Blue Cornmeal Spinach Cou Cou and Shrimp (or Squid) CurryCou Cou is a dish of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It's essentially porridge or mush, which is arguably the most common dish made with cornmeal worldwide.
The history of this dish and the peoples who consume it is extremely complex, and fraught with cruelty, resiliency, and remarkable diversity.
Cou cou, coo coo, or fungie is inextricable from the various cultures where it resides, although it is in many ways familiar to other cultures. Grits in the Southern US, polenta in Italy, turned (or 'tun") cornmeal in Jamacia or harina de maiz in Dominica. In the case of cou cou, is often, if not generally congealed in a mold (often a bowl).
Another element that I love about cou cou is the ingenious and delicious addition of coconut milk into the mixture. In addition to that, okra is usually blended into the porridge. These two characteristics make it stand out from the way other cultures have treated their cornmeal mush.
I admit (not without a bit of shame) that I only recently tried this dish, and amongst the cornmeal porridges I have cooked and tried, cou cou is a standout. This particular treatment uses spinach (reminiscent of grits and greens), which is not unheard of, but in this case due to the fact that okra was out of season and I had the spinach on hand. Okra is the traditional addition to cou cou.
My first impression of the flavor of the cou cou and shrimp curry was an interesting mix of shrimp and grits with a coconut flavor not unlike a red Thai curry. This was the inspiration for the squid variation of this recipe. My favorite Thai dish is red curry with mixed seafood, so when the Shrimp Guy had some squid I was inspired to give the squid a try instead of shrimp. I must admit I was pleased with how well it turned out.
The tricky part was turning out the cou cou that had solidified in the mold (very reminiscent of polenta) onto the plate. Letting the porridge congeal in a bowl that is warm - but not too hot - is key. A decently solid dome of cou cou makes for an irresistible sight when topped with the shrimp (or squid) curry.
In the half dozen or so attempts at this dish, I did some improvisations, most notably with the blue cornmeal and the the squid variations which are almost certainly non-traditional.
For the sake of simplicity, remember that you are essentially making two different dishes that are combined before serving.
First, Cook the Cou Cou
1 Cup Coarse Blue Cornmeal
2 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Cup Coconut Milk
2 Cups Spinach (Preferably Fresh)
1/2 Red Bell Pepper (or similar. I used a large banana pepper)
1/4 Cup Diced Red onion
2 Tablespoons Butter (or olive oil)
1/2 Teaspoon Thyme
- Melt the butter on medium heat in a medium sauce pan (3 quart saucepan will do).
- Saute the onions until they are translucent, then add the bell peppers and salt. Add Thyme. Saute for a few minutes.
- Add the chicken stock, turn heat to high. Stir.
- Add the coconut milk, stir until the mixture boils.
- Lower heat to low and whisk in the cornmeal into mixture while stirring rather quickly until the temperature drops a bit.
- Simmer the mixture on low for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. If the mixture is to thick, add 1/4 cup water or stock at a time.
Stir in spinach.
Pour out the cou cou into buttered molds (bowls work nicely).
- Let the cou cou congeal and cool a bit (about 5 to 10 minutes). The trick here is to get the cou cou out when it is warm but quite solid.
Turn out into serving vessel, top with shrimp curry.
The Shrimp (or Squid) Curry
1/2 Pound of Shrimp or Squid.
3 tablespoons of cooking oil. This time around, I used olive oil because it was sitting on the countertop. (I'm not too picky here, you could use bacon fat or whatever you like).
About 1/2 cup of chopped onion. In this case I used a red onion, also because it was sitting on the counter
1 small hot pepper (I used a couple of jalapenos from the fridge that were on the way out).
1 Bell pepper (red, green, orange, whatever you like).In this case it was an orange bell, since there was a half of one in the fridge. For the remaining half needed, I used a small bell pepper
1 Tbs Tomato paste
1 Cup Chicken stock
1 Cup Coconut milk
1 Clove Garlic
1 Pinch Thyme
- 1 Tbs curry powder
- Minced Chives or Your Favorite Garnish
- Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the onions until translucent.
- Stir in the tomato paste, peppers garlic, thyme and curry powder.
- Stir in the stock and coconut milk.
- Stir in the seafood and simmer for about 5 minutes or until seafood is 143 degrees Fahrenheit. Don't overcook seafood!
- Ladle over cou-cou.