking, so use your smell, be patient, taste the food and just check it from time to time so it does not burn. When we bake, at least in the country anyways, we had a stick from the leaf of the coconut tree that we would push in the cake or pudding to ensure that its done. How do you know its done? Well, when nothing sticks to the stick, its done.
When I grew up in Jamaica in the country, we had no oven, so we would put the mixture in the pan, place fire coals underneath it and above it on a tin and check it after about an hour or so. Then we would use the stick to test it to ensure its done.
O.K. so that was a long time ago right? :-). What you can do is to use a cooking thermometer to check the temperature. This for sure will tell you that its done.
As I give you recipes, I will ensure that you know how to tell that the food is cooked. But just to manage your expectations, no timer was ever used and if one was used, you’ll be the first to know :-).
Welcome to Cooking Jamaican Food 101.