Come on now!! Don’t scrunch your nose like I did when I heard about boiled fish a few years back. Give this Bahamian delicacy a chance and get pleasantly surprised with the bowl packed full of flavors. It has tender flaky fish in a broth seasoned with plenty of lime juice, thyme, some kind of hot pepper, along with onions and potatoes and that unmistakable presence of your favorite bacon.
Try the Bahamas’ most popular and quintessential comfort food at its best. And do you know when to enjoy it like the locals do?? Breakfast time! Move over eggs and toast, here comes a bowl full of Bahamian boiled fish, with their Grace before meals…
Man before meal,
Meal before man,
Who can eat with
Eat with their hands
I came to know of the existence of this soupy brothy concoction from my husband’s family. Jason’s father grew up in the Bahamas, and his grandparents were residents there for many years. There were many food discoveries for me from these tropical islands like salads, fritters and chowder from their conch, their peas and rice and their soupy things like souse and this boiled fish.
Of all those types, I was least enthusiastic to try their boiled fish, as it just sounds boring and looks bland. What did I know? They just laughed and still decided to feed me this soup which they grew up on. While it was brewing, I was thinking it was such a waste of that good looking grouper. Usually I would cook something like my Mediterranean Fish or Greek Psari Plaki.
But some simple magic was happening in that pot, with some nice herbs and some island kick, ’cause after one spoonful I said “hmm… it’s actually freaking delicious!!” I concluded that boiled fish is simply THE heart of Bahamian food.
The beautiful waters of the Bahamas archipelago, with almost 700 islands, is the nesting ground to an abundance of some of the best seafood in the world. Different types of tasty fish, shellfish, lobster, crab, conch… you are in seafood heaven. Mix this with some tropical fruits, rice, peas, potatoes, pork… and popular seasonings like hot peppers, limes, tomatoes, onions, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, rum, coconut…
Bahamian food is anything but bland. Like other Caribbean cuisines, it’s as sunny and lively as their beautiful people. Many times, seafood or meats are lightly seasoned so that they shine as the star in the end without being overpowered. And why not? They have the tastiest fish and seafood you can lay your hands on.
What is Bahamian Boiled Fish?
You heard when I said it’s their breakfast thing, right? Yes… very popular on breakfast menus, from small little eateries to road side vendors to five star resorts to the locals homes. This Bahamian Boiled fish, or simply sometimes referred to as “Boil”, is a regular staple in their every day life all over the islands. Why? There is no shortage of good fish on the islands, and they know a good robust fish in a delicate broth is a great start before a long day at the sea, or it’s so soothing and rejuvenating for your body after a long celebration the previous night.
Yes… it’s your go-to remedy for hangovers. So when the islanders party all night for holidays or celebrations like Christmas, New Years eve, or their famous Junkanoo festival, they just know what to do the next morning… boil up a big pot of fish, soak up the broth with that famous island Johnny bread, alongside some beloved grits. Ultimate comfort food!
That’s what they grew up on for generations. And then again, it’s so loved that they don’t mind it any time of the day. It’s one of their go to meals for big family gatherings, be it at supper time or their Sunday after church family lunch time. It’s even popular during Lent, when meat is prohibited, except fish. So one can conclude that this is that one meal that accompanies them in every day life and holidays in equal gusto.
Boiled fish has strong British and American influence. Poaching fish in lemon and thyme in a broth has British roots. That combines with the cooking similarities of “seafood boils”, brought by American loyalist settlers who fled to the Bahamas from the southern United States after the American Revolutionary War. It has borrowed many of vegetables and spices associated with traditional American seafood boils like potatoes, onion, thyme, and hot peppers.
Bahamian boiled fish is typically made with white, flaky fish, the most popular and traditional being Nassau Grouper. It has a delicate yet meaty sweet flavor. It is also fairly hardy, so it does not fall apart during the boiling. Other sturdy white fish like mahi mahi, hog fish, halibut, and snapper also make delicious boils. Traditionally, whole fish is gutted and then cut into large chunks. In a Bahamian restaurant, you just might even get a whole grouper head staring out of your bowl! For our version, we are using cleaned fillets.
Here are our ingredients for Bahamian Boiled Fish
Fish – There was no grouper at the market today, but we did get some nice wahoo.
Potato – A bit for some starch.
Onion – One.
Lime juice – We want LOTS. Some to marinate the fish, some to go in the soup.
Salt & Pepper – To taste.
Thyme – Fresh if you have it, dried if not.
Salt pork or bacon – The former is more traditional, but we have some bacon. Just a little, you don’t want it to overpower the other flavors.
Hot sauce and/or hot peppers – This is one aspect you can really customize. A couple of small swishes of your basic Crystal hot sauce for mild, or some scotch bonnet peppers for spicy.
Water – Some add chicken bouillon cubes, but the fish creates it’s own beautiful stock.
How to cook this Bahamian Classic
This is a pretty simple dish. First, cut your fish into good sized chunks, think about 3-4 bites per chunk. Place them in a bowl and marinate with the juice of 1-2 limes (2-3 tablespoons, if using bottled), and a few splashes of hot sauce.
While the fish is marinating, cut your bacon into 2 inch strips and fry them in a 4-5 quart pot. Cook until browned (they don’t need to be crispy) and remove from pot. Meanwhile, slice you onions into rings and cut your potatoes into 3/8 inch thick slices.
Now it’s time to layer our soup. Though the particular order is not super important, we like to place fish, then potatoes topped with hot peppers and thyme, followed by onions and bacon.
Now, fill the pot with water till the potatoes are completely submerged. Add more lime juice. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on top, and just for good measure add a chunk of butter.
Cover, bring to a low boil and simmer over medium low heat till potatoes are done. You don’t want them too mushy, they should still be slightly firm. Taste and add salt and lime juice to your liking.
How to serve
Ladle a big portion into your bowl along with some fresh thyme, some lime wedges and some fresh hot peppers (optional of course). The must have is some kind of bread or cornbread. The two main island sides for this soup are:
- Johnny cake: The great way to sop up this boiled fish is with the island favorite, Bahamian Johnny cake bread. This is way different from the cornmeal based “Johnny cakes” of the southern US. Although recipes vary from island to island, this version is mostly made up of flour, baking powder, salt and water, but in recent times butter (or shortening), sugar, milk and a touch of nutmeg are also added. It is believed it was originally called “journey cake” because it was portable and resisted spoiling.
- Grits, grits, grits: They say if there is the foundation to a Bahamian breakfast, it’s grits. Anything else on the plate is a bonus. You are sure find it along side their beloved boiled fish. They use either white or yellow grits, cooking with just salt and water. All you need to do is scoop a little of grits into your broth, break a piece of that spoon-tender fish, collect it together with some broth and in it goes in your mouth. That’s how they do it!! Ahmm..YUM!!
- Though not traditional, I love it with some nice crusty bread.
Though the basic idea is the same, many people add other spices and seasonings. Some add celery, or different starches like yams or sweet potatoes. Play with whatever peppers are available, like scotch bonnet or goat peppers or bird pepper or habanero peppers. Some use additional spices like cloves or allspice.
Again, when it comes to fish, any white meaty fish can go in your pot. Experiment, or go with whatever you have available.
Start your day right!! Eat this traditional Bahamian dish and you bite into the country’s history. If not breakfast time, try it for that weekend night. Enjoy this rich broth in a your bowl, with slow boiled fish steeped with onion and potatoes, with tons of lime and a hint of fiery peppers. Don’t forget to eat like the locals, with some chunks of Johnny bread and a little grits. Maybe this steamy, brothy Bahamian boiled fish will make you think you are on vacation!!
Let’s wrap up this up with an island grace for after meals…
It is better for belly
Than to have good
Bahamian Boiled Fish, in my Gypsy Bowl… enjoy!
- 2 lbs fish
- 1 lb potatoes
- 1 medium onion
- 2 oz bacon or salt pork
- Juice of 3-6 limes, depending on taste preference
- 1 hot pepper, like scotch bonnet
- 7-8 sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1.5 tsp dried
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1-2 tsp hot sauce
- Cut fish into large chunks and marinate with juice of 1-2 limes, plus 1-2 tsp hot sauce, depending on desired spice level.
- Cut bacon into 2 inch strips and fry until browned, but not crispy, in a 4-5 qt pot. Remove.
- Cut onions into rings and potatoes into 3/8 inch slices.
- In same pot, layer fish, potatoes, thyme, chopped hot pepper, onions and bacon. Add salt and pepper. Fill pot with water until potatoes are completely covered. Add juice of 2-3 more limes. Bring to low boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until potatoes are cooked but still firm, about 15-20 minutes.
Nutrition InformationYield 6 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 388Total Fat 10gSaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 6gCholesterol 98mgSodium 461mgCarbohydrates 31gFiber 4gSugar 8gProtein 46g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
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