Cooking With My Mama

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of my mama, who I lost 13 years ago today. Mama baked almost every Christmas but she cooked only on special occasions so most of my experiences with her in the kitchen center around baking.

Those memories are so clear in my mind, they’d practically overshadowed her visits when she’d commandeer my kitchen and take over all the cooking. It never ceased to amaze me how the same woman who only cooked at home when the “spirit moved” her had the energy and enthusiasm of someone younger once she landed on my doorstep.

Mama would have a meal ready for us every evening except Friday when she’d use whatever was left over to make something new. On Sundays, she’d prepare dinner, as well as dessert.

It was during one of her visits that I asked her to show me how to make escoveitch fish. Although I was confident about preparing most of our staple foods, the thought of making escoveitch fish left me feeling a bit incompetent. Mama was surprised that I didn’t know but eagerly agreed to show me.

That weekend, we bought red snapper and as soon as we returned, Mama set to work preparing it. Mama was nothing but thorough and even though they had cleaned the fish at the market, it wasn’t up to her standards. She found scales they had missed and trimmed any fins that weren’t properly cut. Then she washed the fish thoroughly in water mixed with limes.

Next, she patted them dry with paper towels and set the fish aside on more paper towels to absorb any remaining water. Since we would be frying the fish, she wanted to make sure there was very little moisture left. (You can also coat the fish lightly with flour to avoid having the oil pop.)

Once that was done, Mama measured and mixed salt and freshly ground black pepper. She scored the fish on both sides and rubbed in the salt and pepper mixture. She also rubbed the mixture on the inside of each fish then set them aside to marinate.

While she waited, Mama cut up onions and Scotch bonnet peppers. She also Julienned some carrots and set that aside too.

After she fried the fish, Mama put them in a Pyrex dish. She poured vinegar into another saucepan, added onion and Scotch bonnet slices and pimento berries and let them simmer for a few minutes.

The pungent aroma of vinegar, onions and Scotch bonnet can be an assault on the senses so it’s best to open a window or turn on a fan.

Once the onion had wilted, Mama turned the flame off and poured the vinegar mixture over the fish and let it marinate overnight. Leaving it in the marinade overnight allows the fish to absorb the flavors of the vinegar and pepper.

Mama’s Escoveitch Would be a Hit for Easter

Thousands of pounds of escoveitch and fried fish were eaten in Jamaica between Good Friday and yesterday, Easter Monday.  Easter is just not Easter without it or the ubiquitous bun and cheese.

 

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