Tru Bahamian Must Eat: Boiled Fish
Following an early morning of fishing in the islands or an animated late night celebration, the go-to remedy for most here in The Bahamas, is a steaming bowl of Boiled Fish or simply ‘Boil’- as we often shorten it to. And don’t let the plain-sounding name fool you; this hearty dish is packed with flavour (and recovery powers), combining tender, flaky white fish with potatoes, lime and spices to tantalize taste buds and warm the soul. For breakfast, lunch, or dinner, this truly Bahamian dish is favourite across the archipelago and definitely worth a try when you’re visiting Nassau.
Since Bahamian Boiled Fish is particularly popular around the Christmas Holidays (more of our favourite holiday recipes here), we thought we’d round up some of our choice spots where you can enjoy a bowl during the season.
Origins Of Boiled Fish
While it is hard to pinpoint where the method of boiling food originated exactly (though we are sure that whoever created the pot should be praised), the genesis of Bahamian Boiled Fish as a dish can be attributed to our British and American influences. Poaching fish in a lemon and thyme broth has always been a traditional part of British cuisine, but the Bahamian method of submerging the fish in water is largely related to the “seafood boil” brought into the country by American Loyalist settlers from Southern US States such as Louisiana. While the use of shellfish is distinct from our use of white fish, Bahamian Boiled Fish has borrowed many of the vegetables and spices associated with a traditional US seafood boil, including thyme and hot peppers. The confluence of of cultural influences has resulted in a deeply satisfying dish that can only be described as one of the quintessential comfort foods of The Bahamas!
What’s In Boiled Fish?
Credit: Meats, Roots, & Leaves
Bahamian Boiled Fish is typically made with white, flaky fleshed fish, the most popular and traditional version being with Nassau grouper (on the bone). Nassau grouper is known among locals to have a delicate, sweet flavor and a high oil content, which makes it very moist, yet firm enough to avoid falling to pieces during boiling. While grouper is indeed the preferred selection for Bahamian Boiled Fish, because of its popularity, it does have a specific season during which it can be legally fished (between March and October is when you can enjoy the sweet fish to your heart’s content). Mahi mahi, hogfish and grey/lane snapper are all other local fish types that serve as tasty alternatives for replacing Nassau grouper during the closed season-recently identified by The Bahamas National Trust as between December 1st and February 28th. Once the fish has been secured, the flavourful broth of the boil is seasoned with lime juice, thyme, bay leaf, a clove or two of allspice salt, and pepper, and stewed with a medley of yellow onions, celery, and potatoes. When ready, spoonfuls of hot broth are both zesty and comforting, making this dish the perfect complement to serve alongside grits, sweet island bread and butter or traditional Johnny cake.
When We Eat Boiled Fish
Credit: Meats, Roots, & Leaves
You’ll find that Bahamian Boiled Fish is light on the tummy and therefore, is typically eaten after a night of moderate to heavy alcohol consumption when a simple cup of coffee that morning will not suffice. Not surprisingly, Boiled Fish is extremely popular during Christmas time following a long night/early morning of enjoying our Bahamian Junkanoo Festival on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Boiled Fish is also served as a traditional fish dinner during family gatherings, which happen almost every Sunday afternoon after church services. It’s also common to find fishermen’s markets swamped with customers during Lent in the spring, as Boiled Fish is commonly served on Good Friday when the Christian population foregoes meat (because technically fish are the “fruit” of the sea) over Easter Holidays. With that said, Bahamian Boil’ can be found on breakfast menus of local restaurants and even food carts throughout the year and as long as you have an appetite, there is no wrong time for enjoying it.
Here are some of our favorite places to grab a soulful bowl:
Top 5 Places to Find Boiled Fish in Nassau
Charlie’s Nassau Stadium – Fowler Street off East Bay Street. Phone: (242) 394-0300
Oh Andros – Arawak Cay at Fish Fry in Downtown Nassau. Phone: (242) 326-7115
Bahamian Cookin’ – Trinity Place off Market Street in Downtown Nassau. Phone: (242) 328-0334
One & Only Ocean Club – Paradise Island Drive on Paradise Island. Phone: (242) 363-2501
Bahamas Cricket Club – Haynes Oval, Arawak Cay in Downtown Nassau. Phone: (242) 326-4720
How To Prepare Boiled Fish At Home
Even when grouper or hogfish isn’t available, other white fish such as snapper or mahi mahi are typically readily available in the fresh or frozen section of your local supermarket. When the craving hits you- enjoy this simple recipe for Bahamian Boiled Fish!
2 lbs grouper with bone (or any preferred white fish)
2 yellow onions
2 celery stalks
1 garlic clove
1 tsp ground thyme
1-2 tbsp butter or margarine
1 tbsp whole cloves
¼ goat pepper (Scotch Bonnet pepper or habanero pepper are fine too)
½ lbs potatoes, peeled and thickly cubed
Salt and pepper to taste
On a separate dish, season fish with lime juice, salt, and pepper. Fill a separate pot with two (2) cups of water and combine yellow onions, celery, garlic, thyme, butter, cloves, peppers, and potatoes. Bring to a boil and then cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are almost done (just soft enough to push a fork through without breaking the potato). Add more water to fill the pot, if necessary. Add fish with lime juice and reduce heat to simmer the stew for 10 minutes, or until the fish begins to flake off the bone. Add salt and pepper to taste as needed.
Bahamian Boiled Fish is usually served with a side order of white or yellow-corn grits or a healthy slice of homemade Johnny Cake to soak up the flavourful broth and really stretch out the meal.
Cabbage can be included to add more girth to the stew, but for a sweeter addition, throw two (2) sliced plantains (an exceptional pairing when using grouper or hogfish!) into the broth.