In this post I will be discussing the Caribbean perspective on how to clean meat, poultry and seafood and the reasons as to why this is done.
This is a post that I feel is long over due and one that has been requested a few times.
I was slightly apprehensive about writing this post because I wasn't sure what would be the best approach for such a sensitive topic.
Let me put this disclaimer out there first and foremost, this post is NOT to provoke a debate of any kind.
I'm not positioning myself to go back and fourth with anyone who wants to debunk my post with science.
I am fully aware that my method has not been scientifically proven, instead, I want to share with you my own personal cultural beliefs and opinion on the subject.
If you don't practice nor agree with washing your meat, poultry and seafood then this post isn't for you.
Alternatively, for my readers who are open minded and want to learn more about the Caribbean culture then you will find this post very interesting.
Keep in mind that I am also explaining things from the Afro Caribbean perspective because that is the ethnic group which I identity with.
I am aware that other groups of people share the same sentiments but it makes more sense to discuss things from my own ethnic group rather than the collective.
Why do we wash our meat?
This usually is the million dollar question from people who don't do so, almost to the point where I've witnessed debates ensue and things becoming rather personal.
It's a great question though and one which has a very simple answer. Meat is washed as a generational practice to what is perceived as a precautionary measure.
Growing up I saw ALL the women in my family continue this practice and I also witnessed this whenever I was surrounded by family friends in a kitchen setting.
I guess you could say I was naive because I thought it was something everyone did until I started mixing with people from other races/cultures.
While I don't know where the true origins lie for this meat preparation practice. I have a strong feeling because this is a generation thing that it has something to do with our ancestors and slavery.
The importance of food safety
Having worked in the catering environment, food safety and hygiene was paramount.
Our finger nails needed to be short, hair would be secured in a hairnet with a hat, attire would be plan chefs clothing (mine were all black) with safety boots on.
Aprons and towels had to be removed before leaving the kitchen.
Also, we would constantly change our gloves, wash our hands and of course we had to use the correct colour coded chopping boards for food preparation.
There was much more to what food safety entailed at my old workplace but I'm giving a very brief example of the fundamentals.
Where am I going with this, you're probably wondering? I'm saying this because I'm highlighting how much effort was put into ensuring any cross contamination and food poisoning.
What I didn't understand is why that same effort wasn't put into handling raw meat? I personally haven't had any negative effects from washing meat.
For me it's all about eliminating the germs and bacteria from what I perceive as good sanitation.
Granted I am fully aware that my stance on this may not hold up to what the scientists theorise, but it's something that is culturally engrained into me.
I think about where the meat has come from, what did the handling process involve? I don't know! and what took place before I finally got hold of it?
I cannot confidently answer those answers, in fact no one can which is why I believe in the sentiments of most Caribbean people. That level of unknown and uncertainty has led us to believe that cleaning the meat, poultry and seafood is the right thing to do.
The thought of cooking raw meat, poultry or seafood straight from the packaging doesn't sit well with us.
I am just being brutally honest and not trying to offend anyone. I'm speaking quite candidly from my own view point and one that just so happens to be a cultural perspective.
How to wash your meat, poultry or seafood
Let's discuss how we actually sanitise our food before it is cooked. It is quite common place for island people to use a combination of citrus, an acidic agent and some use salt to wash their meat.
This includes any of the following;
- Lime - cut into halves
- Lemon - cut into halves
- Sour oranges cut into halves
Which combination of citrus with an acid agent and/or whether salt is being used will vary from household to household.
The main thing is that the meat will be cleaned by any means necessary and the end result will be the same.
As a general rule of thumb the kitchen sink or near side of the kitchen sink would be the first place where the sanitation process will begin.
The entire sink and/or side area would be thoroughly cleaned down before the process begins to eliminate the chances of cross contamination.
Cleaning chicken varies depending on what cut of meat you are preparing and/or whether it has skin on it so I will give you a step by step of what I do. Again, this is how I prepare mine.
Before I do anything I remove the chicken hairs, in the case I'm preparing thighs, drumsticksle and legs.
You can remove the chicken hairs 3 ways;
- Pluck them out (this is time consuming but doable)
- Singe them off with matches, a lighter or an open flame (this is the method that my mom and grandmother would use) they would hold the chicken a few inches from an low-medium flame and burn them off.
- Use a knife to scrap way from the direction that the chicken hairs grow.
Cleaning the chicken
- Once the chicken hairs have been removed it's time to actually clean the chicken itself.
- Place a large clean bowl in the kitchen sink.
- Add the chicken of your choice to the bowl (in this case we are using chicken legs) with cold water.
- Use a knife to scrap along the skin in a back an fourth motion to remove any build up and scum, scraping around the knuckles to rid any loose bits of skin and repeat. If you are dealing with chicken with fatty deposits, then you will need to carefully trim them away with sterilised kitchen scissors or a knife (I prefer scissors as it is much easier to get rid of).
- Discard the buildup in a colander.
- Rinse off the chicken and discard the water.
- In the same bowl with the chicken in, distribute vinegar and or salt all over the chicken.
- Squeeze the lime or lemon all over the chicken.
- Rub each piece of chicken with a piece of lemon/lime.
- Fill the bowl with cold water and allow to sit for about 10 minutes.
- Rinse off the chicken (I usually use a colander) to rid the citrus, salt and vinegar.
- Put the chicken in another bowl, again in the sink.
- Blot the chicken dry with a paper towel it.
- Wash and clean down your work station.
- Use the chicken accordingly i.e season it, freeze it etc..
What about cleaning skinless meat?
In the case of cleaning any meat that is skinless for example chicken breasts, or red meat i.e cuts of mutton, lamb or goat meat.
I use the same cleaning method, excluding the removal of hairs. I focus more on leaving the meat to soak since there isn't any skin so the transparent film is easily removed from the meat.
Cleaning fish and seafood
I clean my seafood using a similar method small items such as shrimp/prawns, scallops, fish fillets are generally washed with water, salt and lime juice.
In the case of shrimp I de-vain them first before going into these quick steps.
- Place the shrimp prawns in a bowl.
- Squeeze lime and sprinkle salt over the shrimp.
- Add some luke warm water.
- Rinse the shrimp through a colander several times.
- Blot dry and use accordingly
I generally don't leave the shrimp or small seafood to soak as it can easily take on the taste of lime and begin to cook the flesh.
On the other hand, if I am cleaning a whole fish, I tend to be more rigorous. These are steps that I use for fish that has already been gutted by the fish monger;
- Place the fish of your choice in a medium sized bowl.
- Add some lukewarm water.
- Squeeze the juice from the lime into the fish in the bowl (you can add salt too, I do this often but not always).
- Use your hands to massage the lime water over the fish.
- Rinse off the fish directly under the tap (do this in a colander if it's easier).
- Rub the lime halves on the outside and cavity of the fish and rinse off a final time
Do you need to measure the ingredients for cleaning?
No, I don't measure anything, it's simply a case of eyeballing the quantity of meat and using what you feel is suffice.
However, if you are preparing meat for a large party of people i.e 6-8 lb of meat then you will need at least 10 limes/lemons to compensate for the amount of meat.
There is no wrong or right amount of lime, lemons etc for small batches of meat.
Can you use any type of vinegar to clean the meat?
Yes, you can I use any type of vinegar however I prefer to use the apple cider variation when I do use vinegar.
Why don't you always use vinegar?
It's down to a matter of preference and also who I am preparing my meat for. Some foods such a shrimp, don't really warrant the use of vinegar.
However, some people will religiously use vinegar regardless of what meat they are preparing.
Can you use lime/lemon juice from the bottle instead?
Yes, I always keep a few bottles of lemon/lime juice in my pantry in case I'm unable to get hold of fresh lime.
Fresh limes are always preferred but bottled is a great substitute.
Ultimately, this post is to serve as a guideline as well as to raise awareness. If you are not from the Caribbean and do not carry out this practice then continue to prepare your meat however you would normally do.
Other posts of interest
- How to Fix Rice
- How to Lead a Healthier Caribbean Lifestyle
- Caribbean Foodie 101
- Learning All About What is Caribbean Food
- How to Have a Healthy New Year
Recipes to apply this method to
- Jamaican Steamed Fish
- Coconut Curry Chicken
- Oxtail Stew with Butter Beans
- Shrimp Rundown
- Curry Goat
- Lamb Fried Rice
- Trinidad Stew Chicken
.**Don't forget to comment below and star rate if you have tried my recipes. Let's be friends and engage on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram I also like to pin on Pinterest, where you can find more amazing recipes.**