The cuisine of Barbados is a wonderful melting pot of stand out flavors that intermingle influences from England, India and Africa to create an amazing, varied dishes.
Bajan chefs make use of a beautiful bounty of fresh local produce to create some of the world’s tastiest dishes. Typical Bajan dishes that you might encounter on the island include macaroni pie, fish cakes, rice and peas, conkies, coconut turnovers and of course the Barbados national dish flying fish and coucou.
Despite the many wonderful dishes in Barbados, today we’re just going to talk flying fish and coucou recipes, because if there’s one Bajan dish that you won’t want to miss out on, it’s this one!
The national dish of Barbados is a fabulous meal and one that the local people are quite proud of. The star of the show is a fillet of steamed or fried flying fish, accompanied by a side of coucou, which is reminiscent of polenta or grits, for those who are not familiar with the cuisine. Lime juice, spices and fresh veggies take the flavors up a notch, creating a wonderful, authentic Bajan meal.
If you happen to be visiting Barbados soon, you better bring you appetite. We'll tell you more about the dish in a few moments, but first, here's some background.
Flying fish is a type of fish native to the island of Barbados. In fact, the fish were once so common in the island’s waters that Barbados has been called “the land of flying fish.” So, it’ll come as no surprise that flying fish are the main element of the Bajan national dish.
Flying fish is so important to the Bajan people that you’ll see a symbol depicting a flying fish on the national currency, and it’s even featured in the Barbados Tourism Authority’s logo.
You’ll still find flying fish on the menus at restaurants across the island. Flying fish tastes great cooked simply, by steaming with acidic lime juice, and it’s also wonderful fried. Head to a Bajan fish fry to try the traditional flying fish recipe served up by locals.
Coucou is a dish you’ll find a lot in Barbados, but it’s not very prevalent in the rest of the world. If you’ve never tried it before, imagine something similar to polenta or grits in texture.
It’s made from a combination of cornmeal and okra. The two ingredients muddle together to form a sort of savory porridge. Coucou in Barbados is a warming and comforting dish that goes perfectly with some of the spicier Bajan dishes - like flying fish! It’s also wonderful with spicy sauces, which you’ll find a lot in Bajan cuisine.
Often, coucou is served in the traditional way, which is by forming it into an oval shape, using an enamel bowl. Or, if you want to be really authentic, you’d use a calabash shell, from the fruit of a tree found growing in the wild in the tropics and America. Coucou can also be made from other ingredients, like breadfruit, yams or green bananas.
Traditionally, Bajan people cook up this recipe on Fridays or Saturdays, but of course if you learn to make your own you can serve it up whenever you wish! Impress your friends and family with this delicious taste of the tropics.
For the fish:
4 fillets of flying fish (if this isn’t available where you live, you can substitute sea bass)
Juice of a lime
Pinch of garlic powder
For the seasoning:
3 spring onions
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp fresh ginger
1 scotch bonnet chilli
1 tbsp of thyme leaves
1/2 tsp mixed spice
freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce:
1 tsp garlic
5g of thyme
10g of curry powder
5g of garlic powder
6 tbsp of olive oil
100g of butter
For the coucou:
Step 1: First make the seasoning. Combine all the ingredients for the seasoning, except for the vinegar, in a food processor and pulse until well combined. Put the paste into a sealable jar and add the vinegar. Shake well and season according to your preferences. You’ll want to leave this for around two hours before you use it, so set this aside to infuse.
Step 2: Season the fish with lime, salt and pepper.
Step 3: Put the sauce ingredients into a sauce pan and bring to a simmer, with a little oil. Add one tablespoon of the seasoning you prepared earlier.
Step 4: In a separate pan, combine the ingredients for the coucou, except for the cornmeal, and bring to the boil. You’ll want this on a high heat. Once cooked, strain the mixture and discard the onion and thyme. Keep the pieces of okra to use later.
Step 5: Put the coucou pan back on the heat and add cornmeal, mixing well until you form a thick mixture. Add in the okra.
Step 6: The dish is ready to serve! Place the coucou on a plate and top each dish with a fillet of fish and a healthy helping of sauce and enjoy your taste of Barbados!
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the Bajan national dish of flying fish and coucou. Remember, if you can’t get your hands on flying fish, you can still make this. Just substitute a similar fish that’s more readily available. Sea bass also works really well in this recipe.
If you're interested in more, check out our guide to easy Caribbean recipes you can make at home.