How to make Jamaican escovitch fish
By Nigel Spence
Most Caribbean people and Christians on a whole celebrated the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, February 10th and will observe the end on Holy Saturday, March 26th.
Lent is said to be the period in which Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness preparing to start his ministry, while enduring much temptation from the Devil.
This period is observed by many as a time for repentance, self-examination and fasting.
Often times, people make a promise to give up something for this period and usually it is meat.
Growing up in my household, Lent and Easter never really had a religious impact.
When I heard Ash Wednesday, I heard – Holiday!!! Similarly, when I heard Easter, I heard “Road Trip!!”
Somehow in my young mind, it seemed only old people and “di church people dem” were serious about Lent. I remember thinking to myself that people were really undergoing a punishment having to go so long without meat and having to eat only fish.
That feeling transferred to my adult life where I would pretty much spend the 40 days and 40 nights of Lent succumbing to the same temptations I indulged in for the rest of the year; overindulgence in good food, meat included, and spirits (pardon the pun), and the only thing I would give up was proper sleep.
Though my religious affiliations have not evolved much since then, my respect and sensitivity toward other beliefs and lifestyles have, and I have a new found respect for the meatless diet after trying it myself for quite some time now.
Whereas I used to feel sorry for people not being able to eat meat, I now have an almost reverend respect for them, realizing in the late hour what a treat it really is for the body, mind and soul.
It is with a renewed nostalgia that I admire the great quantity of fried fish, bammy, fried dumplings and festival on offer in Jamaica during this time of Lent.
The fish of choice seems to be the “Sprat”, a very small silvery, oily fish that is available in abundance.
The fish is so small, that after being gutted and fried very crisp, there is no need for deboning. You simply pick it up, bite right into the bones and all, chew and swallow. This is like a fish fillet, but better, with crunch, structure and complex flavors, especially when devouring the head!
The first time I tried to eat one back when I was a kid, no-one bothered to teach me this method and had me spending more than a frustrating hour, trying, without success, to pick out the bones! No wonder it felt like punishment!
Now, after being enlightened on the bite and swallow method, I enjoy eating sprat more for the novelty of being able to eat the whole fish with bones intact, than for the delight in taste. It is served with a mix of julienned onions and carrots in a vinegar sauce that is spiked with fresh cut scotch bonnet peppers, called an escovitch sauce.
I now can’t seem to get enough of these tasty little sprat guys and had to re-create the dish upon returning to New York.
So, whether you are observing the season of Lent with a meatless diet or more conscious about what you feed your body, or simply a lover of fish, I invite you to take part in this simple timeless dish from JamRock, Escovitch Sprat.
Jamaican Escovitch Sprat
2 pounds Sprat fish, cleaned and gutted
1/2 cup Coconut oil
1 cup White Vinegar
1 medium Carrot, julienned
1 med yellow Onion, julienned
1 Scotch bonnet pepper, fine chopped
15 whole Allspice berries
2 tablespoons Sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons Black pepper
Season fish liberally inside and out with salt and pepper and let sit to marinate for 1 hour.
Heat coconut oil in large heavy bottomed frying pan until smoking – add fish and fry till crisp on both sides, adding additional oil if necessary. After all the fish is fried, reserve 1 tablespoon of the used cooking oil.
In a small saucepan add vinegar, carrots, onions, scotch bonnet pepper, allspice berries and the reserved cooking oil. Heat to a simmer, about three minutes, then remove from heat.
Place cooked fish in a large bowl and pour the mixture over the fish adding the vegetables as a garnish on top of the fish.
Allow to soak into the fish and serve hot or at room temperature with fried bammies, breadfruit, dumplings or festival.