Jamaican Run Down Tofu

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Jamaican run down is a classic Jamaican dish, one you’ll find in just about any Jamaican restaurant or cookbook. I love the creamy mouthfeel, delicate flavors of this tofu run down that I developed.

This dish, as near as I can gather, is called “run down” because you start by cooking out the water from the coconut milk, so that it goes from light and bubbly over the fire to thick, flat and “run down.” Customarily it’s made with mackerel or other seafood, like shrimp.

My source recipe was from a book I love, Jamaican Cookery: Recipes from old Jamaican grandmothers by Wenton O. Spence. The publishing information reads: “Published by: Heritage Publishers, P.O. Box 8196, South Camp Road, Kingston, Jamaica, Copyright 1981, 6th reprint, 1993, 641.597292.”

Skip to the recipe for Jamaican run down tofu.

I love the text at the front of this tiny, homespun-looking book – it’s just a lot
of 8.5”x17” sheets of paper folded in half and stapled along the spine, with
typography that evokes an era much earlier than its dates would suggest – so
much I transcribed some of it here to share.

The Jamaican way of cooking is a traditional way for many years. This book is based particularly on the Jamaican way in the Caribbean.

Its recipes are rich and will be of valuable use to those who need a congenial book to learn from. The recipes are carefully chosen and are recommended for usage in Hotels, Restaurants, and to the many housewives who need working knowledge of cookery.

Whether you are a freshman or a young cook, chef de-cuisine, or a critical gourmet, you will be pleased you have discovered working with the Jamaican Cookery.

– Wenton O. Spence

The changes I made to the source include using tofu instead of mackerel, an amount of coconut milk measured in cans rather than cups, canned tomatoes instead of fresh (you can use fresh if you like), cane vinegar instead of regular vinegar and a simplified method. I also specified an amount of salt. I hate when recipes just say “salt” or “salt to taste”! Make a decision!

Jamaican run down tofu recipe

1 lb. tofu, medium or soft, cut in about 1” x 3/4” x 3/4” slabs
1 can coconut milk (not a “lite” or reduced fat variety)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 12-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved
1 habañero pepper, seeds and membrane removed, finely chopped
1 lime, or 3 Tbs. lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Several grindings black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon cane vinegar

Equipment that bears mentioning
Cast iron skillet

In a nutshell
Cook coconut milk until it run down. Add onions and garlic and cook until soft. Add everything else and cook until you like it.

In detail
Simmer the coconut milk over medium heat in a heavy skillet for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, until it has thickened considerably from evaporation. Stir occasionally to keep a thick skin from forming. The coconut milk is “run down” when it’s no longer light and bubbly, but thick and flat. You will know it when you see it.

It’s a good opportunity to do your other prep.

Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is tender, about 10 minutes.

Add all other ingredients and stir together. Add the tofu and cover. Cook gently, at a low simmer, for 10–30 minutes, to desired consistency. This can be a soup, or a thick sauce over tofu pieces. Use reserved tomato juice to adjust thickness to your liking.

Extra notes
If you couldn’t find medium or soft tofu and you’re using firm tofu, you’ll definitely want to use the tomato’s juice and cook for the longer period of time. It’s a little more difficult to permeate the firm tofu with these delicate flavors, and to keep the tofu moist.

More information about Jamaican Cookery: Recipes from Old Grandmothers by Wenton O. Spence:


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