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Ann's Blog

San Fernando, Trinidad:
December 8, 2010
Caribbean cooking with class

I’d spotted the ad in the Trinidad Guardian: an hors d’oeuvres and cocktails class at the Wendy Rahamut School of Cooking. When it comes to cooking, Wendy is an unstoppable force: cooking columnist for the Guardian, author of three cookbooks, editor-in-chief of the magazine Caribbean Gourmet, and host of the TV cooking show Caribbean Flavors. I’d come to know her when I first started investigating Trinidadian food several years ago – and I’d long wanted to see her in action in one of her classes. Bingo.

Fry baby: Wendy turns the coo-coo strips in the hot oil so they get
golden on all sides.
There were 10 Trini women, plus me, gathered in the air-conditioned cooking studio on the ground floor of her San Fernando house the following Saturday morning. The second half of the class would feature Raymond Edwards, award-winning mixologist at the House of Angostura, but Wendy was first up. Step by step, she took us through making Party Tortilla Spirals, Paprika-Dusted Coo-Coo Strips, Cassava Puffs, and Coconut Shrimp with Fire and Spice Orange Dip. The tortilla spiral concept was nothing new – spread a cream cheese base on a tortilla to serve as “glue,” layer other ingredients on top, roll up, wrap tightly in plastic, chill, and slice – but Wendy’s take on it was nevertheless quite tasty, involving salami, olives, garlic, and jalapeño peppers.

For me, the other recipes were decidedly more exotic. Coo-coo is Caribbean polenta – frequently served with callaloo in Trinidad, and stewed meats and fish on other islands. But Wendy turned it into an hors d’oeuvre by cutting chilled coo-coo into fingers, dusting them in paprika-spiked flour, deep-frying until crisp, and serving with a spicy tomato salsa for dipping. She graciously agreed to let me share the recipe with you.

Cassava, also known as yucca, is a root vegetable with a nutty, earthy flavour. It’s usually simply boiled and served as part of provision. But Wendy’s Cassava Puffs take the humble vegetable to a whole new level. First she boiled it, then mashed it thoroughly, mixed it with baking powder, egg, butter, grated onion, and flour, and dropped spoonfuls of the mixture into – you guessed it – hot oil. (There’s a lot more deep-frying done in the Caribbean than I’m accustomed to back home.)

The resulting puffs were irresistible, with a crunchy exterior and a fluffy, almost creamy, centre. The woman sitting next to me confessed that (unlike me) she usually wasn’t very fond of cassava, but these puffs changed her mind. An almost miraculous transformation of the boiled root, we agreed.

For an outsider like me, it was great fun to listen to the other attendees comment and question. When Wendy told us that her favourite oil for deep frying is coconut oil (how handy; I have a bottle onboard), another woman added that it’s also wonderful for “greasing the baby” – wonderful for baby’s skin. Also great for Mom because it keeps “the baby smelling delicious.”

Batter fingers: Wendy dips her Coconut Shrimp in a batter that contains
curry and coconut milk powder, then rolls them in fresh coconut.
I had a special interest in Wendy’s final recipe, Coconut Fried Shrimp with a spicy orange dip. Our friend Jesse James, owner of Members Only Maxi Taxi, loves to eat, and he had admitted to a special fondness for coconut shrimp, and I was determined to make them for him. So I took careful note of Wendy’s techniques as she battered jumbo shrimp (her batter gets a little kick from curry and coconut milk powder), rolled them in fresh grated coconut and – yup – deep fried them until golden. Jesse and his wife and daughter are coming to dinner this weekend. I promise to report on how my version of Coconut Fried Shrimp turns out.

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One comment on “San Fernando, Trinidad:
December 8, 2010
Caribbean cooking with class

  1. Victoria Ramnarine on said:

    Is there any short courses available for the public?
    I love cooking, and would be intrigued if there were any short courses available. I am a Form 6 student, and school’s out,so i wanted to do a cooking course for the summer. Please email me and give me any information which can aid me in wanting to do my cooking course. Thank you, yours respectfully, Victoria Ramnarine.

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