Cooking in the Islands
And the seafood itself is likewise plentiful in this small island chain surrounding by the Caribbean sea. Fresh fish includes ocean-roaming varieties that provide "steakfish" as well as inshore reef fish, often called "pot" fish, caught in fish traps.
One such "pot" fish that is interesting to search out is the yellowtail snapper. More of a fillet fish than steakfish, the yellowtail is a different snapper than the ocean-roaming red snapper so frequently seen on menus. The yellowtail snapper can be seen while snorkeling, and positively identified, and can even be caught by fishing off a charter boat. Even so, it's best to buy all fish due to the danger of tropical fish poisoning.
And yellowtail snapper can be used in most of the recipes below, and is featured in one with cassava breading.
This cooking method is an ancient one, utilizing an oven in the place of a wood-fired pit. Finding the beautifully ornate banana leaf of this prodigious annual is an interesting quest in itself.
This basic recipe is adapted from The Sugar Mill Caribbean Cookbook.
Sear the banana leaves over a gas flame until limp. Divide the banana leaves into rectangles to fold the fish into, again folding the edges twice. The package may be tied with grass strands. Parchment paper (papillote in French) or foil may be substituted.
Put fish fillet(s) for a serving on the banana leaf and place some chopped tomato and scallion on top. Spoon on some coconut cream.
Fish is generally baked for 5 minutes per 1/2 inch of thickness, no matter the method (baked at 450�). Bake banana leaves at 400� for a longer time.
Other toppings may be used and a variety of styles served individually or family style. Also, the fish may be marinated beforehand.
Here is a recipe, Fish En Papillote, where lemon, garlic and ginger is used as the topping along with some thinly sliced vegetables.
Here is Grouper in Banana Leaf where the dish is grilled.
In the French Antilles, Blaff is a cooking method of poaching that gets its name from the sound of the fish as it is dropped into boiling water.
In a recipe from Jessica Harris, the fish (red snapper) is marinated with allspice, garlic, Scotch bonnet chile, salt and pepper and lime juice. Then the marinade, plus onion, thyme, chives and parsley, is added to water. The fish is dropped into the boiling water and served in some of the liquid in a bowl.
In the more upscale version from French Martinique, the emphasis is on poaching in "spiced" white wine.
And here is a Great Chefs of the Caribbean recipe, Creole Blaff of Caribbean Lobster and Mexican Foie Gras, by Chef Marc Ehrler from the Ritz-Carlton Cancun. In this recipe, after placing the lobster in the boiling water, the pot is covered and taken off the burner for cooking at a lower heat. Also, the lobster is not marinated, the seasonings vary somewhat and lime juice is added at the end.
This recipe, Corn-Husk Grilled Mango-Skin Salmon, "grills" the fish by poaching it loosely covered on the grill. This recipe avoids using the boat's oven. Note that another piece of foil can do the work of both husk and skin.
In a slightly disreputable section of Bridgetown, Barbados, is Baxter's Road:
In this recipe, the fish steaks are rubbed with lime juice, scored and seasoned, dredged in flour, dipped in a milk and egg mixture, covered with bread crumbs, fried in a skillet with 2" of 375� oil for 5 minutes or more per side until golden brown.
The skillet frying method is best for home cooks who may not have an adequate deep fryer.
Also, as is often done in fish escobeche methods, fish may be fried in a small amount of cooking oil in a skillet one side at a time. Sometimes cut in finger size pieces, the fish is soaked in milk and dredged in a flour mixture (usually salt and pepper added).
This recipe, Yellowtail Snapper by chef Dawn Sieber, uses yuca (cassava) grated in strips as breading in a version of potato-as-breading. Also, the "crisping" of cooked black beans is an interesting upscale version of refried beans. Add the "rounds" of the Caribbean variety of eggplant and we're in heaven!
Conch fritters, which resemble hush puppies are very popular (see recipe). Conch must be properly tenderized.
Another popular fritter is made from saltfish. In Jamaica, it is called Stamp and Go (see recipe).
In making fritters, the breading is especially important. Also, to avoid aborbing too much oil, the fritter must be fried in oil at the correct hot temperature.
Vegetables can also be used to make fritters. Eggplant, sweet potato and okra are classics breaded and fried, because of the contrast of the fried outsides and the mushy insides. Hard vegetables might be better pureed in the right combination.
Breadfruit Croquettes. Here's a French version using breadfruit: "Fernando makes fantastic croquettes by mashing cooked breadfruit with milk, butter and seasonings, dipping mounds in egg and crumbs and frying them until golden (from Maverick Sea Fare, p. 36)."
Fish Escabeche or Escoveitch
Similar to ceviche where extremely fresh raw fish is "cooked" in lime juice, the focus here is the lime and vinegar marinade, flavored by allspice, onions and Scotch Bonnet pepper, that is poured on the fish after it is cooked.
Mango is used as a flavoring in this recipe, Salmon in Mango Escabeche, although the marinade itself is a bit overcomplicated.
Adding vegetables (in addition to the usual onion) to the marinade simplifies the preparation of the related meal, since this dish is often served later as a salad-like lunch or other main entree.
Here is a recipe for fish escabeche with lots of vegetables, although the fish is deep fried.
Here is a traditional recipe for escoveitched fish. In a Jamaican recipe from Sky Juice and Flying Fish, julienned christophene is used for the vegetable in a marinade that itself utilizes cane vinegar and a heavy dose of allspice.
In most of the world and in the French Antilles, the sauce is cooked right into the dish.
The fish is first marinated for an hour or two in lime juice and white wine.
Ground chives, scallions, tomatoes and onion are sauteed together with a little olive oil and then with the fish at a lower heat cooked well on both sides.
Then add fresh white wine and lime juice, together with a bouquet garni (bay leaf, allspice berries and thyme) and one-half a Scotch bonnet pepper. Cook at a low heat for 5 minutes.
Since the wine and lime juice are going into the sauce, it's best to determine the proper balance of the two by combining small trial amounts and tasting.
Serve the fish and its sauce with rice or other plain starch. Adapted from Sky Juice and Flying Fish.