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Have You Ever Tasted Steamed Fish Wrapped in Banana Leaves?

table spread with steam fish, breadfruit, sweet potato and salad
Al fresco dining poolsdie at Endless Summer Villa for a small group of friends.

Rodney Jack, the Evening Chef at Endless Summer Villa in Silver Sands Jamaica, invited me to visit him at his home at McHill district in Clark’s Town. We hatched a plan as I wanted to combine the visit with the procurement of banana leaves, so I woke up early and drove up to Duncans and then on through the hillside, through the cane fields, past the Long Pond Sugar factory and into Clark’s Town. I took the right turn beside the Clark’s Town Anglican Diocese Church and then followed Chef Jack's directions up the hills, only to find that I was quickly lost. 


As I was driving around searching for the house, a motorbike pulled up beside me. It was  Belvitt, who worked with me many years ago. He was certainly surprised to see me driving around Clark’s Town before seven in the morning and figured I was lost. So with some help from Belvitt and other pedestrians who offered assistance, I eventually found my way to Rodney Jack's home.

chef rodney jack home in clark's town
Chef Rodney Jack's home in CLark's Town. Note the tall plant in the sunlight to the left of the photo, above.


Rodney's home is quite a substantial concrete building, revealing that he is clearly better off than most of his neighbours. He proudly showed me around and even walked me through the downstairs bedroom in which his grandson was still asleep. Rodney boasted that he had four bedrooms so he had a lot of extra space. Only he and his grandson live there as his wife and children do not live with him. His wife lives in the United States.


Rodney had a surprise for me as he had alerted Dread that I was coming to visit him. Rodney called him Benji, while I know him as Dread, but his real name is Whitely White. Dread is a highly skilled mason who worked with me in construction many years ago. He would always smoke some herb before he started working. No doubt Dread was waiting and looking out for me - it was really great to see him again after more than twenty years, and Dread could not stop talking and laughing.

dread and prem
Dread and Prem


Dread and I reminisced about old times. I asked him about his cows because I remembered that he sometimes came to work late, his excuse being that one of his cows “get way” and he had to go find it and put it back in its pen. Sadly Dread then told me that he no longer kept cows because “tief” kept  taking them.


Dread, with some coaxing from Rodney, took off his tam so I could check out his dreadlocks which tumbled down past his shoulders, past his waist, and nearly touched the ground. The last time I saw Dread his locks only reached his waist.

dread aka whitely white dread showing off his locks


All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Dread as Rodney and I had to load the car with the banana leaves that he had harvested from nearby trees . We carefully filled the back of the car with these banana leaves as we did not want them to tear. When we were all loaded up, Rodney jumped in the front seat beside me and we slowly and carefully made our way down the hill.


Rodney had advised me that he knew how to steam fish the old-fashioned way in banana leaves on a coal fire. This is what we had decided to do. We drove back down to Duncans but did not swing in to the road to Silver Sands. instead we carried on, joining the highway, heading West to Falmouth where we drove through the town (quiet and uncrowded due to the early time of day), to the fishing beach located near the police station and the Falmouth All Age - Barracks School.

barracks fishing village


We were there in about fifteen minutes, parked the car and walked into the fishermen's community dotted with small shacks, fishpots, a cleaning station which no one apparently used, fishing boats, and odd bits of furniture and miscellaneous stuff. It was quiet with maybe ten to twenty men milling about.  Rodney looked for the fisherman that he knows, and after their jovial greetings, we set about the business of buying an appropriate size red snapper.

unused building the beach at barracks


Rodney's friend was extremely helpful. I chose a wonderful red snapper, and once that was done a young man appeared and offered to clean it for us. I watched as he skilfully did this task in much less time than it would have taken myself or Rodney. I gave the fish cleaner a tip and we said our goodbyes and headed off to Silver Sands. Rodney advised me that one can always get good fish at this Fishing Beach, so long as the weather is good enabling the fishermen to go out to sea.

red snapper
Our red snapper, about to be scaled and cleaned.


fishing boats
Fishing boats at the Barracks Beach


cleaning the fish

cleaning the fish fishing boat

Back at Silver Sands we had the task of offloading the banana leaves carefully so that we did not tear them. Rodney heated each banana leaf over the stove, a process that Jamaicans call “quailing the banana leaves”. Heat causes the banana leaves to change colour and makes them more pliable. I showed Rodney how to cut the leaf from the stem and how to stack them neatly so we could package them and freeze them for future use.

beachfront at endless summer villa


Since my friends and I planned to spend most of the day on the beachfront at Endless Summer enjoying water sports, I decided we would do our cooking there. Chef Rodney Jack seasoned the red snapper with a combination of herbs and spices and he even stuffed the fish and left it to marinate.


Chef Jack lit the coal pot and with the help of the North Easterly trade winds we soon had glowing coals. While the fish was marinating, Rodney placed a roasting breadfruit and large sweet potato directly on the hot coals. He kept a sharp eye on them, turning every now and then so they would cook through evenly.

breadfruit  and sweet potato on the coal fire


Chef Jack brought the seasoned red snapper and quailed banana leaves down to the beach front and showed us how he wrapped the fish in the banana leaves. He used a large frying pan which would fit nicely on the coal pot. He put some water into the pan and then carefully placed the wrapped fish in the pan and covered it. Soon steam gushed out under the cover. Jack tended to the steaming fish until he decided it was cooked.

seasoned red snapper on the banana leaf

wrapping the fish in banana leaf

cooking on the seafront


pan on the coal pot

cooked red snapper


Chef Jack laid the table outside on the pool deck. In addition to the seaside dishes, Chef Jack made chips and a fresh green salad. Our dinner was absolutely delicious. The fish was tender and tasty with the accompanying breadfruit and sweet potato really compementing main course. There’s nothing quite like food cooked the old-fashion way, especially when prepared by the seaside.

barracks beach with fishing boat


Find out about Scotch Bonnet Peppers used in Rodney's seasonings.

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Silver Sands Villas Jamaica News