I love stew, and most importantly, I love the versatility of it; stew is one of those recipes where it’s hard to mess it up, and easy to modify it to your standards. For this post, I’m going to talk about metemgee, which is a South American/Caribbean dish! More specifically, metemgee is Guyanese fish and root vegetable stew.
I first ran across the word metemgee in the Nalo Hopkinson book Midnight Robber. It’s not a big mention; a character serves it to the little girl in the lead role to warm her up and calm her down. But as somebody who’s part of the Caribbean diaspora and was never taught anything more about Caribbean food than jerk chicken and plantain chips, I was intrigued, and looked it up.
Here are some of the recipes I worked from! Jehan Can Cook – Metemgee.com – ThingsGuyana. If you’re looking to make “authentic” metemgee, definitely start with these – however, it’ll become obvious pretty quickly that the variations on it are endless.
The recipe I ended up working from is here: This is a great post, and my first shot at making this was good, but it was missing something. Second time around? Delicious.
So, what is metemgee exactly, how do you make it, and how do I make it?
Metemgee is a stew of “provisions”, or root vegetables. So while the recipe above specifies certain things, there’s actually a whole range of vegetables you can use in it. Sweet potatoes, cassava, eddoe and plantain are more traditional; potato, carrot, turnip and rutabaga will also work, and even varieties of radish like daikon, watermelon radish, etc. For any stew, what you want to keep an eye on is amounts. Root vegetables need lots of liquid to cook in and they tend to soak it up, so it’s all the more important that you don’t overdo it. For about eight cups of liquid, you want roughly eight cups of cubed root veg, but err on the lower side. If that’s hard to picture, think of it this way; if you have four kinds of root veg, grab 2 medium ones of each, or 3 small ones.
Metemgee also uses fresh chili pepper. The normally-used pepper is wiri-wiri pepper, but trying to find it outside of the Caribbean can be very difficult. Wiri-wiri peppers are in the same Scoville range as habaneros and Scotch bonnet peppers, so either of those will do as a direct one-to-one substitute – so two habaneros or bonnets instead of two wiri-wiris. However, I usually have Thai birds-eye chilis, and I find that I usually add an extra one or two to the pot (3-4 total). If you have jalapenos or serranos on hand, you’ll definitely need to add a few extra; 4-5 serranos or 5-6 jalapenos should work. I haven’t tried this stew with canned, smoked or dried chilis – I don’t think it’ll work well with things like canned chipotle peppers, but in lieu of fresh peppers, Mexican chile powder or cayenne will work. Just be careful of amounts! 1/2 a teaspoon of powder is usually equivalent to one chili – much less than you’d think.
Green seasoning is another vital component of metemgee. If you’re planning to make a lot of Caribbean food, you can make a ton of this ahead of time and freeze it (I put it in ice-cube trays!). Here is a recipe for it, but in essence, green seasoning is a mix of fresh green herbs like cilantro, celery, basil, rosemary, thyme, etc. (whatever you like best and whatever’s in season), garlic and ginger, onion, and chili pepper. If you don’t have this or can’t make it, though, for metemgee I suggest blending some garlic, ginger, celery and whatever dried versions of the above you have together and adding two tablespoons of the mixture to your stew.
And finally, the fish/meat! Metemgee can have either saltfish or salt pork in it; however, if you’re somebody who doesn’t buy those two things, there are options. For my first crack at metemgee, I just substituted in basa fillets, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. What you want is something with a richer, salty/fishy flavour. So for this go-around, I substituted two things; a can of smoked mussels in sunflower oil, and a few strips of pollock imitation crab. I also added 2 teaspoons of dashi powder to the broth to complement them. This gave the stew a much richer flavour – so the trick is, if saltfish isn’t something you have, smoked or salted fish of another kind is important. While I haven’t cooked this with meat, I imagine the same holds true; instead of adding raw or plain-cooked meat, try to find something smoky, salty or dried. (Bacon, perhaps. Now I want to try that!)
1-2 tsp oil (canola, olive, sunflower, etc.)
1 medium onion, chopped (red or white; or one medium leek)
2 wiri wiri peppers, chopped and deseeded (habanero or Scotch bonnets; 3-4 bird’s eye; 4 serranos, 5 jalapenos)
10 sprigs thyme (4-5 tsp dried)
2 cloves of garlic (2-3 tsp minced)
1 tsp minced ginger
2 16-oz cans of coconut milk, or 4 cups
4 cups of water or broth
2 tsp of dashi powder (or, 2 tsp of fish sauce)
2 tbsp green seasoning
1/2 lb of saltfish (or; 1 tin drained smoked mussels, 2 basa fillets, 10 strips of pollock imitation crab, or a combination) OR 1/2 lb of salt pork (or; 1/2 lb bacon)
8 cups assorted root vegetables, cubed (potatoes, carrots, radish, daikon, cassava, eddoe, sweet potato, squash, plantain, turnip, etc.)
Optional: 2-3 fresh tomatoes, 4-5 okra
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp melted or soft butter
3/4 cup water
Like any stew, metemgee cooks its base flavours first, then adds its liquids, then its solids. So you can mess around with this to a certain degree, but remember that basic process.
- Heat up a splash of oil in your stockpot, and add chopped wiri-wiri pepper. Let it fry up a little, until the oil turns red, about 30 seconds to a minute. (Do not inhale the fumes. Your sinuses will regret it.) Then add onion and thyme. Fry these for another 2-3 minutes until fragrant. If you aren’t using premade green seasoning, add ginger and garlic, and stir so they don’t burn.
- Add coconut milk and either water or stock. Most people are using coconut milk from a can, so this is 2 full cans. Stir in green seasoning here if you’re using it, as well as dashi powder. (If you don’t have dashi powder, try using fish sauce.) Bring to a low boil over medium heat.
- Add salt fish if using. Add your root vegetables, and if you’re using something softer like plantains, layer them on top. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, then at the 10 minute mark, add a drained tin of smoked mussels and/or imitation crab. Cook for another ten minutes.
- OPTIONAL: Tomatoes and okra are less common ingredients, but if you have them and like them, go for it! However, you definitely want to cook these less than the root vegetables. Put them in at the same time as the mussels and crab, or even afterwards, so they only cook for 5-10 minutes.
- Make your duff! In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and butter. Add water, knead to mix, and form into a ball. Leave it to sit for ten minutes.
- After the duff has rested, separate into about 4 balls or logs. Put them on top of the metemgee, cover, and cook for at least 5 minutes. Don’t lift the lid! Otherwise they won’t cook properly.
- Remove from heat and serve!
Vegetarian: Yes! Just don’t add any of the fish ingredients, and add a little extra salt.
Vegan: Absolutely! Take out the fish, and don’t make the duff.
Dairy free: Coconut milk is completely non-dairy, and so just sub out the butter in the duff for some other type of shortening.
Nightshade: Take out the wiri-wiri pepper and don’t include either tomatoes or potatoes. Neither sweet potatoes or garlic are nightshades, and so you can use extra garlic and ginger to make up for the low spice.
FODMAP: Yes, actually! Go easy on the celery, and unfortunately the onion and garlic will need to be substituted (chives, leek, ginger and fennel are good for this). Everything else, however, seems fine.