Ron Don is a coconut based seafood soup and is the speciality dish for a number of Caribbean and Latin American countries. The dish originated in Africa and was carried west across the Atlantic with the slave trade.
There are many different variations of this one pot wonder but today, I am writing about the Ron Don found 70 kilometres off the coast of Nicaragua, on Little Corn Island. We have been living on Little Corn Island for the last few months. One of my finest moments on the tropical Isla was trying this renowned seafood splendour.
“This is our ancestral food, we make it the same way since the slavery.” José told me.
José is the guy on the Island who brings everything to everyone. I’m not exactly sure of his job title or if he even works for anybody but what I do know is; he looks like a pirate, he cooks awesome food and he loves his massive, loud family very, very much. I quickly realised the role community and family play in this dish as José told me the story of Ron Don.
“The most important thing is sharing, we share the work and we share it around when its cooked” José explained.
The name Ron Don apparently originates from the fact that everyone in the village would run down (run down, becomes Ron Don in a strong Caribbean accent) to help out with the pot of soup. Family members, friends and neighbours would bring fruits, vegetables, seafood and spices to throw in the communal pot.
This community concoction would then be shared out between everyone. As I looked up from José’s story it seemed as though everyone really had run down. Suddenly we were surrounded by José’s kids, nieces, nephews, friends and even the local cats and dogs. All could tell it was nearly time.
“Y’know, you can’t make Ron Don on a stove. You can try but it don’t taste the same, you need the smoke from the wood” José proudly stated.
We were sat on palm tree logs around a small wood fire. The pot of Ron Don rested on top of the logs and I sipped on a rum filled coconut. The Caribbean ocean laid still in the background. José’s nephew proudly explained that the lobster is cooked because it had turned red.
The finished pot was then carefully shared out. Piece by piece, José made sure that everyone got a bit of everything; “Which plate needs yuca?” he asked as he lifted another spoon laden with the local root, the kids all shouted and pointed at the different bowls laid out on a plank of wood. Eventually, with equal amounts of fish, yuca and coconut broth, we sat to eat.
The Yogi and I sat on plastic lawn chairs, José was laid in a hammock, his friends sat around the fire drinking rum. The kids ran around with bowls in their hands, the dogs silently gorged on their share of fish heads and lobster shells. I could see the magic of food. The ability for one simple dish, prepared with love, to bring people together.
That first spoon full. Incredible.
This is a great dish; the freshest seafood, local vegetables, handmade coconut milk, tied together with hot pepper and the islands strong flavoured basil. The warming, rich and smokey base carries the delicate fish and lobster to another level.
This is a soup where no bread is needed. The yuca, coco, breadfruit and plantain give more than enough body. Half way through I was so full but I couldn’t bear to leave one mouthful of the delicious broth. And I didn’t.
José was kind enough to share his recipe with me and I am honoured to share this recipe with you. As José said, it doesn’t taste as good on a stove so take this recipe camping with you.
If you find yourself on Little Corn Island, be sure to head up to the Lighthouse and ask for José. Tell him the Chef sent you and send him our love.
As some of the ingredients may be hard to find outside of the Caribbean I have included as many alternatives as possible
- 8 cups fresh coconut milk (or 4 cans tinned coconut milk)
- 1 large brown onion
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 'china pepper' (scotch bonnet or habenero chilies are easier to find)
- 1/2 cup basil leaves
- 2-3 leaves Mexican oregano, chopped
- Fresh seafood; we used lobster, conch and whole fish but I think any seafood would be good - if you are using filleted fish allow around 250g, if you are using whole fish and lobsters or prawns in the shell allow double this amount
- Half a breadfruit, peeled, cored and diced / 170g peeled and chopped potatoes
- 150 g peeled and chopped yuca (also known as cassava, if unavailable substitute potato)
- 100g malanga root (this is called coco in the caribbean, if unavailable simply use extra yuca or potato)
- 1 green plantain sliced (if unavailable use an unripe banana)
- 1 banana sliced
- Half a lime to squeeze, plus wedges to serve
- Warm the coconut milk in a large pot over an open fire (if unavailible use a stove).
- Add the onion, black pepper, oregano and half of the basil and bring to a boil.
- Add the chilli whole.
- Add the breadfruit, potato, yucu, malanga, plantain and banana and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the fish to the pot and simmer untill meat is cooked through. If you are using lobsters, split them whole down the center, clean out the digestive tract and lay flat, meat facing down, across the top of the pot to steam. If you are using prawns add them now.
- Once all the seafood is cooked add the remaining basil, a squeeze of lime and the salt to taste.
- Remove the chilli pepper.
- Portion the meat and vegetables into bowls, ladle over the liquid and serve with a wedge of lime.
- Best enjoyed with a cold beer on a beach with good company