This Jamaican style escovitch fish takes be back 21 years, when my friends and I would head down to Toronto to shop for records (remember 45’s and 33’s?) for our aspiring DJ business. That trip usually had us end up in the Jamaican community on Eglinton Ave where there were not only many record stores selling the latest dancehall tracks from Jamaica, but quite a few restaurants where we would get our curry goat, rice and peas and this lovely escovitch fish.
Over the years I’m had the opportunity to sample escovitch fish from many sources (even in Jamaica), but I have to admit that this recipe I’m about to share is as classic as it gets and I’m sure you’ll be quite please with the results.
1 Red Snapper (about 2 lbs)
1 scallion (green onion/spring onion)
3 sprigs thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying (about 1 cup)
3/4 cup vinegar
1/4 teaspoon allspice (see note below)
1 large onion
1 cup green pepper
1 scotch bonnet pepper
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
Notes: I used the entire scotch bonnet pepper (including seeds). You can control the heat by using less and by not including the seeds. Typically pimento berries (allspice) are used in the sauce, but all I had available is the ground allspice. By adding the sugar it really balances the escovitch sauce, so though it may sound strange.. give it a try. If you don’t have a lime for washing the fish, you can use the juice of a lemon or a couple tablespoons of vinegar.
Clean and trim your fish even if your fishmonger already scaled it, do pass a knife over it to ensure there are no scales. Then pour the juice of the lime over it, give it a massage, then rinse with cool water and pat dry. Then using a sharp knife cut a couple slits across the belly of the fish (both sides) as you see in the picture below. This will allow for faster cooking and to help the salt, black pepper as well as the escovitch sauce to really infuse the fish.
Using the back of your knife hit the scallion to bruise it a bit to release it’s flavor, then fold it and tuck into the cavity of the fish. Also add the springs of thyme.. we want to perfume the fish from the inside as it cooks. Now rub the salt and black pepper onto the fish (both sides) and get ready to fry.
Make sure to pat your fish dry after you washed it as I mentioned earlier, or you will have a lot of hot oil splattering when you start the frying process. Heat the vegetable oil on a medium flame, then gently add the seasoned fish to the pan. Allow this cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until you have a nice golden colour and crisp outside. You’ll need tongs and a fork or spoon to flip the fish.. do be careful as we’re working with hot oil.
Remove from the pan and place on paper towels to soak up some of the excess oil
Next up it’s time to put the escovitch sauce together. Julienne the carrot, sweet pepper (use different colours if you like) and chop the onion and scotch bonnet pepper (slice thin.
In a saucepan add all the ingredients for the sauce, then place on medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Allow this to simmer for 3-5 minutes.. basically until the onion and sweet pepper (bell pepper) gets a bit tender. Here’s is where you can personalize this sort of pickle a bit. I like my sauce with a bit of crunch so I cooked it for 3 minutes.. you can cook for longer if you wish.
I know the average person from the Caribbean reading this recipe will shake their head thinking.. “vinegar”? Vinegar is not something we use or like in foods in most of the Caribbean (except for washing meats). But I assure you that the raw taste of the vinegar will be infused with the lovely flavors of the pimento (allspice) and the vegetables we add. The hint of sugar will also give it a sort of sweet and sour kick, which works well on the fish.
Place the fried snapper on a platter and pour the excovitch sauce all over it.. enjoy! You can store any remaining escovitch sauce in the fridge for a couple weeks.
Back in those days we never had enough money to get a fish each, so it usually meant sharing a plate with each other… the little extra money we had went to getting the latest Shabba Ranks record. Good times for sure! My good friend still does the DJ thing (he’s very passionate about music) and have made it into a huge business for him.