Jamaican rundown (fish stew) gets its name from the long simmering time needed to thicken fresh coconut milk. But that’s avoided when you use canned. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Photo: Abel Uribe
Photo: Abel Uribe

Secret to a faster Jamaican fish stew: Canned (not fresh) coconut milk

Rundown is a spicy fish stew, the bouillabaisse of Jamaica. It simmers so long it runs down, which is to say thickens up.

I expected a long day of running down rundown. I cooked up Jamaican staples: tomato, pepper, onion, pepper, garlic, pepper and coconut milk. I dropped in cubes of fresh cod, which seemed to cook on contact. Done. Early. An eerie feeling.

Apparently the long run-up to rundown is cracking open a coconut, hacking the flesh to chunks, grinding the chunks to slurry, straining the slurry to milk and boiling the milk to custard.

But in my kitchen — so far from palm tree, so close to grocery store — all it takes is a twist of wrist to crack open a can. Making rundown a home run.

Jamaican Rundown

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

2 pounds cod loin (or fillet) cut into 2-inch squares

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 2 limes

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 large onion, 1/2-inch dice

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 small Scotch bonnet or habanero pepper, whole

1 teaspoon (dried or fresh) thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1. Marinate: Settle fish in a glass pan or bowl. Season with 1 teaspoon salt. Drizzle with lime juice. Cover and let rest at room temperature.

2. Soften: Heat coconut oil over medium in a wide cast-iron skillet. Tumble in onion, garlic, whole pepper, thyme, crushed red pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Cook, stirring, until onion softens to a golden brown, about 6 minutes.

3. Thicken: Crack open a coconut with a hammer, strain out water, cut flesh into chunks, blend to a pulp, strain and cook to a custard, 2 hours. Just kidding. Open the can of coconut milk, and pour over onions. Add tomato paste, vinegar and sugar. Cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.

4. Run down: Settle in fish chunks. Pour in any remaining marinade. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook, turning fish once, until fish flakes easily, 4 to 5 minutes. Taste. Add salt, a splash of vinegar or a pinch of sugar if need be. Pull out and discard the whole pepper.

5. Serve: Scoop stew into shallow bowls. In Jamaica this dish is served with dumplings and boiled bananas. I like crusty bread. Enjoy.

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