This recipe for traditional Jamaican escoveitched fish, also spelled escovitch, is a dish served for breakfast on the weekends with bammies (a type of fried cassava bread). However, you can enjoy this dish any time of day.
It’s similar to a ceviche, the difference being that the fish is fried, not raw, and marinated after frying. And its origins are from Spain who introduced it to Jamaica during the 16th century.
The word escoveitch is a corruption of the Spanish word escabeche, which is used to describe a dish as being pickled, a great way of keeping food from spoiling in the days before refrigeration.
- For the Fish:
- 4 red snapper fish (small, cleaned, whole or fillets)
- 4 cups water
- 1 lemon (juice of)
- 2 limes (juice of)
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper (ground)
- 2 tablespoons. vegetable oil (for pan-frying the fish)
- For the Marinade:
- 1 chili pepper (your choice, sliced into rings)
- 1 1/2 cups cane vinegar (substitute cider vinegar)
- 1 chayote squash (cleaned, peeled and cut into thin strips)
- 2 small onions (sliced into rings)
- 8 allspice berries
- 6 black peppercorns (whole)
Prepare the Fish
In a large bowl, combine the water, lemon juice, and lime juice. Wash the fish thoroughly with this solution.
Remove the fish from the solution. Pat dry with papers towels and then season it with the salt and black pepper.
In a skillet (cast iron works best), heat the vegetable oil to 375 F.
Pan-fry the fish on both sides -- approximately 3 to 5 minutes each side -- until crisp.
Remove the fish from the pan, drain, then place in a deep nonreactive pan. A good pan to use is a 13x9-inch glass baking pan. Depending on the size of the fish, you might have to use two.
Marinate the Fried Fish
Make the marinade by placing chile pepper, vinegar, chayote, onions, allspice berries and peppercorns into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Boil for 3 minutes and then lower the heat and simmer until onions are soft.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the marinade to cool off.
Pour the cooled marinade over the fried fish and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. The longer it marinates, the better the flavor.
Serve the Dish
When ready to serve, place the fish on a plate or platter, top with some of the marinated vegetables, and pour the marinade sauce over the top.
Serve with warm bammies and a tossed salad.
- For a traditional presentation, leave the fish head on and scale the fish before frying, then serve it whole for guests to pull their portion of meat from the bones.
- You can fry the fish and store it in the refrigerator for up to a day in advance. When guests arrive, pull it out, top it with the marinade, and serve it with bammies as an appetizer.
- Jamaicans typically use Scotch bonnet peppers for this recipe, but you can sub any favorite chili pepper or skip the heat altogether.
- If you can't find cane vinegar at a specialty store, substitute apple cider vinegar instead.
- Chayote squash—also called christophene, chocho, mirliton, xuxu, or vegetable pear—may not be available in your area. If this is the case, substitute a summer squash, a carrot, or a red bell pepper cut into thin strips.