Sweet Potato Smoked Herring Croquettes w/ Tamarind Sauce
Ground provisions have always felt like trickster food to me. From the earthy flavours and complex textures of the tubers to the health-giving diversity of some of their shoots, our ancestors came to know the healing benefits of some and the powerful potential of others. Their ability to stand alone, paired with a simple sauce or gravy, coupled with the endless possibilities they present for transformation and elevation via the infusion of other flavours, is absolutely fascinating. A regular staple on the menu of my childhood diet, ground provisions of all varieties were also the canvas for the annual Good Friday spread that my family hosted every year until my mother’s passing in 2014. This dish is an ode to her and to her ability to transform the everyday earthiness of ground provisions to sublime delicacies that resonate on my palate to this day.
Element: Ground Provision
Prep time: 2 hours | Cooking Time: 1 hour | Difficulty: Easy | Serves: 4
[Sweet Potato Smoked Herring Croquette]
2 ½ cups Sweet Potato/Boniato Root, mashed
1 cup Smoked Herring, shredded
½ small Yellow Onion, finely chopped
3 Garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp Chives, finely chopped
4 sprigs of Thyme
2 Tbsp Parsley, finely chopped
2 Pimento Peppers, finely chopped
½ tsp Chilli flakes
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
1/2 cup Evaporated Milk, room temp
1/2 cup Cornstarch
2 Large Eggs
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
Salt & Black Pepper
Vegetable Oil (for frying; about 2 cups)
Add the smoked herring fillets to a saucepan with cold water, bring to a boil and allow to cook for 5-7 mins. Drain the water and once cool enough to handle, prep the fish by separating the flesh from any large bones, shred the flesh fine, and set aside.
Wash, peel and cut into equally medium-sized pieces the sweet potatoes before adding to a saucepan filled halfway with cold water. Once boiling, reduce the heat slightly and allow the potatoes to continue cooking for 10 minutes or until a fork or knife goes through the potatoes with a slight resistance. Drain the potatoes and allow the potatoes to cool a bit before mashing or ricing, then set aside.
Over medium heat, using a small saute pan, melt the butter, then stir in the onions and pepper flakes to sweat and become fragrant for two minutes. Next, add garlic, thyme, chives, parsley and pimento peppers. Cook for an additional two minutes before adding a ¼ cup of evaporated milk at the end to gently warm through. Remove from the heat.
Gently combine the prepared smoked herring and the crushed sweet potatoes, removing any bones you might have missed as you go. Next, gradually add the milk, onion and herb mix. Taste the potato mixture before adding salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Whisk together one egg and incorporate. Add a tablespoon of cornstarch into the potato mixture and mix well to create a soft and smooth dough. Scoop out the mixture using a tablespoon and shape into small logs or balls.
In a shallow bowl or plate, roll the croquettes first in the cornstarch with all purpose seasoning added, then dip them in the egg wash (egg beaten with remaining milk), and finally roll in the breadcrumbs, making sure they are completely covered before setting aside in the refrigerator for about two hours before frying.
In a non-stick frying pan, heat the oil 375°F. Working in small batches, fry the croquettes, turning often, until golden brown and crisp, this may take 3–4 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and place in a 350°F oven to maintain crispness.
Serve with Tamarind Dipping Sauce.
[Pepper Tamarind Sauce]
½ cup Tamarind paste
¼ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
2 tbsp of Olive Oil
1 tbsp of Tomato Paste
1-1½ cups Water
½ cup Brown Sugar
½ tsp Ground Cumin
½ tsp Chili Flakes
1 tsp Coriander Seeds
2 Cinnamon sticks
3 Cardamom pods
1 tsp Cloves
2-3 Bay Leaves
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Scotch Bonnet Peppers
½ small Onion, small chopped
2 sprigs of Culantro
A pinch of Baking Soda
Salt to taste
Prepare the tamarind paste by covering the shelled fruit with cold water and bringing to a boil in a small saucepan with a pinch of baking soda. Drain off the water and set aside to cool. Once cooled, use a sieve to separate the seeds from the paste and set the tamarind paste aside.
In a small sauté pan, toast the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander seeds until fragrant for two to three minutes until fragrant, then immediately remove from the pan. To a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and sweat the onion until translucent. Add the toasted spices, then add the ginger, garlic, culantro, tamarind paste, tomato paste, ginger paste, cumin, and Scotch Bonnet pepper. Simmer all the ingredients for about two minutes before adding the water, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar to the pot. Increase the heat and bring to a boil for about ten minutes, stirring as you go. Once the sugar has dissolved, you should have a glossy, thickened sauce that should coat the back of a spoon. Then, with caution, taste and add salt to your liking. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before straining to remove the spices and seasonings for a smoother consistency.
Serve at room temperature.
Dawn Cumberbatch is a screenwriter, archivist, and researcher. A fierce advocate for local content with a broad diasporic scope, she has written, produced, and directed several documentaries in Trinidad and Tobago, and throughout the Caribbean.
See Dawn’s full bio here.