Since it is a Jamaican food story, I will share it the way Jamaicans lime (socialise) – with tales. Follow me down memory lane. Last year, when we were expecting Prento, something really funny happened. I, The Steward, keeper of all our blogging treasures, lost my appetite. Vamoose. Kalas. Non-Existent. It seems the one piece of fabric that kept our recipe-blogging together jumped on a bewitched broomstick and simply flew away.
But, alas, I had to eat. I was growing new life inside me and that was a 24 hour job for which my body needed fuel. Yet still, the awareness of such fact could not make me excited to face the day with a plate in front of me. Not even my dear husband – the amazing chef he is – could muster up the salivating excitement I am known for in anticipation of a fine meal. And boy did he try. Maybe it was that among other reasons why he encouraged me to board a plane to Jamaica at 5 months pregnant to surprise my ailing grandmother. He knew that being home with our family, friends and bonafide irie Jamaican culture would do me some good. Plus he had run out of ways to find the limited foods from home that I craved.
And so, with our Zanzibar-cum-Emirati friend Fidela who was kind enough to accompany me on the journey, we set off on a mega jet hopping voyage in search of Jamaica via London and New York.
By the time my time for departure had come, my Facebook page was washed with all of the foods I hoped to have in Jamaica. Suddenly, the appetite peeped back in through the window. One of those on the list was a trip to Hellshire for some Escoveitched Fish. You can get escoveitch even in the hotels in Jamaica but nowhere was as expert at it as the fast food shacks of Hellshire Beach, a public beach in the parish of St. Catherine, about 45 minutes from Kingston. My favourite stops are Prendy’s and Miss May’s, which as many top rivals are, right beside each other.
Hellshire is a seafood lover’ s dream. The boats come in early every morning with the day’s catch. Cooks store their seafood haul of fish, lobster an conch in large igloos on ice and customers select their own fish and method for cooking as well as side dishes,
When I arrived, I saw a cook prepping some fresh conch, a rubbery sea snail that is a delicacy in the Caribbean, with a texture similar to octopus or squid, but far more rubbery. You have to pound the crap out of it to tenderize it for consumption. It’s eaten raw in some North Eastern Caribbean countries like The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands, where it is made into a ceviche called Conch Salad. Popular with the virile Caribbean men for it’s machismo touting properties, it is harvested in season in Jamaica and enjoyed by avid seafood lovers when available. I inquired, and there was definitely a pot of Conch Soup simmering on the stove. My appetite was back.
I have to thank my bonafide sistren (irie Jamaican talk for a woman who you have the deepest respect for and hold dearly to your heart) Kathy Gayle for offering to tick the Hellshire trip off my list. She was my first TV Producer when I was a presenter for “Rappin,” the longest running TV show for teens in Jamaica. It was her smartness and the team of mostly female producers at CPTC that I wanted to emulate when I sought to pursue work behind the camera and not just talent in front. (I pause to recognize Judith Alberga, Claudette Robinson, Denzie Stephenson, Yvonne Chin-Irving, Carey Robinson, Louis McLean, Lorna Napier, Anthony Miller, Karlene Salmon, Ericka Wilson-Dougal and Karlene Amiel).
I thought the smart people made things happen. Over the past 18 years our friendship has grown. It was that team of people during my formative years in media that made me think I had found my true life’s passion and calling. I got more chances to work with Kathy (as talent and eventually as a LocationProducer/Director reporting to her). Somewhere in the middle of it all, we discovered another passion- kitchen experimentation. But for that, she truly takes the cake. Maybe one day she will reveal why.
I took her photo as she sat in front of a Guinness poster. Jamaica is Guinness country. In fact, Chef is known to require his brothers to bring a cold one for him in the car when they pick him up at the airport. The Guinness brew is wicked in Jamaica.
Kathy ordered her favourite, Pumpkin Steamed Fish which is a delicious fish stew with pumpkin and carrots, cho cho (chayote) and laced with scotch bonnet peppers. If I get enough requests in the comments, I will post a recipe for it.
Of course, I ordered Escoveitch Fish because by then I had many dreams about it. If you find yourself with fresh catch, you can follow our step-by-step Escoveitch Fish recipe that will make your mouth water for Jamaica.
We all shared a platter of Festival, Fried Bammy and Fried Green Plantains (Tostones). Let us know if you want those recipes in the comments as well. Right now, I am making myself REALLY hungry. Good thing Chef just brought home some fish, so I am off to the kitchen! In the meantime, have a Ting (Jamaican grapefruit soda) on us!