I just finished watching the last episode of Feasting on Waves this week. It's the latest in Alton Brown's Feasting on Asphalt series, where A.B. and crew travel the U.S. in search of, well, Good Eats. I love this series because it focuses on what I like best about Alton Brown: his passion for local, traditional, and often disappearing foodways.
The first two installments, Feasting on Asphalt and Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run, had a lot of familiar foods: gumbo, fried chicken and Mississippi Delta tamales. But the latest series saw the group traveling by boat, island hopping in the Caribbean. This time around things were a lot more foreign. While I wouldn't know where to even look for a mauby or a breadfruit, there was one food item that I knew I had to try: Johnny cakes.
Johnny cakes were offered at every restaurant, food stand, and home featured on the show. A.B. snuck them into his pockets and asked for them when they weren't immediately provided. Now, I've heard the term Johnny cake before, used in reference to a kind of American cornmeal flatbread. But these Caribbean Johnny cakes are a different animal. There's no cornmeal, so they're more like biscuits. And they're deep fried instead of baked or pan fried.
After a quick search, I found a recipe over on National Geographic Traveler, so at least I'm fairly certain it's authentic.
Johnny Cake (10 to 12 cakes)
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 ounces margarine
3 ounces evaporated milk
2 to 4 tablespoons water as needed
1 pinch of salt
Vegetable oil heated for deep-frying
1. Add all of the ingredients to the flour.
2. Mix dough well and roll, with sprinkled flour, into balls that are approximately two and a half inches in diameter.
3. Flatten to a thickness of about half an inch with a rolling pin.
4. Drop each, one at a time into the hot oil and fry until dark golden brown on all sides.
5. Remove from frying pan and blot with a paper towel to remove excess oil.
6. Serve hot or at room temperature.
There's one little trick I learned by watching Feasting that isn't included in the National Geographic recipe. Some of the women who were preparing Johnny cakes would cut a slit down the middle of the cake after it was rolled out. They said it helped it cook a little faster and more evenly. And it must have done some good, because despite my sub-par deep frying skills, these guys turned out great. I was really surprised at how good they were, given their unassuming appearance. I can only imagine how they taste when made by someone with years of experience.
One day, I'm taking a trip to St. Martin, just for some Johnny cakes. And maybe some callaloo. And peas and rice. And coconut tarts. And spiny lobster. But mostly the Johnny cakes.