Here we are living on an island, surrounded by water where fish live, and yet we don't have abundant supplies of fish to buy. Even foreigners have noted, "I am surprised there isn't more fish readily available in Jamaican supermarkets." For a time, this was probably true, but things are different now. Suppliers like Best Dressed and Rainforest Seafood are keeping mainstream supermarkets stocked with seafood. As we are in the midst of Lent, Thursday Life will be investigating the seafood situation in said supermarkets, and featuring some fabulous fish recipes for our readers. Thanks to Best Dressed, who are donating all the freshwater tilapia for our recipes.
Last week, Thursday Life visited Empire Supermarket in Lane Plaza a few times to see what was available. Their meat and fish supervisor, Garfield Stewart, took a few moments to tell us how he and his team of six handle fish once it has been delivered. "We get whole fish and fish fillets in 50 to 60 pound cases from Rainforest Seafood," he told us, "and we divide it all into smaller domestic sizes. Sometimes we'll cut the larger whole fish into steaks with the bone left in." There was an impressive variety in the freezer, including "Banga Mary, King Fish, Silver Snapper, Grunt and Red Snapper, which all come whole; and fillets of Banga Mary, Basa, Silver Snapper and Sea Trout," Stewart showed us.
The price per kilogram of the fish varies. Banga Mary is one of the cheaper whole fish, at just under $590 per kilo, and the grey snapper presently sells at just over $1,000 for one kilogram. Boneless fillets run at a slightly more expensive rate, with sea trout being around $1,200 per kilo, and cat fish costing in the $720 range for a kilo. Luckily for Stewart and his busy team, "The fish, which is usually delivered on a Wednesday, comes gutted and frozen."
Empire "sells most of the fish Friday through to Sunday," Stewart explains. "Silver snapper is the most popular with shoppers, who tend to be repeat customers, but I personally like all the fish that comes in here," he concludes.
Sonia Godfrey-Deer, a housekeeper, is a frequent shopper at Empire. "I am looking for whole fish today," she shares with Thursday Life. "I like Banga Mary, which I escoveitch and serve with fried bammy and bread," she gushed, "or I'll steam it with carrots, okra and string beans, and serve with crushed potatoes, or food like yam, dumpling, and banana. And I always season with hot pepper, thyme, onion, pimento berries, and jerk seasoning." Godfrey-Deer confesses that she never leaves the supermarket without fish, and will eat it at least twice a week. "I cook it for myself and the person for whom I work," she said. "My favourite is brown stew fish for breakfast, which I cook with browning or soy sauce, and a little ketchup, and I eat it with food. When I go home," she continued, "I cook fish for my family, especially the last daughter, who doesn't like meat."
On Thursday Life's second trip to Empire for the week, a busy Saturday, we spoke with Darlene Black, a supervisor at Liguanea Lane pharmacy, who shops for fish roughly twice a month. Her favourite fish are snapper fillets and whole parrot fish. "My children like escoveitch fish, but sometimes I'll also make a sweet and sour fish. However, one of my favourites is steaming a whole fish in the traditional Jamaican way with okra, scallion, and so on. Sometimes I'll steam large water crackers in a separate dish with water, seasoned with salt, pepper and butter. When the crackers swell I pour them over the steam fish to soak up the juices, which my kids absolutely love," she eagerly shared.
However, Darlene Black, who does catering on weekends, also likes to experiment with international cuisine. "I make a Thai fish recipe with Thai red curry paste and coconut milk, which is simply delicious," she concluded.
Thursday Life subsequently spoke with Hortensia Tapper, a retired registered nurse who used to live in Queens, New York, and then later in Florida. Back home for some eight years with her husband, Tapper, enjoys seafood several times a week. "My daughter just bought me some salmon, which I braised yesterday with sweet and sour sauce, and served it with soft yam crushed with milk and Parmesan cheese," she enthused. "Everyone said it was delicious." We don't doubt that for a second! Tapper was actually selecting large cooked shrimps when we spotted her. "I usually opt for the jumbo size, but today they don't have them," she said ruefully. But she soon cheered up when she started telling us about her plans for the bag she had chosen. "I will stir-fry the shrimp with broccoli and sweet peppers, fish seasoning and pasta," she said happily. Tapper is a huge fan of the culinary arts, and collects cookbooks. "I have all the Jamaica Observer cookbooks," she shared. "And they did a wonderful thing for me. The Christmas before this one just gone, I didn't manage to get a copy, so I called the Observer, and they had someone bring me a copy. I was so touched."
Italian Roasted Fish with Roasted Eggplant & Capers Served with Baked Bammy: Serves 1
1 whole Best Dressed Tilapia fish, about 1 lb in weight
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small eggplant, cut into 2 inch x 1/4 inch 'batons'
1 1/2 tablespoons capers
2 tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch strips
3 small bammies (more if you like)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1. Soak the bammies in salt water for 1 hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 350oF.
3. Remove the bammies from the water, place on a small baking sheet with the olive oil, and rub the bammies and the baking sheet well. Sprinkle with a little salt. Bake for 40-45 minutes.
4. Pour the olive oil into a roasting pan. Place the fish on the pan, rubbing in the lemon juice, a little sea salt and pepper. Scatter the eggplant and capers around the fish, coating with olive oil. Top the fish and eggplant with the tomatoes. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes.
5. Serve the entire fish dish with the bammies, and 1/2 lemon (on the side).
Steamed Scallion, Thyme & Garlic Butter Fish with Steamed Crackers: Serves 1
2 1/2 oz butter
5 garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
3/4 cup chopped escallion
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt & black pepper
1 whole Best Dressed Tilapia fish, weighing about 1 lb
1 oz butter
8 fl oz water
Sea salt & Black pepper
1 cup frozen garden peas, cooked in boiling water for 2 minutes
1. Remove the fillets from the back and the front of the fish with a sharp filleting knife. Leave the skin on.
2. Heat 2 1/2 oz butter gently in a large frying pan, add the garlic, scallion and thyme leaves, and cook for 5 minutes to soften the garlic. Add the fish fillets, skin-side up, and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Cover and steam in the herb garlic butter for 7-8 minutes until just cooked.
3. Meanwhile, in another frying pan, heat 1 oz butter with 8 fl oz water, sea salt and black pepper. Place the crackers in the water, cover with a lid, and steam for 7-8 minutes.
4. Serve the fish, crackers and peas all together.