Caribbean “Home” Cooking

When it comes to Caribbean dishes, operators often rely on island-born staff for inspiration and recipes.

Jerk chicken with mango is a
classic Caribbean dish.

When it comes to getting ethnic food right, more and more operators are turning to members of their staffs for advice and even recipes. With a workforce increasingly made up of employees from around the world, foodservice departments are finding it easier to enlist the aid of cooks and other staff to add authenticity to world cuisines.

This is particularly true of Caribbean, as many companies and institutions now have at least a few employees from such locales as Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. At Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Executive Chef Jim Rose has Joe Cavalier, one of whose contributions to the menu is Caribbean Vegetables over Red Beans and Rice.

“It’s basically braised kale with ginger, nutmeg, beans and some hot peppers,” says Rose. “The vegetables are cooked down and it makes its own sauce. It’s spiked with a jerk style seasoning. The beans are cooked from a dry stage—soaked for a day and then simmered the next day.”

At NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, Executive Chef Istvan Ungi—himself Hungarian-born—has Herbert Henriquez as his first cook. Henriquez is a native of Jamaica who grew up eating oxtail stew.

“Oxtail is great,” says Henriquez. “It is so nice and tender. I add some butter beans to it, along with water, onion, garlic and thyme. It makes its own sauce.”

Ungi also is a fan of oxtail, but he cautions that it is not an everyday menu item.

“We serve it a couple of times a month, for special events, but it’s pretty expensive,” Ungi explains. It can be three times as expensive as chicken wholesale.”

But Henriquez does more than oxtail stew. Ungi says that he also prepares spicy shrimp, marinated in a mixture of chipotle, pineapple juice, brown sugar and oil.

“We also are very strong on using salsas on all types of dishes,” Ungi adds. “You just add rice and fried plantains and it’s Caribbean. It is very versatile in the cafeteria. It’s a very simple item, but everyone likes it.”

At Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, Mo., Executive Chef Taylor McCloskey tapped into the knowledge of a Jamaican-born dishroom employee for his Masa Coconut Chicken.

"I picked his brain for some ideas and then added my own take,” says McCloskey. “Coconut and pineapple are very big in his culture.”

McCloskey’s “take” was to use masa instead of flour to coat the chicken breasts. With the substitution of masa, the item becomes even more versatile because it’s gluten-free.

“I had not planned to make it gluten free,” he explains. “But we have such a demand for celiac diets now.”

After dredging the breasts in the masa, McCloskey coats the chicken first with a honey mustard dressing, then with a mixture of coconut, cilantro and more masa. The dish is baked and served with a pineapple pico de gallo.

Not every operator relies on the counsel of employees for their Caribbean dishes. Gregg Russell, foodservice director at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial VA Hospital in Loma Linda, Calif., drew inspiration from his wife for his Parmesan, Potato and Tortilla-Encrusted Tilapia

“My wife likes parmesan crusted chicken with panko, so I thought this would be tasty and colorful with the tilapia, shredded potato, and the tri-color tortilla chips,” Russell says. The fish is brushed with mayonnaise, then coated with the cheese, shredded potatoes and crushed chips. It is baked, then topped with a tropical salsa.

Of course, what Caribbean menu would be complete without the iconic jerk chicken? At Skidmore, cooks prepare their own marinade with a jalapeno-habanero blend and a cilantro-lime vinaigrette. Rose says he thinks the wet marinade works better than a dry rub, which he finds to be too spicy and has a tendency to clump of sections of the chicken.

“We use boneless chicken thighs,” he notes. “The meat is grilled. We pair the chicken with roasted plantains—it adds a little sweetness and offsets the spiciness of the chicken—and serve it with a coconut rice. We steep jasmine rice in coconut milk and water and steam it, then add nutmeg.”

Chef Ungi says jerk chicken is one of the favorite dishes at his hospital. Staff prepare it by mixing a dry seasoning mix with cloves, soy, vinegar, chili and chopped onions and applying it to the chicken.

“We leave the chicken in the marinade at least overnight, but it is better if it’s marinated for three days,” he explains. “We bake it in the oven for 40 minutes until it is crispy on the outside and still juicy inside.”

The hospital serves its chicken with coconut rice and pigeon peas. 

More From FoodService Director

Sponsored Content
green smoothie

From DanoneWave Away From Home.

Not so long ago, finding non-dairy milk in a supermarket dairy case was a challenge. But these days, that aisle is bursting with plant-based beverage choices—cow’s milk alternatives crafted from soybeans, nuts, grains or coconut, as consumer demand for these beverages has grown exponentially. According to Euromonitor, worldwide sales of non-dairy milk alternatives more than doubled between 2009 and 2015.

Millennials and Gen Zers, many of them already accustomed to drinking dairy alternatives at home, expect to see some of those same choices...

Industry News & Opinion

George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is adding an additional $200 in dining dollars to each student's dining plan this fall, The GW Hatchet reports.

The boost comes just a year after the university switched to an open-format dining plan that allows students to spend their entire meal fund off campus; allowed venues include about 90 grocery stores and restaurants.

While students support the new plan, they are concerned about dining affordability. In conjunction with discounted meal deals that were implemented last semester, school officials hope the extra $200...

Ideas and Innovation
student food tray

Stories of students who can’t pay for lunch being given a subpar meal or shamed for their debt have proliferated in recent years, and it’s not an uncommon problem. The SNA’s 2016 School Nutrition Operations Report found that about three-quarters of school districts had an unpaid student meal debt at the end of last school year, an increase from 71% of districts reporting debt in 2014.

Government has begun to take action. In April, the USDA issued new regulations mandating that schools implement unpaid meal policies by the start of the 2017-18 school year and clarifying that schools...

Ideas and Innovation
iris camera

Biometric payment technologies such as finger and palm scanning are slowly emerging in foodservice operations, including the University of Maryland’s transition last fall. But the future may be leaning toward a more hands-off approach.

George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., was looking to speed up its meal-swiping process alongside a new unlimited dining plan. Iris cameras , which take a photograph of an eye that is converted into data that cannot revert back to a photograph, won out.

Danny Anthes, senior manager of information technology, says two factors stood out in...

FSD Resources