The turquoise waters surrounding this island, no doubt boast a variety of fresh fish. Sport fisherman arrive to challenge the sea with catches of blue and white marlin, sailfish, some tuna species and mahi mahi (dorado). Not a fisherwoman, I must stick to my knowledge of the fresh catch that makes its way to my table. Typically consists of snapper (pargo), grouper (mero or abadejo), hogfish (sometimes called hog snapper, but NOT a snapper) and now appearing … lionfish.
All these fish find their way to the island’s restaurants. A long time snapper fan, I now enjoy the delicate, yet succulent taste of the hogfish. With the overfishing of snapper and grouper, hogfish is readily available. The hogfish has a bright orange to coral color, with bright red eyes and a long snout for burrowing in the sand to hunt for food. Lion fish, a less common choice, but equally delightful, is slowly becoming available in a few local restaurants. It is not a native fish to these Caribe waters and its arrival about twenty-five years ago, has caused havoc in our local waters. It is widely believed that these lionfish were dumped into the Atlantic by aquarium owners who no longer wanted them. Now they are fished for removal, because they prey on snapper and grouper and basically eat anything in their path. The upside, they taste good!
Most of the beachfront restaurants, as well as those in town, offer grilled or fried fish. When ordering, ALWAYS ask to see the catch you are considering. Typically, you will be brought one to two fresh fish for your inspection and selection. Please INSPECT it! Your choice should have a sparkling pink color, depending on the species, with the meat firmly attached to the body. Clear, BRIGHT eyes are the TRUE test. Eyes that are dull or grey indicate an inferior choice. Buyer beware!! You will be purchasing the whole fish, so determine the number of fish eaters at your table and go from there. I always select a smaller fish for myself and yes, enjoy it all!! Now you decide, grilled or fried? Fried is usually my choice and always a good one. Expect a taste of Caribe Mexico…yum.. crunchy, fresh, and delicate!!! These are not fish sticks from your school cafeteria days… these fish are divine. Sides of rice, beans, vegetables or slaw may accompany your treat. If you are offered pickled, red onions or pico de gallo… dig in.
My tip…NEVER use a fork when enjoying a whole fried fish…. this is hands on eating…eat like a local. When you finish, your fish should resemble a two-sided comb…if it does…you did an excellent job! Now your hands will be very messy….no problem.. squeeze a fresh lime wedge on them. Or in some restaurants, you may be offered a CIO..a dried coconut shell filled with water, mint leaves and lime. Rub the mint leaves on your fingers, finish with a squeeze of lime …clean as a whistle. Well done my friend!! The sea is full of delights….Buen Provecho.