A French concept, a fusion of Jamaican and foreign ingredients, JuicyChef shares how she casually entertains during the cocktail hour.
Aperitifs are drinks before dinner to stimulate the appetite before a meal. The French take it to another level with the apèro concept, an informal gathering at one’s home or a meet up at a bar for a quick drink with finger foods. Influenced by my years in Paris, the apèro hour has now become an integral part of my food lifestyle. I happily gorge on snackable foods in lieu of a heavy dinner when the concept is taken up a notch for L’Apèro Dînatoire. This style of entertaining has set the tone for successful book club meetings and spontaneous hang out sessions with friends.
As a flexitarian, I appeal to both meat and fish loving friends as well as those who fall under the plant based camp. Naturally I have “Jamaicanised” my offerings by infusing local flavours, keeping in line with my “cooking local, eating global “motto. I normally serve a rum punch or one of my signature “fling togedda” cocktails in lieu of anise laced drinks and delicious kirs, unless of course I purchase bottles of pastis and crème de cassis on my travels and can truly revel in an authentic apèro feeling. The fancy alternative is bubbly. Or just keep it fuss free with an array of wines.
No sign of saucisson sec as yet, but I am hopeful it will happen one day
Alongside cheeses, I serve either one of my staple homemade accompaniments such as pineapple or sorrel chutney depending on the season, spiced nuts, some form of spread like tapenade or pâtè and charcuterie. Other personal signature dishes with condiments that may appear on my table are my coconut and papaya salsa with plantain chips or fritters with tomato ginger sauce. I usually purchase a bottle of local pepper jelly for spice lovers. These days, thrilled to bits that excellent chorizo, salami and prosciutto are no longer difficult to procure as we now have a local charcuterie expert on the island whose premium products are sold in specialist food stores. No sign of French inspired saucisson sec as yet, but I am hopeful it will happen one day.
Otherwise, I’m quite prone, and happily so, to serve some jerk meats or fish based offerings. You’ve got to have some crunch in the form of crackers or chips. Instead of potato based, mine will be breadfruit or cassava in the form of fried bammy sticks to scoop up the dips.
Next time you wish to entertain, try this alternative way of hosting a gathering, especially if you cannot be bothered to slave over the stove for long hours preparing an elaborate meal. An apèro can be anything you want it to be. Make it local with the art of French insouciance and Caribbean flair.
A votrè santé!
Sprats are similar to sardines and common in Caribbean waters especially around the Easter/Spring season. They are entirely edible so we leave them whole. I love them lightly coated in seasoned flour, fried dry and crunchy with a squeeze of lemon or lime or topped with Jamaican style escoveitch sauce and a side of bammy sticks.
Fancy ‘pick up’ saltfish
Pick up saltfish is a classic Jamaican salt cod snack served with crackers jazzed up with lively scotch bonnet, onions or scallions, thyme or parsley doused with cane vinegar and oil, served on “tough” crackers or paired with humble hard dough bread. It is similar to Trinidadian bul jol. In my version I add capers and avocado.
- 500 g salted cod, soaked overnight
- 2 stalks of scallion, green parts only, thinly sliced
- ½ small onion, finely sliced
- 1 large salad tomato, deseeded and diced
- 1 coloured sweet pepper, deseeded and diced
- 2 tbsps capers in brine, rinsed
- 1 large avocado, cubed
- Juice of 1 or 2 limes
- Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
- Cracked black pepper, to taste
- Parsley, for garnish
- “Pick up” the presoaked saltfish by removing skin and bones, add the flaked fish to a large bowl.
- Add scallion, onion, tomato, sweet pepper, capers and avocado to the saltfish.
- Prepare a vinaigrette with the lime juice, zest and two times the amount of oil, season with cracked black pepper and pour over the “pick up” saltfish mix, garnish with parsley or fresh thyme leaves if you do not have parsley.
I will be frank, vegans used to annoy me, well the overly sanctimonious ones. It’s ironic now that as a practicing flexitarian and an activist within a global food movement promoting plant based foods, that I am way more sympathetic and vegetarian/vegan days are normal for me. Preparing meat free appetizers just for this subgroup no longer irritates me. Truth is, we have been doing non meat options for years but I guess with every single, striking thing becoming political and having a label these days, we are just more conscious. Lentils are my favourite legume and easy to work with. Thankfully they are one of those ingredients that both carnivorous and vegetable munchers enjoy, what is a relief!
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2 tsps smoked Spanish paprika
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 250 g white button mushrooms, finely chopped
- 300g cooked red lentils
- 200g cooked butterbeans
- 100 g porridge oats
- Sea salt, to taste
- Flour, for dusting
- Mustard, to serve
- In a large frying pan over medium heat, add olive oil, garlic, paprika, cayenne, oregano cumin and warm the spices for a minute, then add the mushrooms and sauté for 3 minutes.
- In a food processor add lentils, butter beans, oats and the mushrooms and pulse until combined yet still has some texture. Check seasoning and add salt to taste.
- Use a spoon to scoop out mixture and roll into sausage shapes between your hands. Chill for an hour to firm up.
- When ready to fry, dust in some flour and fry in batches until golden brown.
- Serve with mustard on the side.
JuicyChef’s gungo pea pâtè
This recipe came about when I had friends who were stranded by a typical transport strike in Paris and were killing time waiting on neighbours before a long walk to their house. I wanted to serve something to ease their stress. You know how it goes when you live alone and there isn’t much in the fridge. I had some leftover green gungo peas and half a bottle of green olive tapenade and chucked it into my food processor and spread it on toast for them and served it with a side salad and leftover cheese. I have “madhatter” moments like this in the kitchen all the time, but I really liked the combination and turned it into a proper recipe. Vegans can omit the anchovy paste.
- 500g cooked green gungo peas
- 2 tbsps capers
- ¼ cup pitted green olives
- 1 tbsp anchovy paste
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 Tsp Dijon mustard
- Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
- Handful of flat-leaf parsley
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- In a food processor add gungo peas, capers, olives, anchovy paste, garlic, mustard, lemon zest and parsley and blend until smooth.
- Next, add lemon juice and half the olive oil until incorporated.
- Place in a bowl, check the taste, season with salt and pepper then cover and allow flavours to meld for at least 4 hours.
- When ready to serve, spread on French or sourdough bread slices and drizzle over remaining oil.
Orange and cumin-scented party olives
I’ve been serving up various mixed olives for years from plump and regal Queen, to Greek kalamata to earthy and oily black and tart green. I like to use a varying combination of spices and herbs. Sometimes I keep them simple with just garlic, oil and red pepper flakes. In France, I experienced unusual ones scented with lavender in the South. I can happily munch on olives as a snack from plain to stuffed with citrus or anchovies, they never fail me when I need a quick salty fix. There was a point I sold them in jars at Kingston Kitchen, the annual food event I host with two friends. People have encouraged me to sell them commercially, but the truth is, I’ve never really wanted to go full steam ahead into food manufacturing. I like keeping things artisanal. This particular combo is always a hit with friends. I don’t add much salt as olives have enough as far as I am concerned, so just add a wee pinch to lift up the taste.
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed
- Juice of 2 medium sweet oranges
- 1 tsp toasted and crushed cumin seeds
- 1 black cardamom pod, seeds removed
- ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 250 ml extra virgin olive oil
- Handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1 large sprig of rosemary
- 250 g green olives stuffed with pimento
- 250 g pitted green olives
- 500 g pitted black olives
- In a large non-reactive bowl, add crushed garlic, orange zest and juice, cumin seeds, black cardamom seeds, black pepper and parsley and mix well.
- Pour in olive oil and whisk until emulsified. Add the sprig of rosemary and let flavours meld for at least an hour.
- Add olives, stir to coat, cover and marinate overnight before serving.
A riff on salmon rillettes
There are so many versions of this rustic spread, but the essence is to combine both fresh and smoked salmon. I have friends who do not eat pork or duck which are the usual star ingredients for traditional rillettes, but both mackerel and salmon are popular pescatarian alternatives. It’s heavy on butter and cream normally, but I have lightened mine down using plain full fat yogurt for the creaminess and mouth feel…but yes, I have left in the butter, just used a little less! Spread on crackers or bread.
- 250 g salmon fillet
- 1 glass dry white wine
- 3 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 tsp salt
- 8 peppercorns
- 3 escallion stalks
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 tbsps unsalted butter, divided
- 2 tbsps full fat plain yogurt
- 100g smoked salmon, roughly picked into pieces
- 2 tsps Jamaican pickapeppa sauce
- 2 tbsps chopped chives
- 1 tbsp chopped parsley
- Juice of 1 lime
- In a medium-size saucepan, add wine, water, bay leaf, thyme, salt, peppercorns and scallion stalks bring to a boil over high heat then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat.
- Add salmon to poaching liquid and cook for 7-8 minutes. Remove from heat and cool down in poaching liquid. Once it is at room temperature, flake flesh with a fork and discard the skin.
- In a small frying pan, melt 1 tbsp of the butter and add the finely chopped onion, sauté until softened, about 5 minutes, remove from heat and cool down.
- In a bowl add remaining butter, yogurt, pickapeppa sauce, chives, parsley and lime juice and mix together.
- Add roughly picked smoked salmon, flaked salmon, cooled down onions in the melted butter and mix until everything is fully combined. Serve immediately on slices of baguette or cover and chill overnight and bring back to room temperature when ready to serve the following day.
More-ish sweet and spicy nuts
Sweet and spicy protein rich nuts are always great appetizers to munch on while having a quick drink before a meal.
- 500 g unsalted mixed nuts
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 3 tbsps maple syrup
- 1 tbsp sunflower oil
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350F.
- In a bowl add nuts, spices, salt, maple syrup and oil and toss until well coated.
- Spread evenly on the baking tray and place in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Keep your eyes on them as ovens vary but you want a nice golden brown colour, turn the nuts midway through baking.
JuicyChef’s ‘Two Islands Blush’ Cocktail
I cannot count the copious amounts of Spanish sangria I have drunk in my lifetime between visits to Spain and gorging at tapas restaurants around the world. I’ve had so many versions. This one is my island version, far from the original but paying respects to the combination of wine, fruit and a little fizz. I wanted to keep my island version close to the spirit of this drink by keeping it true to its original colour as ‘sangre’ means blood. This is where authenticity stops and I take the piss with the purists. In the Caribbean islands during Christmas we imbibe in rum-laced sorrel, a ruby tinted drink with a hint of warming spices, so although white wine-based versus red I remain true in terms of hue, although more blush in tone. For my soda portion, I have a “thing” for cloudy English lemonade, so once again you see where my cultures clash, I’m a girl of two islands, one which fought the Spaniards to colonise one of my roots. Warn your friends that this one is a deceptive creeper and to proceed with caution! Serves a crowd.
- Two 750ml bottles dry white Spanish wine
- 250ml Seville orange liqueur
- 750 ml unsweetened Jamaican sorrel drink
- Sliced oranges
- 500ml chilled English cloudy lemonade
- In a large jug add white wine, orange liqueur, sorrel and orange slices. Chill for a few hours for the fruits to macerate and the flavours to blend.
- When ready to serve, pour in the lemonade.
- Remove and divide oranges from the jug into glasses and fill with ice then pour over the cocktail.
JuicyChef’s ‘Fling Togedda’ Rum Punch
You know how it is, you have been hanging out with friends, the hours pass, you’re having fun and suddenly everyone is vibing for a cocktail. You check your fridge, alcohol stock and you just chuck some things together and…yup…it’s so delicious you have to jot it down. I’m no professional mixologist but I can fix a good drink when the mood strikes. That’s how this version was created in my London flat.
- 250 ml passion fruit juice (sour)
- 500 ml mango nectar (sweet)
- 750 ml bottle Jamaican golden rum (strong)
- 1 litre coconut water (weak)
- Ice, to serve
- In a large jug, pour in passion and mango juices, rum and coconut water. Mix to combine.
- Chill for a couple of hours and when ready to serve, pour in glasses over lots of ice.
Jacqui ‘JuicyChef’ Sinclair, founder of Nyam & Trod, is a British Jamaican award-winning chef, writer, and food culturist. She is a co-founder of Kingston Kitchen, an annual food event supporting food artisans. Jacqui has been an advocate of the Meatless Monday Global movement in Jamaica since 2011. Jacqui’s work has been featured in such publications as the Huffington Post, the Jamaica Observer, Saveur, The Jewish Post and numerous blogs. She has appeared on the Travel Channel’s ‘Bizarre Foods’ with Andrew Zimmern and Food & Wine’s Jamaica episode with Kwame Onwuachi.