Perfect Caribbean cornmeal coo coo (cou cou) recipe

6.10.20 | Recipe by Renz

A classic dish amongst the Caribbean countries. This is the Caribbean polenta version with an abundance of flavor. If you trying to find a cornmeal dish with a little difference, this is the one.

Cornmeal coo coo cooked and set on a brown board.

Today, we're diving into the wonderful world of coo coo, and trust me, it's a journey you want to take. And you don't have to be a fancy chef to make this cornmeal dish.

Picture this: a dish that's part of tradition and all-around awesome. It's easy to make, though it might need a little strength to mix.

Get ready to join me in the kitchen as we go through this step by step, and share some variations. You will see how you turn everyday ingredients into a flavor-packed masterpiece that'll have your taste buds doing a happy dance.

So, get your apron ready, and let's get cooking – because making coo coo is not just about the recipe; it's about the experience.

Let's make some memories and a whole lot of deliciousness!


What is coo coo?

Cornmeal cou cou is this smooth dish that is cornmeal-based. You can kind of think of it as the Caribbean version of polenta. It pulls on the African heritage of the Caribbean islands as it was introduced to the Caribbean islands by African slaves.

The popular dish has different names depending on the island/region. Called coo coo, or cou cou by the Winward Islands, and also known as fungi by the Leeward Islands. It consists of cornmeal and okra as the main base. Some of the most inexpensive ingredients they could find at that time.

Over time it has been fancied up a bit and can now include pumpkin and mixed vegetables and they all are steamed down and mixed together with coconut milk, to create a smooth pie-like dish.

It is a simple dish that is made of a great combination of flavors.

Oh and don't forget to use your wooden spoon to mix. Coo coo was made using what is called a “cou cou stick” which looked like a cricket bat. I always try to use a bamboo spoon to make my coo coo.

What is cou cou made of?

The requirements are quite simple ingredients to make this delicious recipe. Mostly your pantry basics. As I mentioned this dish was introduced to us using the most readily available and inexpensive ingredients.

Ingredients needed for making cou cou all shared out in bowls.

  • Cornmeal - Yellow fine cornmeal is the best option. It makes it easier for the cornmeal to cook and gives a smoother texture. A brand I love is parma rosa. Iberia is another good brand.
  • Coconut milk - as I mentioned fresh coconut milk really is great for this but canned milk can also work.
  • Water - you will need both room-temperature water and hot water for this process.
  • Okra/Ochro - Fresh ochro is good. I have also used frozen ones I have found in the supermarket.
  • Seasonings: Salt and black pepper.
  • Peas and carrots (optional).
  • Cubed pumpkin (optional).
  • Butter - any table butter is fine to use here. This would be used to help get a smooth top.

How to make coo coo

Now here is the perfect, no-fail coo coo steps.

Making this recipe calls for a little patience and some strength, but it is a pretty easy process.

We need to get the okra, and pumpkin tender prior to adding the cornmeal. So we start with a large pot on medium heat boiling the pumpkin and ochro in the coconut milk.

A pot of coconut milk with ochro about to be boiled to set the cornmeal.

Once they are tender and the okra pink in color, we take the pot off the stove so that we can add the cornmeal.

Add the cornmeal in batches to the ochro mixture. Make sure that with each batch, you are mixing it in until it's smooth, then add in the next batch. It's easier to get a smooth texture this way.

After the cornmeal is incorporated, add in a little hot water here and put the pot back on the stove to steam on low heat. This is where the cornmeal will cook and start to bind together.

Once the mixture is smooth and starts to get to a thick consistency and form into a stiff ball. It should start to leave the sides of the pot, it's time to transfer the end result to a well greased baking dish.

Now that the cornmeal mixture is in the dish, we start to press down with a spoon and spread it out into your dish. Once flattened, take a little butter and start to spread it across the top to smoothen the top out.

Cornmeal coo coo cooked and set in a bowl and buttered.

Then leave it to set for about 10 minutes.

Then we are ready to slice and slather with some meat and gravy.

What goes well with coo coo?

Coo coo is most popularly paired with some sort of fish dish. Coo coo and flying fish is a popular Bajan combination. Some stew fish is also a great pair.

It is also great paired with some callaloo. In Trini cooking, there is no coo coo unless callaloo is included on the side too.

I like mine to be covered with some form of gravy be it with some stewed fish, some tomato sauce from my fried fish, or gravy from seafood creole.


Here are a few additional notes to get the best results for this recipe:

  • After adding the cornmeal to the seasoned milk mixture, we add in some hot water. The cornmeal needs to cook and steam, so adding hot water around the edges gives it the time to steam and not burn. It makes it easier to smoothen out too.
  • You have to whisk fast for this. If you want to have a nice smooth mixture, whisk as quickly as you can.
  • If you want to add more flavor consider adding chopped onions and pimento peppers. Saute them then add in the coconut milk and ochro and let them boil.
  • Using fresh ingredients, as usual, is the best thing.
  • Adding mixed vegetables is optional.
  • Some islands do not make it with okra. When that happens it's most often called fungi or fengi. To me, without okra creates a different texture dish. If 

A plate of coo coo paired with creole shrimp with ochro.

Storage and reheating

It is important that you store any leftovers as well as possible to not only avoid spoilage but also waste. 

Coo Coo uses coconut milk, something I take no chances with as it relates to spoiling. If by the next day I have leftovers I wrap them in plastic wrap then place them in Ziploc bags and place them in my freezer.

To reheat, I use the microwave.

If reheating from the freezer, I put it in the fridge overnight to defrost then I just get it to room temperature first, then heat in 45-second increments till warmed through.

If reheating from the fridge, I just pop it in the microwave and heat it in 45-second increments till warmed through.

Here are some more cornmeal dishes:

And some more Caribbean side dishes:

This post is now a part of the 2021 Black History Virtual Potluck. A collaborative menu of recipes contributed by 40+black bloggers from around the globe in honor of Black History Month. See a sampling of some of the amazing participant recipes down below.

Check out some of the other recipes in the potluck!!