Last week I made Jamaican jerk sauce. As I explained in the blog post about that recipe, the traditional, and best, way to cook with Jamaican jerk is to barbecue – and by barbecue I mean slow cooking, indirect heat, and plenty of smoke. However it is winter, and I have neither a grill nor a garden. On a particularly nasty day last week, when it was cold and gray and an icy rain was falling, more than anything I wanted to eat food that would make think of warm weather (this is a recurring theme for me). Jerk sauce has such a lovely mix of flavours that it functions well as a marinade even if it’s not being used on the grill, and I was itching to give my sauce a test run, barbecue or no barbecue. So I decided I’d use it with fish. I found some beautiful fresh tilapia (surprisingly inexpensive at under £6 a kilo), which I marinated in my jerk sauce and served over rice with fried ripe plantains (maduros) and a lemony aromatic broth made from the fish head and bones. The result was seriously delicious: the spicy/sweet jerk marinade was slightly caramelized on the fish, and complemented by the plantains, and these flavours were nicely offset by the tangy, fishy broth. And it was quick: from start to finish this dish took just no more than 45 minutes to make. Best, it did taste like something tropical, and was a great way to use the jerk sauce even without a grill.
1 kilo fresh whole tilapia or other firm white-fleshed fish, scaled, filleted, and head and bones reserved
2 tablespoons Jamaican jerk sauce
2 ripe plantains (plaintains are ripe when the skin is mottled brown), peeled and sliced on the diagonal into pieces about 1 centimeter thick
¼ cup dry white wine
3 cups water
1-2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2-3 small tomatoes, chopped
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 small chili pepper (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
3 scallions (spring onions), finely sliced or julienned
salt to taste
1 and ½ cups rice
First, start your fish broth. Combine garlic, fish head and bones, bay leaves and chili pepper (if using) in a saucepan with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, just until the residual flesh of the fish on the bones starts to turn opaque (about a minute or two). Deglaze with white wine, add the chopped tomatoes, and cook until the tomatoes start to soften (about three more minutes). Add two and a half cups water. Dissolve the tomato paste in the remaining ½ cup water and then add to the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for about five minutes, skimming off the scum that rises to the top. Cover and continue to simmer for an additional ten to fifteen minutes.
While the fish broth is cooking, cook the rice according to your preferred method.
Marinate the fish about 15 minutes before you intend to cook it. You don’t want to marinate it for longer because the marinade will start to cook the fish. Trim the fish filets and cut three slits on each the skin side of each filet. Combine in a bowl with the jerk marinade, rubbing the marinade well into the slits.
Strain the fish broth through a wire mesh strainer, pushing against the solids with a wooden spoon to extract as much goodness from them as possible, and then return the liquid to the pot. Add the lemon juice and salt, and simmer over low heat, uncovered, until it is reduced by about half. When it’s reduced, taste your fish broth and adjust seasonings.
While your stock is reducing, finish the dish. Fry the plantains in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat, turning once, until soft and golden-brown on both sides (this should not take more than five minutes).
In a different pan (or the same one, after you’ve finished your plantains), fry the fish filets. Over medium-high heat, with a little oil in the pan, start skin-side down, pressing down on the filets with a spatula so the skin browns evenly. Turn once and continue until filets are cooked. Again, this should not take longer than five minutes at the most, depending on the thickness of your filets.
You’re ready to assemble the dish. If you have wide, flat bowls, use those. If, like me, you do not, curse the heavens, and then use round bowls. Mound a little rice in the center of the bowl and put some fried plantains to one side of the rice. Lay the filets over the top, and spoon the fish stock around the sides. Top with scallions and serve hot.