Chef Simeon Hall Jr.
Bahamian Boil Fish
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
Alexa play D-Mac, Da Gaulin....let's start this pot of right.
Okay so maybe this wasn't such a good idea because I don't know if I'm a cook or a back up dancer right now. Either way, making what is the official yet disputed national dish of The Bahamas this morning has me excited. I making BERL FISH Y'all.
Now let me preface this post by saying I am newly converted and on a mission to spread the gospel of island specificity to the entire Bahamas and the world. 700 islands and cays and only one national dish, impossible! No wonder noone knows what it really is. However , that's for another discussion.
National dish or not, here it goes.
If you follow me then you know I don't really give recipes per se, but tips and guidelines. Bare in mind that boil fish varies from island to island and house to house. So here's the version I learned from my time as a chef in South Andros.
Tip number 1- Buy fresh fish! Clear eyes, firm scales and bright red gills. Also, fresh fish smells like the ocean not and fishy at all. Countrymen, making Berl Fish with frozen fish is like making conch salad with frozen conch. Not a patriotic thing to do is it?
Tip number 2- Typically, boil fish is made with the other parts- the head, tail and fish "wings". So large fish species are best to use. But, again use what you want!
For South Andros Berl Fish you will need:
3 lbs cut up head, wing and tail of a yellow wing grouper
1 large Exuma onion
2 large limes
4 tbsp unsalted butter
3-5 finger peppers
1 lb back yard potatoes or small roasting potatoes (Don't use baking potatoes. They are too starchy.)
3 strips of bacon
Sea salt to taste.
Okay here come some more tips.
-Wash your fish with salt and a 1/2 of lime. Then run cold water onto it until the water runs clear.
- Salt pork or bacon can be omitted but then....I'm not responsible for that missing umami and unctuousness.
-Local onions have a more peppery crisp flavor profile than imported. They are a very important part of this dish.
Method of Preparation
-Slice the bacon into 1 inch pieces.
-Slice the onions into rounds about 2 centimeters. This way they won't just fall apart from the slow simmer.
-Wash and peel your potatoes. According to their size, leave them whole or cut them in half. If you cut them too small they will cook away to nothing.
-Mince the desired amount of bird pepper.
In a cold heavy bottom pot add the the bird peppers, onions, potatoes, bacon and butter. Turn the stove to a medium heat. (The pot should never come to a raging boil, but a rolling simmer.) Cook gently just until the butter is melted and coats everything. Add 2 pinches of salt then add the fish. Add enough water just to barely cover the fish half way. This is a very Androsian method. This way the broth is intense and very flavorful. Also, when you put a lid on the pot, with it slowly simmering, you will see that the broth with double in volume naturally. Don't drown your fish in water.
Side note -Historically this dish was made with ocean water so the fish was never preseasoned.
Simmer about 12 minutes or so. The potatoes should be fork tender. Add juice from the remaining lime and season to taste. That's it. Serve with "Journey" bread or Grits.