Surprising the Taste Buds

Surprising the Taste Buds

St. Martin’s Caribbean Creole Cuisine

Truly cosmopolitan, the island of St. Martin has adopted, and sometimes adapted, the cuisines of many countries. Chefs of renowned gourmet restaurants combine rich local traditions with their gastronomical know-how. The island specialty is French cuisine with Caribbean flavors, a taste of the diversity of influences St. Martin has seen over the centuries. This cuisine of mixed heritage, like the island itself, will ravish your taste buds and surprise your senses. You’ll appreciate a subtle mix of flavors, spicy sweetness, chili peppers, achiotes, chayote, fish, lobster, and shellfish…

The aromas of St. Martin’s cuisine, and the Caribbean’s in general, are truly one of a kind: a tasteful reflection of the island’s sunny climate, the cheerfulness of its inhabitants, its upbeat traditional music… Here, meals are often cooked outdoors on big barbecues.

Grand Case, the Gastronomy Capital

The Grand Case waterfront in the island’s northwest is unarguably where St. Martin’s best chefs convene. The main road is bordered with restaurants that will satisfy different tastes and all desires: traditional French cuisine sits side by side with restaurants serving Italian, Creole, and more. You could call it a happy gastronomical “melting pot!”

Those wanting a taste of Caribbean culture can enjoy grilled lobster or stuffed crab served in one of the lolos along Grand Case beach. These typical open-air restaurants on the waterfront give you the chance to savor St. Martin like a local.

St. Martin Specialties

Visitors should not pass up these dishes, of which the St. Martinois are particularly fond: Oxtail Stew, Johnny Cakes, Jacks (fried fish), fish or beef pâte en croute, or meat pies, and the traditional Locri, a meal made from spiced rice with chicken and vegetables. These dishes will please your taste buds, and are an absolute must when it comes to culinary experiences.

For seafood, some of the special St. Martin favorites include red snapper, an excellent fish that is cooked both in a court-bouillon or “blaff” (marinated in lime and then poached in broth), or directly on the grill. Thazard and marlin are served grilled or smoked, while conch is delicious in fricassee. Acras (codfish fritters made with fine herbs or vegetables) and lightly spiced stuffed crab are bound to make your mouth water.

A Dozen Traditional Recipes

This unbeatable fruity cocktail tastes like the Caribbean, and boasts as many recipes as there are beaches in St. Martin. Here’s one.
Serves 4 people

  • 150 ml white or aged rum
  • 300 ml orange juice
  • 300 ml pineapple juice
  • 300 ml guava juice
  • Sugar cane syrup
  • Drop of angostura bitters (optional)
  • Nutmeg (optional)

Adjust the amounts according to taste and serve cold. Drink responsibly

The guavaberry is a Caribbean berry as well as a liqueur that St. Martin locals produce from the same fruit. It is called mirto or murta in Puerto Rico, guavaberry in St. Martin and St. Eustache, guayabillo in Guatemala, coco-carette, merisier-cerise, and bois de basse batard in Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Guavaberry is a traditional liqueur that has been produced for centuries from old rum aged in oak barrels, sugar cane, and wild guavaberries from the island’s inland hills. It is traditionally served during Christmas, and every family in St. Martin has a bottle to celebrate this time-honored tradition. 

  • 2 kg guavaberries
  • 4 liters rum
  • 650 g sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • ½ liter water
  • 2 vanilla pods

Rinse the guavaberries in cold water with a strainer and keep the seeds. Soak the berries in rum for about two weeks. Mix the sugar, cinnamon, and water in a pot, and boil on medium heat for 10 minutes. Remove from the fire, add the vanilla, and let cool. The mixture will form a syrup. Pour the syrup into the rum bottle containing the guavaberries, and shake well. Enjoy right away, or allow to infuse for longer. Drink responsibly.  

Ribs are a staple in St. Martin, and you’ll find them in every local restaurant, or lolo, on the island. Here, everyone has his or her own recipe, all of them as finger-licking good as the next.

Serves 4 people

  • 1 kg pork spare ribs, cut into pieces  
  • 1 onion
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 lime 
  • Barbecue sauce

Prepare the marinade with a good dose of barbecue sauce, onion, minced garlic and lime. Marinate the ribs for 2 hours. Place the pieces of meat on the barbecue, and serve with plain or Creole-style rice.

Codfish fritters can be served as hors d’oeuvres, or as a meal with a green salad.

Serves 6 people (12 fritters) 

  • 230 g salted codfish
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 celery stalk
  • ½ green pepper, chopped
  • 1 tomato, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp crushed thyme
  • 4 drops tabasco
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 240 g flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • ½ cup milk
  • Corn oil for frying

To remove the salt, soak the codfish in cold water for 12 hours. Drain, then boil for 4 minutes. Remove the bones and slice finely.

In a deep pan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat, then sauté the onion, celery, and green pepper until tender. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and pour out the grease. In a bowl, gently mix the sautéed vegetables, tomato, thyme, tabasco, pepper, and codfish.

In another bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Add the egg yolks and milk, mixing until smooth. Add the vegetable and codfish preparation and mix again. In a deep pan, heat the corn oil to 180° C. Put two tablespoons of the mixture at a time into the hot oil, and brown, approximately 6 minutes. Remove the fritters with a slotted spoon or strainer, and absorb the excess oil on a paper towel.  

The fish court-bouillon is an essential dish of the Caribbean. This fish in sauce is generally served with white rice.

Serves 2-3 people

  • 500 g red or white fish
  • 3 limes
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Pinch of salt
  • 5 chives, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, deseeded
  • Thyme
  • Chili pepper

Cut the cleaned fish into pieces. Marinate the pieces in a mixture of lime, chili pepper, garlic, and salt for an hour. In hot oil, sauté the chives and tomatoes. Add to the mixture of marinated fish, and brown each piece on both sides. Cover with water, then add the thyme and chili pepper. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Towards the end, add the garlic mixed with lime juice. Serve with white rice.

Chiquetaille means “to shred”. This codfish recipe is a typical French Caribbean dish, usually served on a bed of greens or with spicy avocado (mashed ripe avocado with a bit of cassava flour).

  • 200 g desalted codfish
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Chili pepper
  • Oil, vinegar

Desalt the fish ahead of time, then grill it. Remove the bones if necessary and shred the codfish with your fingers. Mince the onion, garlic, and chili pepper, then add these to the codfish. Drizzle with oil and vinegar.

Crab & Rice is a much-loved Caribbean classic. It is often served over the Easter holidays, when families come together at the beach for the day, or to camp.

Serves 6 people – Prep time: 40 min – Cooking time: 35 min

  • 2 salted pig tails  
  • 200 g smoked pork belly
  • 6 crabs
  • 300 g rice
  • 4 tbs oil
  • 1 tsp achiote (optional)
  • Cloves
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • Chili pepper
  • Parsley, minced
  • 1 onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Thyme
  • A handful of chives

Cut the smoked pork belly into large cubes and blanch them. Cut the pork tails into pieces and cook them. Carefully clean the crabs and sear them in boiling water. Then brown them well. When the crabs are ¾ cooked, add the pork tails and smoked pork belly to the fricassee in the hot stewpot. Brown well. Add the onions, chives, garlic, chili pepper, parsley, thyme, and cloves. Mix everything, then. add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Add the pre-washed rice and mix. 

If you cleaned the crab yourself, add the fat from the shells for extra creaminess and aroma. If you have achiote, dilute it a bit and pour onto the rice. Cook, uncovered, on medium heat for 20-25 minutes.

These plump, little pastries are stuffed with spiced meat, shrimp, or fish. They are served around the world as hors d’oeuvres, or to accompany the main course. These pastries should be made in large batches because they disappear quickly! They can be oven-baked or fried, served hot, or cold.

Makes approximately 18 pieces

For the meat filling:

  • 450 g finely ground beef
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 large green pepper, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten

For the pastry:

  • 1 egg
  • 14 tbs vegetable shortening
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 450 g flour
  • 5 to 6 tbs iced water

To prepare the meat filling, mix all the ingredients except for the eggs in one deep pan. Cook on medium heat until the meat begins to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour or spoon out the fat. Place in a bowl and allow to cool slightly. Add the eggs and mix gently.

For the pastry, separate the egg yolk from the white. It’s preferable to use only the white, but the whole egg can also be used. Beat gently in a bowl, then fold in the vegetable shortening and salt. Fold in the flour, little by little, then add the water and remaining flour until it is completely absorbed.

Once the pastry preparation is ready, knead it well. With a rolling pin, flatten the dough into a thin sheet, then cut it into 8 cm diameter circles. Place 1 tbs of the meat filling into the center of each pastry circle. Moisten the edges of the pastry with the egg yolk and fold the pastry onto itself, pressing the edges firmly together. Pierce each one with a fork and deep fry in hot oil until golden brown. If baking instead, put the pastries onto a greased baking sheet and cook them in an oven preheated to 200°C until they are golden brown on both sides.

Don’t pass this one up! This dish is prized throughout the Caribbean, and the region’s star shellfish, the conch, is delightful in fricassee, or even in ragout or boudin…Conch fricassee is a traditional dish that just requires a bit of patience.

Serves 4 people

  • 1 kg conch
  • 4 green onions
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 garlic clove 
  • 1 lemon
  • Parsley
  • Thyme
  • Chili pepper
  • Pepper
  • Oil

Prepare the conch: split them, remove the interiors and carefully scrub them with lemon water. Then pound them to tenderize. Cut the conch into pieces, heat the oil, then fry. Add the tomatoes, onion, green onions, garlic, thyme, and parsley. Pepper them, and add the chili pepper. Mix well, cover with water and simmer for a minimum of 20 minutes. Before serving, add the lemon juice and season further to taste.

Serves 8 people

  • 5 cl olive oil
  • 250 g butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 celery stick, leaves included, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 120 g pumpkin, peeled and chopped
  • ½ red pepper, chopped
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 900 g lamb or mutton, cut into 3 cm cubes  
  • 25 liters cold water
  • 1 tsp thyme, crushed
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbs tomato paste
  • 120 g vermicelli, broken into small pieces

In a deep pot, heat the oil and butter over low heat. Sautee the onions, celery, garlic, carrots, pumpkin, red pepper, potatoes, and lamb for 5 to 7 minutes. Add water, thyme, white pepper, salt, bay leaf, and tomato paste. Cover and let simmer for 2 hours, skimming off the surface from time to time. Add the vermicelli and let simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, or until the vermicelli is tender. Season further to taste.

Johnny Cakes, also called Journey Cakes, can be served hot or cold, with butter, jam, syrup or honey. Legend has it that Johnny Cakes were made by women for their men before they left for work in the mornings. They could be eaten quickly and provided good sustenance for the midday meal. Today they are served for breakfast, brunch, or along with the main course.

Makes approximately 12 pieces

  • 300 g flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil or butter  
  • 8 to 15 cl water
  • 1 drop of oil for frying

In a mixing bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder, salt and sugar. Add the water, little by little. The mixture should begin to get sticky. Knead the dough with your hands until the flour is incorporated and the dough doesn’t stick to your fingers. If the dough remains sticky, add flour. Continue kneading until smooth. 

Dust a cutting board with flour and carefully roll out the dough into a long roll, 3 to 5 cm wide. Cut into 3 cm pieces. Roll each piece into a ball about the size of a lime. Flatten the balls with your palm or with a flour-dusted rolling pin. Heat the oil in the bottom of a pan. Golden the Johnny Cakes on both sides. Remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel. Best served hot.  

Serves 12 people

  • 1.5 kg sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly grated
  • 150 g to 180g of sugar
  • 120 g of pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and roughly grated
  • 120 g butter, melted
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten
  • 50 cl milk
  • 30 g flour
  • 2 tbs vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of Allspice
  • Pinch black pepper
  • 200g raisins
  • 2 tbs rum or brandy
  • 4 egg whites, beaten

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mix all the ingredients together, except for the egg whites. Incorporate the egg whites to the mix, then bake in a greased baking pan for an hour. The cake can be served hot or cold, topped with whipped cream or ice cream.

Sources: sweet potato cake, Johnny cakes, mutton soup, and beef pastries recipes: Ma Chance's French Caribbean Creole Cooking by Jeanne Louise Duzant Chance. G. P. Putman's Sons Publishers

  Surprising the Taste Buds