Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

One of the more popular Jamaican breakfast dishes, and one of our personal favorites, is salt mackerel rundown. This is a rich and textured meal that is most often enjoyed on Sundays, when there is ample time to prepare it, as well as time to leisurely imbibe and digest. Many childhood Sunday mornings were made memorable with this unusual fish-forward breakfast. When we lived in Trinidad and were longing for a true taste of Jamaica, this recipe would transport us there. Our father, Peter, loved rundown mackerel, so this dish was regularly on the menu. His love for it helped to solidify our love for it, and explains why it came to symbolize home for us during the chapter of our lives when we were not in Jamaica. 

In rundown, the salty mackerel is cooked down in a savory-sweet coconut custard that is created by reducing coconut milk with a medley of classic Jamaican spices and vegetables like tomato, scallion, Scotch bonnet pepper, onion, and thyme. The mackerel is allowed to simmer in the coconut custard for about 20 minutes, which tempers its intense saltiness and leaves you with a creamy, rich, well seasoned, and slightly sweet dish.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Rundown is traditionally prepared with fresh coconut milk, which is cooked to a custard consistency, as is part of the process for making homemade coconut oil in days gone by: fresh coconut milk is reduced in a saucepan until it is thick and custardy and the fat separates from the coconut solids, leaving a layer of clear oil on top. Making fresh coconut milk is actually quite simple, but it does require some effort, so while our recipe offers instructions for making it from scratch, you should feel free to use canned coconut milk in its place. 

The boiled green bananas that are served as an accompaniment are also worth mentioning here. On many islands in our region, green bananas are boiled and served as a starch to accompany proteins at any meal of the day. In Jamaica, we add a touch of salt and a pat of butter as soon as they come hot out of the pot; sometimes we mash them, much as one would mash potatoes. The result is insanely delicious.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

When combined with the spicy and savory mackerel, it is an explosion of flavor and texture that you will not soon forget. Along with boiled green banana, mackerel rundown would typically also be served with ripe plantain, callaloo, and fried breakfast dumplings called Johnny cakes. Mackerel rundown is one of the most unexpected and delicious breakfast dishes you will ever encounter. Like many traditional Jamaican dishes, it is time-consuming to prepare, but it is worth every ounce of the effort and time that it takes to make it.

For the Rundown: In a large bowl, soak mackerel in hot water, changing the water once or twice during soaking, until saltiness has been reduced, 2 to 3 hours (the mackerel should still be noticeably salty, but not painfully so, as it is the only source of salt in the dish). Drain mackerel and carefully remove any remaining fish bones. Cut or tear mackerel into bite-sized pieces (about 1-inch). Set aside.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

In a Dutch oven, melt coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, tomatoes, scallions, and garlic, then stir in fresh or canned coconut milk. Add Scotch bonnet, allspice berries, and thyme. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to maintain simmer, adjusting heat as needed, and cook until coconut milk has reduced to a creamy, custardy texture, about 10 minutes. This is called rundown sauce.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Stir torn mackerel into rundown sauce and cook over medium heat until liquid is further reduced and fish, vegetables, and rundown sauce are combined in a thick and creamy stew, about 15 minutes.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Meanwhile, for the Boiled Green Bananas (Optional): Fill a large bowl with cold water. Using gloved hands, cut ends off green bananas. Then, using a paring knife and working with one banana at a time, make a lengthwise slit into the skin from top to bottom. Remove skin from banana, then, scrape away any stringy bits from the banana. Transfer to a large bowl of water and repeat with remaining bananas.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

In a large pot of salted boiling water, boil bananas until fork-tender, about 20 minutes (cooking time will vary depending on the size of the bananas). Drain bananas, transfer to bowl, and season with salt and butter to taste. Use the back of a fork to mash boiled bananas, if desired.

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Serve rundown warm, with the boiled green bananas. (see notes)

Serious Eats / Karina Matalon

Special Equipment

Dutch oven, large pot (for the optional boiled green bananas)

Notes

Two 13.5 ounce cans of coconut milk may be substituted for the fresh coconut milk. 

Pickled mackerel, also often sold as “salt mackerel,” is often sold at Jamaican and West Indian markets. When buying pickled mackerel, make sure that the fish is firm to the touch. While any size mackerel can be used, it is easier to remove bones from larger mackerel.

Green bananas are not the same as green plantains; you can often find green bananas at Caribbean markets. These boiled bananas need to be truly green, not just under-ripe as is common for bananas in markets in North America. Make sure the wear gloves while peeling the bananas to avoid purple stained fingers.

Rundown is also greats served with fried yellow plantain, callaloo, and fried breakfast dumplings called Johnny cakes.

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