Shoshi and I fantasized about this meal long before we sunk our toes into Jamaica’s best kept secret: Treasure Beach. Despite our travel intention of absolute, go-with-the-flow freedom, our planning natures kicked in on the flight and inevitably composed a list of dreams for the week. At the top were gorge on fruit ’till we’re sticky as mangoes, drink from a fresh coconut (nearly) every morning, buy fresh fish from a fisherman and cook it, practice yoga (nearly) every day, keep our eyes open, our tempo loose and make new discoveries.
Mangoes and coconuts fell at our feet from the trees. We saluted the sun on our mats with ease. Our eyes were open, drinking in Jamaica’s beauty and smiling with new friends. Fish, however, was more scarce. As Jimmy Cliff croons in my earbuds, he reminds me “The harder they come, the harder they’ll fall…” Well, this fish fell with the weight of gold, wrapped in layers of adventure.
When we arrived at the Folichon property at Treasure Beach where my uncle had reserved our lodging, our jaws dropped to the ground. A gorgeous, Caribbean-painted cottage stood on a low bluff joining two fishing bays. A twisted buttonwood tree sheltered our corner, with gnarled, driftwood bark and a flush canopy of green leaves and yellow buds. (Check out our pictures!)
Vivian and Gloria, the garden gnome and property caretaker, came to greet us. Our first question was where we might find fish. “Oooeee, dey jus sell dee fish to da restarant arly in da mornin’.” Basically: good luck. We met Cutta and Smokey on the beach. They rang a few fisherfolk to no avail. Our disappointment was quickly quelled by an offering of fresh soursop juice in wine glasses, slurped as we juggled a soccer ball in the sand until the sun dipped below the tide.
The next morning we rose with the sun, and ventured to the fishing boats before our morning yoga. The bay was deserted. Smokey was on his way to the buttonwood for his herbal morning meditation, but first, happily took us to knock on a few beach shacks in search of fish. Again, without success. (Check out our pictures!)
So, we did what any determined fish-seekers would do: we took a boat to Pelican Bar, a driftwood shack perched in the middle of the ocean on a sandbar. We approached this real-life daydream on Mr. Nice Guy, a rag-tag motorboat that cruised over waves like a flying fish. As we hopped onto the dock, Captain Kevin advised us to mind the protective carpet of sea urchins nestled in the sandbar circling the shack. We ordered lobster and got cozy in the easy cabana-life of Pelican Bar. Slowly, about ten dreaded, smiling, strapping “staff” arrived, with one gal who had come to braid a fella’s hair. We relished the different scenes taking place: an impromptu hair studio, fish-scaling on the dock, two young and feisty boys blaring tunes that dared the one-drop beat of well-loved reggae to come back on the radio. And then there was Lincoln.
Lincoln was complacent just peering at his surroundings without giving away the slightest intimation of smile or emotion. We knew he agreed with our presence by the simple poem he uttered as we gloated over just-served lobster in garlic sauce, “Me belly full, me fall in love, me no wanna feed.” So we ate and he sat and we giggled and he sat. I found my pen and a scrap of paper, and Shoshi began to draw his portrait. Before long, the entire crew had gathered around the spectacle, admiring the lines that unraveled the finest details of Lincoln’s face with fantastical flair. (Check out our pictures!)
And then it was time to go. That’s when Shoshi, in a moment of complete enlightment, awoke and remembered our quest for fish. We haggled briefly and made a final exchange on fair Jamaican terms. Two days in, and we had our fish! On the boat ride back, a family of four dolphins flirted with our boat, celebrating our success and inspiring the food we would dine on that evening.
We devoured our fish with steamed callaloo, seared purple spring onions and brown rice.
Seared Fresh Fish with Spicy Mango-Garlic Sauce
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 50 minutes
- Yield: 2 entree servings
- Mango-Garlic sauce:
- Olive oil – 2 tablespoons
- Garlic – 2 tablespoons, minced
- Ginger – 1 tablespoon, minced
- White wine – 1/4 cup
- Plum totamoes – 1 cup, diced
- Mango – 1/2 cup chopped (extra-ripe) mango
- Sea salt – 1/2 teaspoon
- Black pepper – 1/4 teaspoon, freshly ground
- Cilantro leaves – 1 loosely packed cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
- Fish – 1 whole fish (or two fish fillets – cleaner and easier, but not as much fun!)
- Olive oil – 3 tablespoons
- Sea salt – 1 teaspoon
- Black pepper – 1/2 teaspoon
- Mango-Garlic Sauce:
- This sauce is just fabulous! Savory and succulent with a spicy quick from the ginger and garlic. This would be fantastic over baked chicken, tofu or rice. It would also make a beautiful dip with guacamole and pita chips.
- In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Add the garlic and ginger and saute until the garlic begins to brown. Add the white wine and continue to simmer for about 2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, mango, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the sauce thicken into a puree-like consistency.
- When the sauce is the desired consistency (not watery), remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Let the sauce rest while you prepare the fish.
- Ready? Now it’s time to rinse the fish, gut it, chop off the head and fillet it! You see, I had only done this once or twice before on Corn Island, off the coast of Nicaragua. I don’t recall the process being quite as bloody or gruesome, but when all is said and done – it was a synch and well worth the freshness! Here is a great video that shows you how to scale, gut and fillet a fish. The spine on our fish was quite sturdy and I had difficult separating the fillets. So we flayed open the fish and cooked it with the tail on.
- Rub the inside and the outside of the fish (or fillets) with salt and pepper.
- In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil.
- Place the fish, flesh-side down in the pan. Sear for about 5 minutes and then flip the fish, searing the skin-side for another five minutes. (This will be easier with filets). You can put a lid on the pan for about 2 minutes to steam the fish and ensure it is well cooked and juicy.
- Using a fork, peel back the thickest part of the fish – if the flesh is white and flaky, it’s done!