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Escoveitched Fish: Caught in a Pickle in Jamaica

I love food and I love to eat. But I’m very particular about what I like. I nearly ditched my last year of

Scotch bonnet peppers, essential to Jamaican cooking

university so that I could stay in Barcelona. For the food.

In terms of spices and richness, the food in Spain comes pretty close to what I grew up eating and what my body responds to.

When I’m in Jamaica, one meal I enjoy thoroughly is escoveitched fish – not just any fish. For me, it has to be red snapper. I can eat it by itself, right down to the head and bones, no accompanying dish required.

When I was growing up, I’d watch my grandmother and mother prepare typical Jamaican dishes and though I couldn’t cook then, some of those recipes stuck and I replicated them when I began cooking for myself. But escoveitch I wanted to do just like my mother did – fried crispy (so that it crumbles when you bite it) then marinated, for at least 4 hours, in a mixture of vinegar, onions and pepper. Frying it until it’s crisp keeps the fish firm after it’s soaked in the vinegar mixture and when you bite into it, it  creates an explosion of flavor as tangy vinegar, biting Scotch Bonnet and sweet onions awaken the taste buds. Is the only dish I asked her to show me how to make.

Pimento, another key ingredient in Jamaican cooking

Escoveitch, derived from the Spanish word escabeche, meaning pickled, was brought to Jamaica by the descendants of Christopher Columbus, who claimed the island for the King and Queen of Spain in 1494. Jamaica remained a Spanish colony until the British grabbed it in 1655.

Evidence of Spanish presence is still to be found in place names like Ocho Rios, Savanna la Mar, Rio Cobre, etc., and in some of our foods.

The popular escoveitched fish is a tasty reminder of our Spanish heritage.

Here’s my mother’s recipe for this crowd pleaser.

Escoveitched Fish

3 lbs. fish

4 tsp. black pepper and 3 tsp salt, combined

2 or 3 limes (or lemons)

1 Scotch Bonnet or other hot pepper, cut in strips

1/2 cup oil for frying

2 cups vinegar

1 tsp. pimento seeds

2 large onions, sliced

1/2 tsp. of whole black pepper grains

Wash fish thoroughly in water to which juice of limes have been added. Dry thoroughly. When dry,

Escoveitched Fish

coat the fish on both sides and on inside with combined salt and black pepper. Set aside on paper towels. (Note: Paper towels keep the fish dry so the hot oil doesn’t pop and splash when you put it in.)

Heat oil in frying pan to boiling and fry fish on both sides until nice and crisp. Set fish aside in a glass dish.

In a saucepan, combine vinegar, sliced onions, peppers, pimento seeds, whole black pepper grains and bring to a boil. Simmer until onions are tender. Remove from fire and cool.

Pour over fish and leave steeping overnight (or for at least 4 hours).

Serve with festival (flour and cornmeal dumplings), bammie (made from cassava) or even rice and peas. Escoveitched fish can be eaten at any meal. I could get caught in that pickle any time.