Part 1: The Fry Jack
The fry jack is the sun, around which Belizean breakfast food orbits. Its one of three manifestations of a basic flour dough: the tortilla (grilled), the boil cake (boiled and steamed), and the fry jack (dip it in hot grease until golden).
Typically topped with beans and meat, the fry jack is a staple morning repast, similar in crunchy, doughy texture to a beignet. Tourists first find a basket on their hotel tables, served with eggs and beans. It is the gateway drug of Belizean food.
Cooks around Belize have mastered the fry jack, and its worth stepping out to street vendors and local restaurants to taste the heights this simple dish can achieve.
Bright one Friday morning, with my new friend Axcel Matus as my guide, I made my way to the hive of the city: Jack’s Fry Jack stand.
The owner had agreed to let me peek in on the action at her shop, and to sample her wares. Jack, short for Jackie, was as matter-of-fact about her cooking, as she was about her customer service. She is fast, tight- lipped, and a no-nonsense boss. Her shop has no technical or official name; it doesn’t need one. She is centrally located on Regent Street in the city, just in front of the Town Hall, courthouse, and the main grocery store.
Draw a line across the street and back again, using a map of each of these buildings. Where do they they meet? Jack’s shop.
This confluence provides her with endless customers from 8am to 3pm, Monday through Saturday.
The stand was clean and tidy, and no more than 10×8 feet. Jack and her sister-in-law performed a rhythmic dance inside, one weaving around the other, moving in figure eights to the dough table, on to the fryer, then to the prep table, then to the filling station. An assortment of beans, meat and cheese fill the fry jacks, then onto the folding, wrapping, and out the window to the customers.
$2BZE, or $1 US is the cost. The taste? A creamy crunchy, savory mix of flavors. Bite into the dough and you taste the earthy beans, seasoned meat and tangy cheese. It is filling and satisfying for the whole day.
The shop follows a simple recipe: FRY JACKS
1 pound of flour – about 4 heaping cups
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup of water
pinch of salt
Add dry ingredients to large mixing bowl. Cut in shortening and add water. Dough will start our shaggy but keep working it, adding a bit of water if needed. Mix well by hand and then transfer to a surface lightly greased with shortening. Knead the dough until is smooth and elastic- about 5 minutes. Cut into golf ball sized rounds and roll, pinching seams. Let rise, smooth side up for at least 30 minutes or covered with plastic wrap overnight in fridge.
When you are ready to make the Fry jacks:
Heat vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed pan, with at least 4 inch high sides. You will want at least 2 inches of oil. Oil temperature should be a 375 degrees.
Grease surface with vegetable shortening and roll out each ball into a salad plate-sized disc. Using knife, make a small slit into the center of each disc to prevent over puffing while frying.
Note: if you are worried about frying a large disc, cut the dough in half and fry it in half-moon shapes.
Add dough to oil and fry 1 to 2 minutes on the first side, then flipping only once, turn the dough to cook 1-2 minutes more. The Fry Jack should be a deep golden brown.
Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with eggs, beans, jam or honey. It is also great as a base for refried beans, ground beef or chicken and shredded cheese. Fold in half and enjoy it the way Belizeans do: as a kick start to the day.
Great additional photos and recipes for Fry Jacks :