Breakfast & Brunch/ Fish & Seafood/ Jamaican/ Lunch/ Main Dishes & Entrées

Ackee and Saltfish

November 16, 2022

Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish is not only the national dish of Jamaica, it’s a staple breakfast recipe that many enjoy throughout the Caribbean and beyond. It’s made with an aromatic blend of sauteed tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, thyme, and scotch bonnet pepper, that’s gently tossed together with ackee and salted codfish. Serve for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anytime throughout the day.

a bowl full of ackee and saltfish.

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Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish is not only the national dish of Jamaica, it’s a staple breakfast recipe that many enjoy throughout the Caribbean and beyond. It’s made with an aromatic blend of sauteed tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, thyme, and scotch bonnet pepper, that’s gently tossed together with ackee and salted codfish. Serve for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anytime throughout the day.

Looking for something to serve alongside this Jamaican breakfast staple? Try Jamaican Fried Dumpling, a classic pairing, or this Jamaican Festival Recipe. You can also serve it with steamed white rice or ground provision such as yam, banana, or boiled dumplings.

jamaican ackee and saltfish.

Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish

There’s a reason why ackee and saltfish is the national dish of the country! It’s an undeniably delicious combination of fresh, wholesome ingredients: soft ackee, and tender saltfish simmered with fresh peppers, onions, tomatoes, and thyme. It’s a hearty, flavourful authentic Jamaican meal that works for any time of day.

Growing up, this was a staple breakfast recipe in our household. But also, this dish would show up during the lunch hours, and again at dinner. It was one of those dishes that always seemed to make an appearance on our plates, regardless of the time. And for all the right reasons this was the case, so let’s get into the recipe so you can enjoy as well.

Here’s Why You’ll Love this Recipe

  • A Balanced Meal This pescatarian dish is made with vibrant veggies and fruit for a healthy meal. Ackee fruit is rich in fatty acids known to reduce the risk of heart disease. And saltfish has been proven to lower blood pressure and promote healthy skin.
  • Quick and Easy – Aside from soaking time for the salted codfish, this recipe only requires a simple saute.
  • Good Anytime  – Enjoy saltfish and ackee morning, noon, or night! This versatile meal is a nutritious start to your day but filling enough for lunch or dinner.

What is Ackee?

Ackee is a fruit that originates from Ghana. It grows on trees and can be poisonous if not harvested and prepared properly. The toxic seeds are removed from the fresh ackee and then it is boiled in salted water. Due to FDA restrictions, you won’t find fresh ackee outside of Jamaica. However, canned ackee is available in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

canned ackee in salted water.
an opened can of ackee in salted water.

What Does Ackee Taste Like?

Although ackee resembles soft scrambled eggs, it tastes nothing like it. Ackee naturally has a light, nutty flavour. It is in the lychee family but is more savoury than sweet. This delicate fruit absorbs the essence of whatever ingredients it is cooked with. Once cooked, it has a delightful, creamy consistency.

What is Saltfish?

Saltfish is salted dehydrated cod fish. This is referred to simply as saltfish in the islands, also known as salted cod, salt cod, bacalao, bacalhau or baccalà. It is a type of preserved meaty white fish that has been salt cured and dried until all the moisture has been extracted. Once cooked, it has a nice tender texture and a savoury, buttery flavour.

boned salted cod fillets in plastic packaging.

The History of Ackee and Saltfish

Although neither is indigenous to Jamaica, both ackee and saltfish have strong historical roots on the island.

Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica however, it is native to West Africa. It was brought to the island by enslaved Africans and today, it is grown throughout the country.

Cod thrive in cold water so they are imported to Jamaica in the form of saltfish. Saltfish was introduced to Jamaica during colonial times, as part of the triangular slave trade between Europe, Africa, and America. Northern countries would bring lumber and salted cod to the island in exchange for Caribbean goods like rum and sugar.

Ackee and saltfish are a reminder of the deep roots of Jamaican trade and culture.

How to Desalt Fish

Fish is usually salted as a way to preserve the fish. When you desalt the fish, you are rehydrating it to prepare it for cooking. There are multiple ways to do this. Here are two preferred methods.

It’s important to note, the aim is never to remove all the salt from the fish completely but to simply rehydrate and remove some of the salt.

Method One: Soak in Cold Water

Rinse the fish in fresh running water. Repeat this up to 3 times if there’s still too much salt. Then submerge it in a bowl of cold water and place it in the refrigerator for 12 – 48 hours. The amount of time depends on the size and thickness of the fish. Change the water every several hours.

Method Two: Overnight Soak

  1. Soak in Water – rinse fish and place the fish into a large bowl and add boiling water until fish is fully submerged. Cover the bowl and let the sit at room temperature overnight.
  2. Drain and Taste – in the morning, drain off the salty water and pick off a piece of the fish to check for saltiness. Note, thicker/inner pieces may need more soaking time.
  3. Repeat if Necessary – this time you will not need to soak overnight, instead, add the fish to a pot of boiling water and allow to boil for 10 to 15 minutes or until desired taste is reached.

Method Three: Boiling

  1. Rinse – rinse your salted codfish in water and cut into smaller pieces. 
  2. Bring to a Boil – add the fish to a pot of boiling water. ensure the water covers the fish. Let it boil for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Drain and Repeat – drain salt water from pot, taste test your fish. If still salty, add a fresh batch of hot water to the pot and repeat the steps until desired taste is reached.

Method Four: Soak in Cold Milk

If you need a quicker method for desalting fish, soak it in cold milk. In just three hours, the cod will no longer be salty and will be ready to cook. And unlike with water, there’s no need to change it.

Additional Notes

  • You can use either boned or boneless saltfish. Boneless required less picking time.
  • The amount of time depends on the size and thickness of the fish.
  • Once the excess salt has been removed, flake the fish using your hands or a fork and proceed with the recipe.
boneless, flaked saltfish in white bowl.

What’s Needed to Make this Recipe (Kitchen Equipment)

  • Large Skillet – ensure your skillet or pan is large enough to hold all the ingredients.
  • Strainer – use a fine mesh strainer to drain the ackee.
  • Wooden Spoon – to mix together the ackee, saltfish and sauteed veggies.

Ackee and Saltfish Ingredients and Ingredient Notes

  • Ackee – be sure to drain and rinse the canned ackee before adding it to the other ingredients.
  • Saltfish – you can use boned or boneless saltfish.
  • Onion – the sharp flavour pairs so well with the peppers.
  • Peppers – I used a blend of orange bell pepper, red bell pepper, and scotch bonnet pepper. The bell peppers add a nice crunch, color, and sweetness whereas the scotch bonnet brings the heat.
  • Tomato  slice them into thin wedges. They lighten up this savoury meal.
  • Fresh Thyme – use fresh sprigs for an aromatic quality.
  • Black Pepper – use more or less to taste.
  • Vegetable Oil – opt for this or another high-heat oil. I use vegetable oil because it has a neutral taste and doesn’t overpower the other flavours. Avocado or coconut oil would work well too.
sliced onion, peppers and thyme for saute

How to Prepare Ackee and Saltfish

1. Desalt Fish (Additional Methods Listed Above)

Fill a medium-sized pot with water and bring it to a boil. Rinse fish, cut it into smaller pieces, and boil for about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain then rinse in cold water. Taste a piece of the fish to gauge the saltiness. If it’s to your liking, pick it apart into smaller bite-sized pieces and set it aside. If it’s too salty, repeat the process.

salted codfish in bite sized pieces in pot of water.

2. Prep Ackee

Remove ackee from the can and drain the liquid using a strainer. Then, rinse with cool water, drain again then set aside.

An optional step is to bring a pot of water to a boil. Add ackee and let it sit for about 3 minutes or until the ackee starts to float. Then drain and set it aside.

ackee pegs in strainer.

3. Saute Vegetables and Aromatics

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, thyme, and scotch bonnet pepper and saute until tender, crisp, and aromatic. This should take about 5 minutes.

4. Add Saltfish and Ackee

Add the saltfish and continue to saute for about 2 minutes. Then, gently fold in the ackee, being careful not to overmix as this will make the ackee break apart and become mushy. Cook until the ackee and saltfish are fully heated through. Season with black pepper to taste, and serve hot.

saltfish cooing with veggies
jamaican ackee and saltfish.

Recipe Notes and Tips for Success

  • If you are concerned about your salt intake or don’t have access to salted codfish, consider using fresh cod instead.
  • Saltfish usually doesn’t require added salt but if you soak the saltfish overnight, you may have to add some salt back to the fish. Taste test after soaking.
  • Remove the seeds of the scotch bonnet pepper if you prefer a more mild flavour because it is especially spicy. Or you can skip it altogether.
  • Remove the seeds of the scotch bonnet pepper if you prefer a more mild flavour because it is especially spicy. Or you can skip it altogether.
  • When soaking the fish, place it skin side up (if using skin on saltfish) so the salt will be removed more easily.
  • Ackee is added just before the dish is complete because the fruit is very soft. If it cooks for too long, it may become mushy so avoid over-stirring.

Recipe Substitutions and Variations

  • For a more savoury dish, consider adding bacon or ham.
  • For a vegan alternative, swap the saltfish for jackfruit, heart of palm, or completely omit the saltfish.

Watch My Step-by-Step Story Instructions

Can I Make this Ahead of Time?

Ackee and saltfish are best served fresh off the stove but you can definitely prepare parts of the recipe ahead of time. To save time, soak the cod overnight, drain and rinse it. You can also debone it prior to cooking. The prepared fish can be stored in the fridge for up to one week or frozen for up to 6 months.

Storage Instructions

Store leftover ackee and saltfish in an airtight container in the fridge and consume within 3 days.

Don’t freeze ackee and saltfish because it alters the texture of the dish.

Reheating Instructions

Reheat ackee and saltfish in a skillet over medium heat. Remember to stir it sparingly to avoid overmixing.

prepared ackee and saltfish in skillet.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where can I purchase ackee?

You can find canned or frozen ackee in most international and Caribbean markets. You can also order it online.

What can I serve with Jamaican ackee and saltfish?

You can enjoy it as is or serve with sliced avocados, fried dumpling, festival, breadfruit, white rice, ground provision or plantains. The options are endless!

What kind of fish is saltfish?

Saltfish is dried and salted cod.

Is ackee healthy?

Ackee can be eaten as part of a healthy diet. It is rich in nutrients, including protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Is ackee poisonous?

If ackee is ingested before it is ripe as it contains contains a poison called hypoglycin which causes vomiting and can be fatal. However it is completely safe to eat once ripened and properly prepared for cooking.

Interested in more Jamaican Recipes? Check These Out!

jamaican ackee and saltfish.

Ackee and Saltfish

Jamaican Ackee and Saltfish is not only the national dish of Jamaica, it's a staple breakfast recipe that many enjoy throughout the Caribbean and beyond. It's made with an aromatic blend of sauteed tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, thyme, and scotch bonnet pepper, that's gently tossed together with ackee and salted codfish. Serve for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or anytime throughout the day.
5 from 6 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Course Breakfast & Brunch, Lunch, Main Dishes & Entrees
Cuisine Jamaican
Servings 4 servings
Calories 1589 kcal

Equipment

  • 1 Large Skillet
  • 1 Fine Strainer
  • 1 Wooden Spoon

Ingredients
  

  • 1 440ml Can Ackee drained
  • 1 lb Salted Cod Fish saltfish
  • 1/2 med Onion julienned
  • 1/4 Orange Bell Pepper julienned
  • 1/4 Red Bell Pepper julienned
  • 1 sm Tomato sliced into thin wedges
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Thyme
  • 1 Scotch Bonnet Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Black Pepper more or less to taste
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable Oil

Instructions
 

Desalt Fish (Additional Methods Listed Above)

  • Fill a medium sized pot with water and bring to a boil. Rinse fish, cut into smaller pieces, and boil for about 10 to 15 mins. Drain then rinse in cold water. Taste a piece of the fish to gauge the saltiness. If it's to your liking, pick it apart into smaller bite-sized pieces and set aside. If it's too salty, repeat the process.

Prep Ackee

  • Remove ackee from can and drain off liquid using a strainer. Then, rinse with cool water, drain again then set aside. Optional, bring to a boil a pot of water. Add ackee, let sit for about 3 minutes or until ackee starts to float, then drain and set aside.

Ackee and Saltfish

  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, thyme, scotch bonnet pepper and saute until tender crisp and aromatic, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the saltfish and continue to saute for about 2 minutes. Then, gently fold in ackee, being careful not to overmix as this will make the ackee break apart and become mushy. Cook until the ackee and saltfish are fully heated through. Season with black pepper to taste, and serve hot.

Video

Notes

Maintaining Ackee Texture – be sure to add the ackee at after all other ingredients are in the pot, to retain some shape and texture.
Type of Codfish – I recommend using boneless, salted codfish.
Desalting Saltfish – when boiling the salt out of the fish foam will appear on the top of the water. Pay close attention, and you may want to lower your heat to prevent the water from boiling over.

Nutrition

Calories: 1589kcalCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 287gFat: 37gSaturated Fat: 9gPolyunsaturated Fat: 11gMonounsaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 3gCholesterol: 689mgSodium: 31897mgPotassium: 6890mgFiber: 3gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 2748IUVitamin C: 116mgCalcium: 760mgIron: 12mg
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5 Comments

  • Reply
    Marta
    November 18, 2022 at 8:49 am

    5 stars
    As a Rasta, and before I became a vegan Rasta, ackee and saltfish was my go-to meal. I love your version as it reminds me of my bredren and sistren who I used to enjoy this meal with.

    • Reply
      Taneisha Morris
      November 19, 2022 at 10:52 pm

      Love to hear it Marta! So glad it brought you back to good times with your brothers and sisters! Yes!! Love it!

  • Reply
    Robin
    November 20, 2022 at 4:46 pm

    5 stars
    I’m thrilled to finally learn how to properly prepare this dish. Your instructions were clear and the results were spectacular! My taste buds thank you.

  • Reply
    LaKita
    November 20, 2022 at 8:20 pm

    5 stars
    I have not had ackee and saltfish in forever and I’ve never tried making it myself at home, but your instructions made the process so simple! This is loaded with so much flavor and absolutely delicious!

  • Reply
    Jazz
    November 30, 2022 at 1:44 pm

    5 stars
    Thank you for the step by step instructions and helpful pictures! This was my first go at ackee and saltfish and it came out wonderfully!

  • Leave a Comment

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