In the kitchen with Aloun Assamba
Irrefutably the most affable emissary Jamaica has ever sent overseas, Aloun Assamba is also a great chef.
Jamaica's high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Ireland and Cyprus is a master in the kitchen, and it's not because she reads cookbooks like she reads novels, but because she is from a family of cooks.
Even the men in her family are renowned for their skills in the kitchen and this was evident last Monday evening when, along with her brother Charles Wood, she gave pointers on how to soften a difficult-to-cook curried mutton with a bit of vinegar.
There was no curried mutton in my home. In fact, both my refrigerator and palate opted for salmon, while my stove had no say in the matter.
The decision to cook a meal in my home was made long before the ambassadorial chef left London for Montego Bay, where she was attending the Sixth Biennial Jamaican Diaspora Conference.
Assamba promised she would change the estranged relationship I had with my stove.
"I am going to teach you to cook and I am also taking two cookbooks as gifts," she told me.
I didn't doubt her intention, having earned a reputation on Facebook that I - a food writer - could not cook. She was bent on rescuing me from myself.
On Monday morning, the chef extraordinaire, whose real profession is law, gave me her shopping list. Salmon or fish fillet, a tin of black beans, coconut milk, a tin of corn, and fresh seasoning, including Scotch bonnet pepper, scallion, onion, garlic, sweet pepper, and tomato.
At 5:20 p.m. when she arrived at my condo, the first thing she explained was: "Prior to cooking, it's imperative to prepare the ingredients. Otherwise the time spent in the kitchen will be too long." Obviously, the 'cook' in me never thought of prepping.
Between prepping and cooking, the two dishes - salmon run down and blackened salmon served on with black bean and corn salsa - took the high commissioner 45 minutes in my very intimate kitchen.
An extremely meticulous chef, she cuts all the seasoning and gives them pride of place on a dish. Just viewing the presentation was a beauty to behold.
According to Assamba, who is a also a fan of the UK celebrity chef Levi Roots, she prefers to use red and yellow sweet peppers because, for her, the plate must have colour on it.
She also said it was also important to clean up while cooking, revealing lesson after lesson on the benefits of getting to know your way around the kitchen.
By the time she completed both dishes, the only thing, we (myself, Dollis Campbell and Janice Allen) had to do was sit and eat.
Aloun's Salmon Run Down
1 lb salmon
Half tin coconut milk
Fresh seasoning to taste - Scotch bonnet pepper, scallion, onion, garlic, sweet pepper, tomato
1. SautÈ the seasoning in a little oil until they are soft. Add the coconut milk and cook so that the milk is infused with the seasoning, then add the salmon.
2. Cook the salmon for about five minutes or until the colour changes to pink and the flesh softens. This delicious salmon run down can be served with white rice.
3. It is hard to cut the salmon after you have cooked it, so do so before cooking. It is also important to ensure the salmon is at room temperature before cooking.
Aloun's blackened salmon
1 tin corn
1 tin of black beans
The salmon can either be grilled or fried. Cook in a lightly oiled very hot fry pan on each side for approximately three minutes until blackened-skin side down first.
Aloun's Black bean and corn salsa
1. Pour all the juice from the black bean in a strainer and wash the contents. The taste of the liquid that the black bean is preserved in is usually not very palatable hence the reason for washing it with plain water.
2. SautÈ onions, garlic and peppers in a skillet and then add the black bean and corn and heat throughout. The salsa is served with the salmon.