Baked Escovitch Fish
A few years ago I made a New Years resolution that I would make a conscious effort to live and eat healthy. I was successful at keeping that resolution and it’s pretty much been my yearly resolution since then with an effort to make incremental improvements each year.
For 2015, I’ve decided that I’d like to further decrease the amount of meat I eat while adding more fish to my diet. The problem with that is that I’m fairly picky about fish. I don’t like fish with a strong smell or flavor, I don’t particularly care for tilapia, and I don’t like cooking methods that produce wet fish (ex: steam or stew). As a result, I started thinking about the kinds of fish that I do like and cooking methods that would produce meals I would eat.
One of my hands down favorite kinds of fish is escovitch fish. It’s a Jamaican dish featuring fried fish that is served with pickled vegetables. I’d eaten it millions of times but had never attempted to make it myself. I figured that if the fish was baked at a high temperature, I could achieve a result similar to frying. Rubbing fish with lemon juice prior to cooking eliminates the rank smell that cooked fish can have and the pickling liquid gives it a really nice flavor.
5 whole porgy or red snapper (the size should be one fish per serving)
¼ cup vinegar
2 small onions
¼ cup cilantro (optional)
5 cloves or about 2 tbsp of chopped garlic
Adobo (or salt)
Place the fish in a large bowl. Cut one of the lemons in half and squeeze the juice over the outside and inside of the fish. Pour over the vinegar and add enough water to the bowl to cover the fish. Gently swish the fish around and get the liquid inside the fish to ensure it’s properly washed. Pour off the liquid and thoroughly rinse the fish off with clean water.
Add the onions, scallions, cilantro, and garlic to a blender or food processor with a little bit of water. Pulse the seasonings until it blends into a thick liquid.
Pour the seasoning over the fish along with some Adobo and black pepper. Mix the fish well in the marinade and be sure to coat the inside as well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight. You can also place the fish in a zip top bag, squeeze out the air, and store it in the freezer for later use.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove the fish from the fridge. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the outside and inside of the fish. Lightly coat a jelly roll pan with oil and place the fish in a single layer in the pan. You don’t want the fish to steam so try to shake off the excess liquid and avoid having the fish touch in the pan.
Bake the fish until fully cooked through. The skin facing up will brown and the flesh will turn white.
Pickled Vegetables & Sauce
2 large onions
3 medium sized carrots
2 cups vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
2 tbsp garlic chili pepper sauce
5 pimento berries (optional)
1-2 scotch bonnet peppers (optional)
Cut the onions into rings and the carrots into strips but keep them separate.
Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper sauce in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium low heat while stirring occasionally. Taste the liquid when it comes to a simmer and adjust the flavors to your liking. (Heated vinegar will clear your sinuses so be careful not to breathe or inhale directly over the pot or even when tasting from a spoon.) If you’d like to kick up the spice you can add scotch bonnet peppers or change the flavor a bit with pimento berries.
Add the carrot strips and cook them for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the onions and use a spoon to stir the vegetables and submerge them in the liquid. Continue cooking until the onions are cooked through. They should lose that raw onion flavor but don’t let them turn to mush.
Place the fish in a dish with sides that are high enough to accommodate the pickling liquid. If possible, the dish should be large enough for you to lay the fish in a single layer but its fine if the fish touch or are layered. Use a ladle or large spoon to pour the pickling liquid over the fish and then layer over the onions and carrots.
I personally like to eat escovitch fish with just the pickled vegetables and a few festivals. If you’d like to make it a bit fancier for Sunday dinner you can have the fish with rice and peas along with a nice salad or some roasted vegetables. The escovitch fish can be eaten the same day but having the fish sit in the pickling liquid overnight allows it to absorb more of the sweet and acidic flavor.
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