The best allspice comes from Jamaica. It is a dark
brown berry of an evergreen tree from the myrtle family. It has a pleasant fragrant aroma and is available both whole and ground. Ground it resemble small peppercorns. Allspice was one of the original spices brought back to Europe by Columbus.
Is a natural food color and flavoring. Grown throughout the American tropics, annato is a natural food color and flavoring. Its extract is a brilliant yellow color.
This spiny lobster is abundant in Florida and
the Caribbean. It is similar to the spiny lobster available
throughout the world in warm waters. In simplest terms, this
lobster has no claws. Most of the meat is in the tail. It is
available all year round.
Many newly available kinds are in the market
place. For a variety in taste try red bananas, finger bananas, or
Is a white or yellow fleshed sweet potato. It has a thin
reddish skin, a slightly irregular shape, and a dry, sweet,
chestnut-like flavor. Boniato originated in Central America and is
very popular in Latin America. It is much less sweet than our
unrelated orange sweet potato. The sweet potato is not related to
the potato family, but is in the same family as the boniato. It is
often known as the Louisiana yam. Both have a moist orange colored
flesh with brown skin.
Of the "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame, was brought
to the Caribbean from the South Seas and quickly became a starchy
vegetable staple of that region for its sustenance as a starchy
vegetable. When breadfruit is green it is similar to a potato.
When cooked slightly ripe, its taste is extremely starchy and
almost yeast flavored, reminiscent of partially cooked bread.
Also known as the West Indian or green pumpkin, it is
really a squash. Many are large ovals or round with outer green
and yellow splotches. The flesh should be firm, with a
yellow-reddish color. Sold whole or in large chunks, calabaza can
be cooked in many pumpkin recipes - often more successfully because
of its fine grain, sweetness, and moisture.
Now being grown extensively in South
Florida. Look for yellow, ripe fruit. The fruit is about 4-5
inches long with a glossy yellow skin and sharply angled ribs that
form a star shape when cut cross wise. They are very juicy and
have a crisp sweet flesh. New sweeter varieties are currently
being developed by farmers, such as the Arkin and the beautiful
full-flavored Fwang Tund.
The key to caviar is freshness. The eggs should have the
pleasant aroma of a seawater breeze. Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga
caviar are from 3 different sturgeons, all originating in the
Caspian Sea in Eastern Europe; each of these caviars has its own
distinctive nuance. "Molossal" printed on a label refers to the
small amount of salt used in preserving the fish eggs. There are
other kinds of caviar or fish roes from all around the world.
Available American varieties range from salmon, trout, spoonbill
and hackleback sturgeon to paddle fish.
A pear shaped gourd about 5-6 inches long. It is
usually available in a pale green skin, though the white is just as
tasty. Its flavor is somewhat of a cross between zucchini and
An excellent eating warm water game fish. No other known
species of fish is related to Cobia; it is in a family by itself.
Sometimes it is mistaken for shark in the water. This fish has
snowy white, sweet flesh best cooked in steak form and is available
Until recently fresh conch has not been readily available.
Thanks to some conch farming in the Caribbean this situation is
changing. It is usually best to tenderize the meat with a mallet,
which results in cracked conch or by grinding it. If you are using
frozen conch, keep it covered while you defrost it slowly to retain
Indigenous to the Mediterranean, where the seeds are used primarily for cooking. The leaves are light green and resemble flat leaf parsley, and are completely different in taste and character from the seeds. Coriander is thought to be a member of the carrot family. It is used in many ethnic cuisines and is also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley. Use perky-fresh leaves.
Is available as both seed and ground. It has a flowery
aroma and imparts a slight yellow color to food. This is one of
the essential spices of Caribbean cuisine. It is also one of the characteristic flavors of curry.
The most common is the Valencia. It is
Usually thin skinned with slight windburn markings. Its thin skin
makes this the juiciest orange with very sweet juice. The Temple
is considered Florida's best eating orange.
These are members of the seabass family. The flesh is
snowy white and can be cooked either as filets cut thin or as
steaks cut thick. Grouper is most often available in filets
because the fish grows very large between 15 -25 pounds. Black
grouper or Nassau grouper are among the most desirable. Red
grouper and Warsaw grouper are usually largest fish of the grouper
A small, round, thin-skinned fruit pulpy fruit, usually
with many seeds. It is astringent when green but very aromatic
when ripe. The acidic ripe flesh has a pleasant gritty texture.
It is also available in the form of a paste or jelly.
Commonly the heart of a sable palm which are farmed
for this purpose. They are found in several forms in the market
place. The fresh 2 foot logs need to be trimmed to the soft flesh
of the heart. Currently, they are most often found canned.
These limes are much smaller and rounder than
other limes and their color is yellow-green. This lime variety is
not as readily available, but its citrus characteristic is
tart-sour with just a hint of sweetness.
A small golden or orange fruit about 1 1/2 inches long
and oval. The rind of this fruit is often more sweet than its
flesh, which is usually very sour. Technically this is not a
Are almost indispensable in this cuisine and the most
acidic of all fruits. Look for the bright green fruit. 90% of the
world's lime production comes from South Florida.
Available fresh in late spring the lychee is a small red,
rough skinned cluster fruit. Peel away the skins and you'll
discover its creamy white flesh that tastes like a wonderful
tropical grape. Florida has probably the only commercial crop of
lychees on the U.S. mainland, consisting of the Brewster variety.
Are also known as dolphin, but bear no relation to the
mammal. They are large flaked and sweetly moist fish. Their skin
is a brilliant blue-green-silver-gold. Mahi Mahi is available
throughout the world from tropical and subtropical seas. Their
sizes vary greatly but they are good eating either steaks or
Is derived from a tropical plant that bears edible tubers.The skin
is usually deep brown, its flesh white to yellow. They
similarly to the potato but require a little less cooking time.
This is probably the most favored and esteemed fruit in
the Cuban community. Its matte brown skin gives way to a
rosy-colored, lush, custard-like pulp. The flavor is a cross
between peach, apricot, and almond. Most fruits are the size of an
oversized grapefruit though somewhat oblong.
As many as 120 varieties are grown around the world.
The exterior skin color ranges from green when unripe, to a yellow-
orange and a rich orange-red when ripe. When a mango is ripe, it
will give a little to finger pressure and have a wonderful sweet
perfumed aroma. Readily available varieties of mango are the
Hayden, Keitt, Kent and Tommy Atkins. A Dominican cook once
related a story to me about mangos back home. He described mango
or Mango Bajito, as an "attitude". He said it was the lazy man's
fruit since the mango tree offers shade and sustenance. When
mangos become ripe, they fall off the tree to the ground. A man at
ease, resting from the hot sun, need only to sit under the tree to
receive his delight and refreshment.
Is grown in Jamaica and Grenada and is a powerful sweetly
aromatic spice.Use a small grater to obtain the spice from the nut.
Unripened these are usually found oversized with
firm deep green skin and light green to pink flesh, and are used as
a vegetable. Ripe papaya is available from the Caribbean, Mexico,
and Hawaii. The pulp is sweet and can be eaten uncooked. The
flavor is somewhat tropical floral.
A beautiful, colorful, tropical fish that many divers
are familiar with. Historically this was a popular eating fish of
the Old World. The parrotfish has a sweet, soft white flesh,
usually cooked in filet, and is available year round.
My favorites are from Costa Rica grown in the
Tolamanca rain forest. Buy only whole peppercorns and grind them
fresh as needed. I would suggest investing in a good pepper mill
with an adjustable grinder.
These are shelled black seeds and do not
impart color to the food.
Sweet and hot, fresh and dried chilies all belong to
the genus Capsicum Annum. Though peppers are native to the New
World, they spread rapidly in the trade for roots around the world,
handled mainly by the Portuguese spice traders. Chili peppers have
become popular in most tropical countries. Scolville heat units
are used to measure the heat intensity of a chili pepper. This
scale is a subjective rating by professional tasters, used in a
similar fashion to a Richter scale for earthquakes, but this scale
is measures the heat in your mouth. The range can vary from 0 - 5
units for sweet peppers to 1500 -2000 for jalapeno to 60-80,000 for
Tabasco to 100,000 -250,000 for scotch bonnets. Peppers range
individually in heat, so taste a little from the small end before
deciding how much you'll need for a dish. Much of the extreme heat
is in the seeds and ribs.
Are members of the same family as bananas and bird-
of-paradise. They are much larger but not palatable raw. They are
usable in many stages of ripeness from green which have a firm
texture and are eaten as a potato-like starch or fried as a chip,
to yellow or yellow-brown, which is eaten more as a vegetable.
Plantain, ripen all the way to the almost black- Plantain Madoros,
can be cooked as a fruit.
Are usually sold whole on an average size of 1 1/2 - 2
pounds. Silvery skinned, it is possibly one of the tastiest fish
in the sea, and usually, one of the most expensive. The pompano
has small or short flake, a firm texture and a moderate amount of
"good oils", which makes its flesh taste rich. It is found fresh
in the market from Oct to May.
One of the most misused seafood terms. often used when
referring to larger shrimp. Prawns are different in shape and
flavor than shrimp; their meat is deliciously sweet, and their
texture a little softer than shrimp. Through successful aqua
culture farming prawns are much more available than they have been
in the past.
Are small hard-shelled shrimp. Because they are
difficult to clean they have not been in abundant supply in the
market until recently, where they're now widely available, shelled
and cleaned. The rock shrimp meat tastes a bit more like lobster
than shrimp. They are mostly available during the winter months.
Among the many varieties of shark available are makos,
and black tip. I prefer mako shark for its firm texture and
swordfish-like flavor. Shark is lean meat with firm circular
flesh. It is available year round.
The flesh is white, small flaked, and sweet tasting.
Snapper is available in both round (whole, cleaned) 1 1/2 -2 1/2
pound fish and in the form of larger fillets coming from 3 - 5
pound fish. Among the numerous snapper varieties available, are
red snapper, yellowtail, mutton, gray, schoolmaster, and mangrove.
These are blue crabs in the molting stage that have
shed their outer shells completely. The entire soft body, legs and
shell, is edible and delicious. Look for them fresh throughout the
If this rough skin red reddish-orange
fruit is not readily available, you can substitute a combination of
orange and lime juices. Bitter or Seville orange is too sour to
eat raw, but that tartness is wonderful for marinades and
|Sour orange, bitter orange
Stone crabs are truly the pride of Florida's
gourmet natural resources. The meat is rich, sweet and firm in
texture. Floridians have long been zealously passionate about-and
protective of-their stone crab resources. The claw meat is
available in jumbo, extra-large, large and medium. Jumbos weigh 2
to a pound, extra-large 4-5 per pound, large 6-8 per pound and
medium 9-10 per pound. While jumbos are often the most prized for
their grandeur and convenient to eat, they are also the most
costly; large or medium claws are great for cocktail parties or
finger food. They are available fresh from Oct. 15 to May 15.
They are always cooked by the crab trappers immediately after they
are caught so are available only cooked.
Grows on big beautiful trees in the Caribbean,
Central America, and Florida. I have several growing where I live.
Their velvety-gray been pods are filled with brown gooey pulp
surrounding large shiny brown seeds. Tamarind has a wonderful
sweet-tart tropical flavor with a unique quenching finish.
Tuna has become one of the most important fish in the
market. Fresh tuna is bright red to rosy pink, depending on its
variety and fat content. The Japanese revere "toro" which is the
fatty meat from the bluefin tuna. Two other excellent varieties
are yellowfin and bigeye tuna.
Is the gourmet's mackerel, though much leaner than any
mackerel. It has white fine circular flake with a delicate
texture. This is a favorite of game fisherman who yell WAHOO! when
they hook one. You may see this listed on the menu at Japanese
sushi bars as "Ono", which means sweet.
Comes from a vine that grows everywhere in the tropics, and is a
large edible root. Yams or name comes in many sizes. The skin is
usually brown with a white-yellow flesh. The texture is slightly
mealy with a nut-like flavor. What we are used to calling a yam
here in the U.S. is actually a sweet potato.
Is a widely used tuber in Latin
American and Caribbean kitchens and a native root of Brazil. This
spindle-shaped root is usually sold waxed and has a shiny bar-like
skin. The flesh is white, crisp and hard. During cooking it tends
to split apart into wedges, perfect for yuca steak fries. Tapioca
is made from processing the starch of the yucca plant roots.
Reality Cooking Class featured on WSVN 7's Style Files