Salmorejo de Jueyes (Stewed Crab Meat) with Coconut Grits Cakes is a beautiful medley of cultures. While most people are fawning over shrimp and grits, I’m serving up saucy Puerto Rican crab meat with a heavy African influence. The result is an entree that makes you think of ancestry, privilege, and where we have yet to go culturally, economically, and socially.
What is Salmorejo de Jueyes?
When you look at any recipe from an island that was colonized, you’re looking at a mash-up of cultures. Many Puerto Rican recipes fit this bill. Salmorejo is a Spanish soup. It’s very similar to the tomato soup some of us grew up eating with grilled cheese sandwiches. The biggest difference being Spanish salmorejo has the bread blended into it.
Puerto Rican salmorejo, on the other hand, uses tomato to create a sauce that crab meat (or, in some recipes, salted codfish) is stirred into. Instead of having a soupy consistency, Puerto Rican salmorejo is a thick, chunky stew.
Where does Salmorejo come from?
Salmorejo de jueyes comes from the island of Puerto Rico. Every time I make this particular recipe, I think of Hector’s Abuelo Toño. His go-to locale for buying land crab was Loíza, the heart of Afro-Puertorriqueñidad (Afro-Puerto Rican culture). The background of Loíza reveals why that was one of the places to go on the island for crabs.
By Spanish decree, Loíza was settled by enslaved members of the Yoruba tribe forcefully brought to Puerto Rico in the 16th century. Clearly, the wealthy, much lighter-complected landowners weren’t going to build their haciendas there. But, since the Spanish were killing off the native population of Taino Indians, their encomienda system (Spain’s version of the feudal system) created the need for more forced labor. Enter the enslaved Yoruban population. Loíza became their “slave quarters” on an island plantation, to put it bluntly.
All of that’s to say that blue land crabs create their dens in the marsh or mangroves of Puerto Rico. Mangroves are breeding grounds for mosquitoes as they sit in low-lying, marshy areas. Loíza is filled with mangroves. Hence the reason why the Spanish were cool with forcing their new Puerto Rican hostages to live there.
What are grits?
Grits are cereal made from cornmeal. In the African American and Southern cultures, grits are a popular breakfast food. Decent people don’t put sugar in them. I KID!! I kid. (Kind of) Grits can be served savory or sweet. Most people relate them to cream of wheat, though most lovers of the latter hate the former and vice versa. Shrimp and grits are a South Carolinian, more specifically a Gullah, creation that is now popular around the country.
Cornmeal porridges are also common in the Afro-Caribbean. These porridges- majarete in the Dominican Republic, cornmeal porridge in Jamaica, and funche in Puerto Rico- differ from grits in that they are made with yellow cornmeal instead of white corn grits.
These coconut grits cakes are a nod to the savory African American grits, but they also honor the funche from Puerto Rico. Both are reminiscent of the African porridges, often enjoyed with rich, heartier stews communally.
What do I need to make the Coconut Grits Cakes?
Grits are often boiled in water. I never do that because I’m not a fan of bland food. Instead, milk or stock is what I cook my grits in. Here, though, I’m leaning heavily on Afro-Caribbean influences and using coconut milk. In addition to the coconut milk and grits, you need coconut oil, adobo, and black pepper. You can steam the coconut grits in wilted banana leaves or parchment paper. You’ll need 8 16x 8-inch rectangles of either one.
I prefer to use 5-minute (or quick-cooking) grits for this recipe. Steamed grits cakes take about 30 minutes to cook, so quick-cooking grits are necessary. Old-fashioned grits will add another 15-20 minutes to your cook time. If you want to make this with yellow cornmeal, buy coarse cut cornmeal, and not fine.
Combine the raw grits, coconut milk, melted coconut oil, adobo, and black pepper in a mixing bowl. Stir these together until it forms a thick paste.
The mixture may seem too fluid when you mix it initially. As it sits, it will thicken, though. Just leave it to thicken for 10 minutes. This is a great time to set up your steaming device.
How do you steam the grits cakes?
Puerto Rican guanimes are dumplings of cornmeal or flour steamed in banana leaves. I’m doing the same with these coconut grits.
Start by crossing a 12-inch piece of string over the second piece of string equal in length. Place your wilted square of banana leaf (or parchment paper) over the cross.
Scoop a 1/2-cup of the coconut grits mixture into the center of the banana leaf and spread it out into a 4-inch circle. Try to make the surface of the coconut grits level.
Can I make the cakes ahead?
Fold the edges of the banana leaf up and over the coconut grits to encase them.
Tie the strings in a cross pattern to seal up the packet of grits. Continue filling, wrapping, and tying the remaining coconut grits until you’ve run out.
You can make these coconut grits packets a day ahead. The longer they’re left to soak up the coconut milk, the drier the end result will be. However, the grits will also be more fluffy since they’ve had a chance to soften more.
Bring 4 cups of water to a simmer over medium heat in a wide pan. I use a round roasting pan for this. It helps if the pan has a rack you can insert. If not, you can make a rack by laying wooden skewers or dowels in the pan. If you have a steamer basket, use that instead of the rack.
Arrange the packets of coconut grits onto the rack in your pan. Once you have one layer of packets, place the next layer, so they’re over the gaps between the layer underneath them. This ensures the packets will steam at the same time.
Steam the coconut grits for 30-40 minutes over simmering water. Check the water after 20 minutes and add more as needed to keep the water level just below the rack.
Can I freeze grits cakes?
Once the coconut grits cakes finish steaming, you can turn the stove to low to keep them warm. You’ll already have made the salmorejo by the time they’re done, so you can also serve them right away.
To serve the coconut grits cake, simply unwrap them and slide them onto your plate.
If you want to make these ahead, you can steam, then freeze the cakes. Freeze them while still wrapped. Pop the cooled packets into a freezer-safe container and freeze them for up to 3 months. Thaw them in the wrapper and heat them over steam once again.
What do I need to make Salmorejo?
To make salmorejo, you need crab meat. Imitation crab meat shouldn’t even enter your thoughts for this. As it is, I’m sure Abuelo Toño is shaking his head at my use of packaged crab meat, but he was a practical man. He gets that we don’t have crabs hanging out in mangroves here. In addition to crab meat, you need onions, green bell pepper, garlic, sofrito, and fresh tomatoes. The rest of the flavor profile comes from adobo, black pepper, sazón, oregano, bay leaves, tomato sauce, and olives.
This one-caldero (pot) recipe comes together in less than 20 minutes. Consequently, I recommend starting the last 20 minutes of steaming the coconut grits cakes.
Can I make Salmorejo with something other than crab meat?
You can make salmorejo with conch, desalinated codfish (bacalao), or chopped shrimp. The base is the same, and you will use the same weight of whatever seafood you’re replacing the crab meat with.
Can I make it with canned tomatoes?
Salmorejo begins by sauteing the aromatics in oil. Heat olive oil or achiote oil in a 4-quart caldero over medium-high heat. Add the onion, green bell pepper, sofrito, and garlic to the pot. Sauté the aromatics for 3 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden yellow.
Add the diced tomatoes to the pot. Allow the tomatoes to sauté until they start to release their juices, frequently stirring. Once there’s at least a 1/4-cup of liquid in the bottom of the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low.
You can use 1 can of diced tomatoes for this recipe if you don’t have fresh ones. We will use canned tomato sauce, so it won’t be a deal-breaker. I do find that fresh tomatoes brighten up the dish’s flavor, though.
Add the tomato sauce, olives, adobo, oregano leaves, sazón, black pepper, and bay leaf to the pot. The tomato sauce is optional. It will add more tomato flavor to your salmorejo, but it’s not a must.
Stir these ingredients in and allow the sauce to come up to a simmer.
Cover the pot and simmer the salmorejo base for 10 minutes.
How long does it take to cook?
Add the crab meat to the pot after 10 minutes of simmering the salmorejo base. Try not to stir the mixture too aggressively after you add the crabmeat. You want to keep the lumps of crabmeat intact so just fold it gently into the sauce.
Once you add the crabmeat, you only need to simmer the salmorejo for 5-10 minutes. It’s cooked already, so it just needs to be heated.
What are platanutres?
Something fun that I like to top my salmorejo with (or serve with it) is platanutres or plantain chips. They are totally optional but add great textural contrast to the dish.
Heat a cup of vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a frying pan. Peel a green plantain and use your vegetable peeler to shave the plantain into very thin slices. Fry the plantain slices in the oil until crisp, or 1 1/2-2 minutes.
Use a spider to remove the plantains from the oven and drain them on a rack or paper towels. Serve the platanutres on top of the salmorejo or on the side like chips.
How do I serve Salmorejo de Jueyes with the Coconut Grits Cake?
To serve the salmorejo, unwrap your coconut grits cakes. Discard the banana leaf, or use it as a base to serve on. I’d still use a plate because the banana leaf alone can be messy.
Spoon the salmorejo over the coconut grits cakes and top with the platanutres (if you made them). I went a step farther and did all of this in a dita (higüera, which is actually the plant) or coconut shell bowl. I’m not going to link them because one of them broke while we were washing them.
How do I store leftovers?
Store cooled salmorejo in the fridge for up to 3 days. You can also store the coconut grits cakes in their wrappers in the fridge for up to 3 days.
To reheat the grits cakes, steam them for 10 minutes or until they are warmed through. You can reheat the salmorejo in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
Can I freeze Salmorejo?
As with the coconut grits cakes, you can freeze the salmorejo. Allow it to cool completely and transfer it to a freezer-safe container.
Freeze the salmorejo for 2 months. Thaw it in the fridge and reheat in the microwave until warmed through.
What does this Salmorejo and Grits recipe signify to you?
For Black History Month, I wanted to highlight the problem of gentrification and exploitation of neighborhoods and areas that have long since been the homes of Americans of African descent. Using recipes created by the poor and/or working classes of Puerto Rico and the South seemed like a great way to do that.
Ruth Glass- a sociologist- thought up the term “gentrification” in the mid-60s. She used the word to describe the phenomenon of middle-class liberals (what most people here call yuppies) moving into her working-class neighborhood in London. The Urban Displacement Project, a UC Berkeley research and policy group, defines gentrification as “a process of neighborhood change that includes economic change in a historically disinvested neighborhood — by means of real estate investment and new higher-income residents moving in — as well as demographic change — not only in terms of income level, but also in terms of changes in the education level or racial makeup of residents.”
Gentrification usually presents itself as “neighborhood improvements” or “investing in a community.” The issue with that is that more often than not, longtime, mostly lower-income residents are often forced out of their communities as a result. This is especially true in places like Puerto Rico, Brooklyn, NY, and many other communities where my family and I lived.
How does gentrification impact communities?
D-list celebrities like Logan Paul and a sickeningly growing number of internet-famous people are moving to Puerto Rico to exploit the island’s low tax rates. Oddly enough, these tax breaks apply mostly to non-Puerto Ricans. They spin it as they’re bringing revenue to the island’s impaired economy while neglecting to address the inequity of who actually benefits from the revenue. Simultaneously, they’re driving up housing prices, displacing people from neighborhoods generations of their families have lived in, and making Puerto Ricans feel like they don’t belong on their own island.
Puerto Rico sounds similar to the current state of affairs in parts of what used to be called Bushwick in Brooklyn, New York. The neighborhood I grew up roaming with my cousins now has names like East Williamsburg. Where bodegas used to pipe salsa classics from loudspeakers on Graham Avenue, coffee shops now offer double macchiatos. I thought the bodega coffee was fine, but whatevs. Unlike middle-class neighborhoods in suburbia, which can implement zoning laws and “HOA covenants”- something I still think is code for ensuring the neighborhood remains homogeneous- residents of lower-income communities have no such power. As a result, they’re forced out of their homes and prevented from buying in other areas.
What can we do to affect change?
I won’t even lie and say it’s the fault of those pseudo-celebs or yuppies. The banks and local governments are mainly at fault. They set the laws that make it easy for corporations and wealthy citizens to buy up land and upend the community. What’s left to do but be the buyer? Purchase properties and land in your communities. Run for local government offices. Be the change and speak up for those who haven’t yet acquired the resources or financial means to do so.
As soon as a family member or friend reaches a certain economic or educational status in life, they leave the neighborhood they grew up in. Supposedly for bigger and better things. But, some are still struggling to get out of poverty and are frequently met with others who try to tear them down or grab ahold so they won’t be left behind. The common illustration we use for lifting yourself out of the ‘hood is “it’s a crab mentality.”
I want this visual- of the crab breaking itself to prevent you from eating it to be the change I wish to see in my community I no longer live in but cherish for the lessons they taught me. I’d much rather break my back to feed into my community than live a life of relative comfort and watch them be exploited. Too often, society at large wants what our cultures have to offer without the will to invest in us. It was true for the enslaved population of Loíza, Puerto Rico, centuries ago. It’s still the case for Puerto Rico and many parts of Black America.
After you try this Salmorejo recipe, try these other impactful recipes:
Let me know what you think of my Salmorejo de Jueyes with Coconut Grits Cakes in the comments below. Be sure to share and pin this recipe, too!
Salmorejo de Jueyes with Coconut Grits Cakesat Sense & Edibility
- steamer basket or pan with rack
- butcher's twine
For the Coconut Grits Cakes
- 2 1/2 cups (385 grams) quick-cooking grits
- 3 cups (750 milliliters) coconut milk
- 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) melted coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon (10 grams) adobo or kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) black pepper
- 8 banana leaves cut in 16 x 8-inch rectangles (or parchment paper)
For the Salmorejo de Jueyes
- 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) achiote oil or olive oil
- 1 small (1 cup or 140 grams) white onion diced
- 1/2 medium (1 cup or 255 grams) green bell pepper diced
- 1/4 cup (20 grams) sofrito
- 3 large cloves (1 1/2 tablespoons) garlic minced
- 2 (1 1/2 cups or 275 grams) vine-ripened tomatoes diced (or 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes)
- 8 ounce can (227 grams) tomato sauce
- 8 manzanilla olives sliced
- 1 teaspoon (5 grams) adobo or kosher salt
- 1 large bay leaf
- 3/4 teaspoon sazón optional
- 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound (454 grams) lump crab meat
For the Platanutres (optional)
- 2 large green plantains peeled
- cooking oil for frying
Prepare and Steam the Coconut Grits Cakes
- In a large mixing bowl, stir together the raw grits, coconut milk, melted coconut oil, adobo, and black pepper until the mixture forms a thick paste. The mixture will be fluid when you mix it initially, but it will thicken as it sits. Allow it to thicken for 5-10 minutes while you set up your steaming device.
- Bring 4 cups of water to a simmer over medium heat in a steamer basket or a wide pan with a rack insert. If your pan doesn't have a rack, you can make a rack by laying wooden skewers or dowels in the pan.
- Cross a 12-inch piece of string over a second piece of string equal in length. Place your wilted rectangle of banana leaf (or parchment paper) over the cross.Scoop a 1/2-cup of the coconut grits mixture into the center of the banana leaf and spread it out into a 4-inch circle. Try to make the surface of the coconut grits level.
- Fold the edges of the banana leaf up and over the coconut grits to encase them.Tie the strings in a cross pattern to seal the packet of grits. Continue filling, wrapping, and tying the remaining coconut grits until you've run out.
- Arrange the packets of coconut grits onto the rack in your pan. Once you have one layer of packets, place the next layer, so they're over the gaps between the layer underneath them. Steam the coconut grits, covered, for 30-35 minutes. Check the water after 20 minutes and add more as needed to keep the water level just below the rack.
Prepare the Salmorejo de Jueyes While the Grits Cakes Steam
- Twenty minutes before the grits cakes are finished steaming, heat the achiote oil in a 4-quart caldero over medium-high heat. Add the onion, green bell pepper, sofrito, and garlic to the pot. Sauté the aromatics for 3 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden yellow.
- Add the diced tomatoes to the pot. Allow the tomatoes to sauté until they start to release their juices, frequently stirring. Once there's at least a 1/4-cup of liquid in the bottom of the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the tomato sauce, olives, adobo, bay leaf, sazón, oregano leaves, and black pepper into the contents of the pot. Allow the sauce to come up to a simmer.
- Cover the pot and simmer the salmorejo base for 10 minutes. Add the crab meat to the pot after 10 minutes of simmering the salmorejo base. Try not to stir the mixture too aggressively after you add the crabmeat. Once you add the crabmeat, you only need to simmer the salmorejo for 5-10 minutes.
Cut, then Fry the Plantains (optional)
- Heat 1 cup of vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch frying pan. Peel the plantains and use your vegetable peeler to shave the plantain into very thin slices.
- Fry the plantain slices in the oil until crisp, or 1 1/2-2 minutes.Use a spider or slotted spoon to remove the plantains from the oven and drain them on a rack or paper towels. Set these aside while you plate the dish.
Plate then Serve the Salmorejo over the Grits Cakes
- To serve the salmorejo, unwrap your coconut grits cakes. Discard the banana leaf, or use it as a base to serve on. Spoon the salmorejo over the coconut grits cakes and top with the platanutres (if you made them).
- Top the salmorejo with 3 or 4 platanutres or serve the platanutres on the side (like ships).Serve while warm.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- If you want to use old-fashioned grits it will add another 15-20 minutes to your steaming time.
- If you want to make the coconut grits cakes with yellow cornmeal, buy coarse-cut cornmeal, and not fine.
- You can make salmorejo with conch, desalinated codfish (bacalao), or chopped shrimp. Use the same weight of whatever seafood you're replacing the crab meat with.
- You can use 1 can of diced tomatoes for this recipe if you don't have fresh ones.
- The tomato sauce is optional. It will add more tomato flavor to your salmorejo, but it's not a must.
Tips and Techniques:
- You want to keep the lumps of crabmeat intact so just fold it gently into the sauce after adding it to the pot.
- If you want to make the coconut grits cakes ahead, you can steam, then freeze the cakes while still wrapped. Transfer the cooled packets into a freezer-safe container and freeze them for up to 3 months. Thaw them in the wrapper and heat them over steam once again.
- Store cooled salmorejo in the fridge for up to 3 days. You can also store the coconut grits cakes in their wrappers in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- To reheat the grits cakes, steam them for 10 minutes or until they are warmed through. You can reheat the salmorejo in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
- You can freeze the salmorejo: cool it completely and transfer it to a freezer-safe container and freeze for 2 months. Thaw it in the fridge and reheat in the microwave until warmed through.
I’ve never had grits cakes before but I was pleasantly surprised. The tomato, green bell pepper, and crab meat brought such a depth of flavor. The plantain was a bonus delight.
Thanks for the feedback, Stephanie!
These are so incredibly good!
Thank you, Ashley!
The layers of flavor in this dish just make every bite a new experience. Fantastic!
Thank you , Sharon.
This really looks delicious! Something new to me and interesting! I’d love to try this out soon!
Go ahead, Nadalie!
What a great recipe I love the sound of a coconut grit cake, here in the south we love grits for breakfast in the form of cheese grits, but these sound exotic.
Grits is a great medium to deliver flavors, Jen.
What a powerful recipe. Not only do I love the flavors, but the intention behind it and desire to seek change. Food can be a powerful source for change and the ingredients and history of this recipe demonstrate that. I’m curious to try this recipe now and thank you for breaking it down into simple steps. Cheers
Thank you for the support, Rosemary.