Fish is a favorite on islands and easily found along coastal regions. The bounty of the sea is a blessing and those who live in close proximity to the sea can find fresh and delicious choices of fish, shrimp, lobster and shellfish around the year. If you are lucky enough to find freshly caught fish which has never been frozen, you are definitely in for a rare treat. Although this dish can be made with fish fillets, it is much better made with a whole fish, as the texture and flavor is by far superior.
In Haiti, poisson gros sel is a very popular fish dish. It is a simple poached fish cooked in an aromatic broth. There are a few seasonings and spices which transform into a light citrus broth. It is traditionally served with boiled green plantains, yams or breadfruit; although it also goes well with steamed rice. The word gros sel is the term for rock salt which was traditionally used in this dish. Note that this fish is neither salted or salty, it’s simply the name of the dish as per tradition.
There is neither coconut milk nor tomato paste in the broth which results in a light colored cooking liquid or court bouillon which is served alongside the fish. In many Caribbean islands fish stews are cooked with tomatoes and onions in a zesty sauce. This preparation is different and is an example of the French Creole style. Unlike traditional French court bouillon poaching liquids, this creole version does not use white wine or juniper berries and has less liquid than the regular amounts in a poaching liquid. The outcome is light, flavorful and tasty.
Medium size whole fish or smaller fish are probably best as you must take into consideration the size of the fish to be cooked whole. The bigger and longer the fish, the more problematic for cooking them whole; unless you own a rectangular fish poacher.
4 small whole fish like red or grey snapper, capitaine, trout or parrot fish, etc around 1lb each, cleaned, scaled and gutted (1 per person). You can also use a large fish cut into 4 pieces.
1 cup small Shallots or 1 medium purple onion sliced
1/2 Sweet pepper red, ½ green sliced
1 carrot julienned
3 sprigs thyme
1 Hot pepper, whole
2 sprigs Parsley
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp Butter
2-3 tbsp Green seasoning; (pureed garlic, parsley, celery, thyme, green onions or cive)
Juice of 2 Limes or approximately 1/8 cup juice
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp Black pepper
2 tbsp Olive oil
1 – 1 1/2 cups water
1 Bouillon cube* if desired
Season the fish with green seasoning. If using whole fish, make 2 to 3 slices on each side to allow seasoning to penetrate and flavor the fish. Marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Heat a large casserole and add olive oil. Saute the carrot slices, sweet peppers, onion or shallots for about 3 minutes. Reserve half of the quantity to place atop the fish.
Place the fish onto the vegetables. Add the bouquet garni of thyme, celery and parsley as well as the whole hot pepper.
Drizzle 3 tbsp lime juice over the fish.
Add the butter in small cubes and 1 cup water. If using a bouillon cube, you may crumble into the cup of water at this point and dissolve. Pour over the fish and cover with a tight lid.
Allow the fish to steam for about 10 minutes over medium heat.
Turn the fish over gently and add the reserved vegetables. Add a bit more water to ensure that there is a fair amount of sauce in the pot.
Add a little salt and black pepper to taste. Baste the fish with sauce. Cover the casserole and cook for 5-7 minutes additional.
Cooking time will vary according to the size of the fish and pieces. Generally these smaller fish or pieces should take around 15 minutes maximum of cooking time. If using a large whole fish (3lb) it will definitely take a bit longer around 20 minutes give or take a few. Cook on medium heat to better control that the fish does not overcook. If slightly undercooked, the fish will continue to cook in the residual heat for a few minutes.
Taste sauce for salt and acidity. If needed adjust accordingly.
Gently remove the fish with a large spatula and spoon the sauce and vegetables over. Do not serve the bouquet garni.
Perfect with boiled green plantains, sweet potatoes, breadfruit or yams. Also delicious with steamed white rice.