Written by 12:35 pm Food

Tru Bahamian Must Eat: Stew Fish


Bahamians love breakfast, and what we consult with as ‘breakfast’ will definitely not conjure up images of eggs, toast and jam, pancakes & maple syrup.  Our breakfasts are almost entirely savory.  We want that hearty stick-to-the-ribs experience that’ll provide you with energy for the day and be certain that lunch doesn’t find you famished. Typically, you’ll find us devouring boiled fish, tuna and grits, sheep tongue souse & stew fish within the morning. 

 

Origin of Stew Fish

a close up of a bowl of food on a plate

Credit: Instagram @eat_tiffood 

Like Louisiana and Eastern Cuba, the Bahamas welcomed Creole immigrants after the Haitian Revolution who brought their culture, belief systems and cuisine to the Bahamas. Being an amalgamation of individuals from other countries, we’ve many Bahamians of each recent and older Haitian heritage. It’s natural that their cooking methods were merged with other classic recipes and available foods. Stew fish is analogous to a Latest Orleans gumbo because it shares common roots. 

Stew fish uses a classic roux adopted from Creole immigrants who made the Bahamas their latest home.  With so lots of our savory foods having African roots, our Creole ancestors taught us learn how to fuse French cooking methods with African flavorful soups and stews utilizing seafood.  It was a powerful success. Cooking with roux (browned flour and oil) is a classic French cooking technique. West Africans would mix these cooking techniques with other classic flavour profiles still prevalent in Nigeria, Senegal, Benin & The Ivory Coast. Today, these savory breakfast flavors are also explored by our American neighbors of their classic southern shrimp and grits.

 

What’s Stew Fish?

a close up of food

Credit: Instagram @justharry12

 

Turbot – a reasonable staple of the Bahamian weight loss program.

Stew Fish is a classic Bahamian breakfast.  Historically, stew fish was made out of Turbot – which our American neighbors call Queen Triggerfish and our cuban neighbors call Cochino. It also has a grand latin name – Balistes Vetula. Irrespective of what all of us call it – Turbot is a white fish with a delicious balance of flavor – offering each flakiness, tenderness and moisture when enjoyed in a stew or stew boil. For residents returning to The Bahamas, as soon because the planes touch down, they’ll head to their favorite restaurants for a stew fish or stew burl (aka boil) after a protracted stint abroad.  Some insist their stew be made out of Nassau grouper or snapper. These varieties are highly priced and a jaunt at an area fish market has you competing with a high end restaurant or hotel for the every day catch.

Turbot is steadily harvested when spearfishing and line fishing off an area reef head.  Although praying for a snapper to nibble your bait or grab the hook, we invariably pull in a turbot or barracuda. Each fish make it to the table, where it’s then skinned versus descaled. After gutting the fish, two incisions are made on both sides with a pointy knife – along the highest of the fish below the fin.  Using the flat of the knife, the skin is peeled back from the tail to the pinnacle on both sides. The turbot is then cut into steaks. Normally, the fish head can also be eaten –  being put aside later for boiled fish or fish stock. Fish head being akin to filet mignon within the islands. Interestingly, the turbot skin was laid within the sun by our ancestors converting it right into a scrubbing rag to wash picket floors. Nothing went to waste.  

Fresh fish is best from the dock to the pot.  But an old Bahamian family trick is to freeze the fish in a plastic sealable bag with clean seawater. Fish frozen on this fashion tastes freshly caught when thawed before cooking – even after spending months within the freezer. And when stew fish is able to be served, johnny cake on the side is a must, although grits are also preferred! 

 

Methods to make Stew Fish

a close up of a bowl of soup

Credit: Real Bahamian Recipes

 

Stew Fish Recipe

2 to three lbs Turbot cut into steaks

3 tbsp. of vegetable oil (⅓ cup if not using bacon) 

4 slices of bacon

2 medium onions (one cube – one sliced)

1 stalk of celery (finely diced)

1 small potato (cubed)

1 carrot (peeled and sliced)

¾ cup of flour

2 tbsp tomato paste

3 sprigs fresh thyme

6 cups water

2 tbsp dry sherry

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Rub

2 tbsp of sea salt or kosher salt

1 small Serrano or cayenne pepper (we prefer ¼ habanero)

2 cloves of garlic

 

Pepper Sour Marinade (AKA Old Sour)

 2 large sour oranges (replace with orange and lemons in the event you can’t source sour orange)

3 key limes

1 Serrano or cayenne pepper sliced (for more spice: omit Serrano and replace with ¾ of a habanero diced finely)

8 allspice berries

 

Grits (AKA Hominy)

1 cup yellow grits

2 ¾ cup water

¼ cup evaporated milk

1 tbsp butter

1 clove of garlic (chopped)

Pinch of salt

 

Fish Preparation

Seasoning the fish requires two things: a marinade and a fish rub. 

The rub is simple  – salt – preferable sea salt, hot peppers and garlic. Using your fork or a mortar and pestle crush the recent pepper and garlic into the ocean salt. Rub the turbot liberally with this rub. Sprinkle with crushed black pepper and put aside.  For the marinade, juice two sour oranges and three key limes. Add slices of 1 hot red pepper and about 8 allspice berries – we call this old sour or pepper sour sauce. Sit the turbot steaks right into a bowl and pour half of the marinade over it.  Cover fish with slices of a medium onion and put aside for 20-Half-hour. Put aside the remaining marinade to enjoy with the finished dish.

 

Directions

Now that your fish is marinating it’s time to arrange your roux – the classic signature feature of this dish.  Fry 4 slices of bacon, remove and put aside for other use. Add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan/skillet and add onion, celery, potato, thyme and carrot.  Sauté until the onions are caramelized on medium heat. Remove vegetables with a slotted spoon and put aside. Pat turbot dry and fry within the herb infused oil.  Turning fish to sear well and brown on each side. Fry until crispy and take care that it doesn’t burn. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and put aside.

After lowering the warmth, stir within the ¾ cup of flour and stir slowly to brown. Make sure the flour doesn’t burn. After the flour is a dark golden color slowly add 2 cups of water.  Return the herbs and fish to the pot after which cover with the remaining water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 20 minutes on medium heat.  Cover the pot and cook for an additional 10 minutes on low heat.  Stir within the dry sherry right before serving. To plate, place a serving spoon of grits at the underside of a bowl, cover with slices of turbot and a liberal amount of stew fish broth.  Add a tablespoon of the reserved pepper sour sauce. Serve with a side of Bahamian johnny cake. Serves 4 people.

For grits, bring salt, garlic, water and evaporated milk to a boil, and add the grits – incorporating well to make sure no lumps. Add butter and blend well. Reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes.

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