A fragrant goat curry and jewel red hibiscus tea, accented with Jamaican rum, make up the prominent part of the Christmas celebratory meal on the island of Jamaica.
I had the good fortune of meeting a couple, who 15 years ago, emigrated to Minnesota from Kingston, Jamaica. Deleasa became an employee of my office. Her ever-present smile and melodic speech attracted everyone to her immediately.
One of my interests is the foods of other countries and ethnic groups. Therefore, I wasted no time in finding out the variety of foods she and her family enjoyed, especially at Christmas. She told me that it is celebrated in a style different in some ways from what is done here in the United States.
Christmas in Jamaica has less commercialism, fewer Christmas trees and fewer lights hung on homes. There are more modest exchanges of gifts or perhaps none at all.
As in America, there are church services followed by dinners that bring family and friends together. As here, it is a family time where people join together in celebration. A member of the community or family is chosen, or they may volunteer because they are able to afford it, to acquire a goat for the main course of the Christmas meal. The chosen person is charged with buying the live goat and having it butchered and made ready for the main course. This is done a few days before Christmas.
The classic Christmas beverage of choice is served throughout Jamaica. It is a cold tea with a name that we would not associate with a drink. It is called sorrel tea. We know sorrel as a green herb with a sour flavor, and would not imagine it as an enjoyable beverage. In Jamaica, the drink called sorrel tea is not made from the sorrel herb, but with the mature deep red dried hibiscus blossom. The dried hibiscus blossom is steeped in boiling water, then sugar is added. It has an intense beautiful red color. It is then chilled, iced, and served with the obligatory Jamaican rum. Here in the Twin Cities, we can duplicate this beverage by locating Red Zinger Tea by Celestial Seasonings. It is also made with hibiscus blossoms, spiced and a deep reddish color. Just add the sugar and the rum!
The curried goat, which is like a stew, is braised for hours to tenderize the meat. The braised dish is a beautiful yellow from the Jamaican style curry powder, never the brown curry powder, which is more Indian. Its aroma permeates the home with a curry fragrance. The curry is braised in a broth of coconut milk to enrich it. The seasonings are those that you would expect in Jamaica, powerful not subtle, including onion, spicy curry powder, habanero pepper and black pepper. Whether or not to add the habanero pepper and the size of the habanero are decisions for the cook. Deleasa calls it a Scotch Bonnet but pronounces it Scotch “bonnae”, long “o” and long “a.”
The curry is served over white rice, which is made more colorful by the addition of diced carrot and fresh green peas mixed throughout. The curry is served either over the rice or alongside it. The dinner is served family style with a large tureen of the goat curry and a large bowl of the colorful rice. Each person spoons rice onto their plate and then ladles the curry over or alongside the rice.
The Christmas celebration is joyous, raucous and vibrant. The more rum tea consumed, the more celebratory the evening becomes. My Jamaican friends became more and more excited just speaking of their memories of Christmas back home.
After talking to them, I went off to a Halal meat market near Franklin and Chicago Avenue to pick up some goat and give this Christmas dinner a try.
I made it, and it was a success. The goat curry tasted identical to the finest lamb curry or lamb stew I ever had. It was distinctive in its taste, more like lamb than like mutton. It was simple to make with only a few ingredients, simmered on the stove top, requiring minimal attention. And here’s the recipe:
Stuart’s Jamaican goat curry
A Dutch oven or large soup pot.
3 pounds of cut up goat meat with bones. This can be bought frozen, ready to use or with skin-on which you will want to cut off. My meat had the skin on it and was simple to cut off. The meat is rather lean, but, if you find a large piece of fat just cut it off and discard it along with the skin. The fat of the meat carries the strong flavor and aroma and it will be rendered off in the browning and then poured off therefore reducing the gamy flavor.
vegetable oil to saute the goat
1 very large yellow onion thick sliced
2 tbsp yellow curry powder
1/4 tsp black pepper more or less to taste
1 bunch of green onions cut into 3 inch long segments, white and green portions
1/2 habanero pepper not chopped but remaining in one piece for easy removal, if desired
water to cover the meat in the pot
14 approx. ounce of coconut milk, the can was 403 ml and 13.66 ounces. The brand was Thai Kitchen Organic Coconut Milk.
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup flour
Pour oil into the Dutch oven and bring it to shimmering hot. Place the meat into the pot and brown the meat, turning once. Do not burn the brown bits on the bottom of the pot. When the meat has browned, remove it to a dish and pour off the oil in the pot, discarding it. Place additional oil into the pot, reheat it and saute the sliced onion. Stir the onion in the pot to soften the slices and to help pick up the browned bits. After the onions are slightly wilted put the curry powder into the pot and stir it occasionally for about 5 minutes. Then place the meat back into the pot and add the other ingredients, stirring well. Cover and bring this to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer for 2 hours. At the end of 2 hours, remove about 1 cup of the liquid to a bowl, cool it a little, stir in the flour and return this flour mixture to the pot, bring it back to a boil. Stir it well to thicken the curry sauce for 10 minutes. If not thick enough for your taste, uncover it and allow it to boil and evaporate. The curry is ready to serve. You may chill it and reheat it the next day.
The rice which is served alongside is plain white rice with as much green peas and carrot you wish to add.