My journey from shellfish to raw fish
I’m a lover of prepared raw fish in all forms, sushi, sashimi, ceviche, carpaccio, crudo, tartare and poke. I suppose it is due to the fact they fill the void which developed when my shellfish allergy smacked me silly. I used to gorge on shrimp, crab, lobster, conch, after all, they are bounteous in the Caribbean Sea. I used to frequent oyster bars in Paris and rest my feet from shopping with a nice bracing glass of Pouilly Fuisse while snacking on delicious fresh Atlantic oysters from Bretagne doused with shallot vinaigrette. Or frequently support the oyster man in Port Royal, here in Jamaica, eating them as an appetiser with his assorted sauces while waiting on my steamed fish from Gloria’s across the street.
I loved cooking mussels, crevettes and langoustines for friends in Europe. A clam chowder was a much looked forward to treat on trips to the American East Coast and Dungeness crabs on the West. My instincts were first alerted that something was wrong on a business trip to Aruba, my lips puffed up after a buffet lunch. I assumed the shellfish was not fresh and ignored it. A couple weeks later, ate shellfish again on the North coast of Jamaica at a resort, felt a bit odd, but outside of a little rash which I mistook for a heat induced one, did not pay it any mind. Popped antihistamines in my mouth given to me by the hotel nurse and carried on. Huge mistake, it was the penultimate red flag.
A month passed and I was craving seafood so prepared a shrimp risotto for my late parents and me. Thank God it was a divine meal as it was my final and a most memorable dish, alas, not solely for fond reasons as a few minutes later my eyes closed shut, lips got swollen to the point they felt like they were going to burst and my throat began to close on me. I was in the throes of anaphylactic shock and was rushed to the hospital. It has got to a point where I can no longer cook shellfish and it irks me no end. I feast my eyes on shellfish with longing and envy when surrounded by friends feasting on them and I can’t. The risk is just not worth my life so prefer to live vicariously through others. I still enjoy reading recipes in food magazines and books, my palate’s memory and imagination tantalised. Recently, I read about this US based company making plant based shrimp substitute for vegans, trust me, shellfish allergic folk like me will be demanding this product as well.
Thankfully not allergic to fish. As a practising flexitarian, it is my preferred animal protein, love it steamed, grilled, fried, stewed and raw. Especially raw. If you consume raw fish, know your source. It’s good to be close to fishermen or a fishmonger who can guide you on the best catch of the day. Fresh fish smells slightly of the sea, should not smell fishy and the eyes should be bright and clear, not cloudy. My recipes below need the freshest produce possible. Good quality always yields the best results. One of my dear friends, Gina May Mair distributes the freshest catch of sustainably caught fish and I support her environmental efforts. Jamaican humidity can be fierce, quick no-cook meals are in frequent rotation in my kitchen.
JuicyChef’s Snook Crudo with Red Lumpfish Caviar and Passionfruit Vinaigrette
Snook is a gorgeous tasting fish, it’s tender white flesh is sooooo good and the season is too short for lovers of this fine creature of the sea. Whenever it is available, I make sure to take advantage. I like to batter it for fish and chips, steam it Chinese style with soy, ginger and scallions or eat it raw in this crudo I prepared for a long lost love. It makes an elegant starter for a group of 8.
- Pickled Red Onion
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp crushed coriander seeds
- 1 tsp crushed pimento seeds
- 200ml water
- 50ml white cane vinegar
- 1 large red onion, sliced into rounds (use the rest in future salads)
- 100ml passion fruit juice
- 50ml pickling juice (from above) with seeds
- 1 tsp sugar (optional if too tart)
- 125ml extra virgin olive oil
- ½ scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped
- 1kg thinly sliced snook, kept cold until ready to eat
- Make a pickling solution in a non reactive bowl with salt, sugar, coriander, pimento, water and vinegar and add the onions. Leave for an hour or so. Remove the pickled onions and reserve some of the picking liquid for the vinaigrette.
- Prepare vinaigrette by whisking all of the ingredients and pour on a platter.
- Lay thinly sliced fish over the vinaigrette.
- Top with pickled onions.
- Spoon over red lumpfish caviar.
- Serve immediately.
Basic Tuna Poke Bowl
I’ve always been fascinated with Polynesian culture and the Hawaiian islands in particular. My dad made me fall in love with these islands. My first experience with raw fish was not sushi but poke on Maui. A couple years ago, I had the pleasure of returning with my cousin this time to explore Oahu. The pineapple fruit is what connects Jamaica to Hawaii. The pineapple is on the Jamaican coat of arms with the original natives the Taino, the pineapple is one of Hawaii’s biggest exports. I like to serve pineapple slices as a palate cleanser /dessert after eating poke. Seaweed and macadamia nuts are hard/expensive to get locally, which takes it up a notch, but if you cannot find any, no problem, still delicious without. This is my basic rendition, but you can play around. On a recent post on my private Instagram page I did one with the addition of shichimi togarashi and nori. If you cannot find sushi rice, I have made it accompanied with jasmine rice, not authentic, but yummy all the same. Play around and have fun with what you can access. Vegans, substitute with tofu or mushrooms for a delicious plant based alternative. Serves 2.
- 500 g sushi grade tuna, cut into cubes
- 1 tsp Chinese chili oil
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 3 tbsps low sodium Japanese soy sauce
- ½ small onion, thinly sliced
- 2 scallions, finely sliced
- 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 2 tsps sesame seeds
- Cilantro, for garnish (optional)
- Seaweed (optional)
- Fresh pineapple, cut into slices as a side
- Cooked rice
- In a large bowl add tuna chunks, season with a little sea salt then pour in chili and sesame oils, soy sauce, stir to coat and then mix in onion, scallions, and ginger
- While poke is marinating, cook rice.
- Prepare bowls by dividing hot rice equally amongst them and add an equal mixture of poke on top of each.
- Garnish with sesame seeds and optional toppings if using.
Jacqui ‘JuicyChef’ Sinclair, founder of Nyam & Trod, is a British Jamaican award-winning chef, writer, and food culturist. She is a co-founder of Kingston Kitchen, an annual food event supporting food artisans. Jacqui has been an advocate of the Meatless Monday Global movement in Jamaica since 2011. Jacqui’s work has been featured in such publications as the Huffington Post, the Jamaica Observer, Saveur, The Jewish Post and numerous blogs. She has appeared on the Travel Channel’s ‘Bizarre Foods’ with Andrew Zimmern and Food & Wine’s Jamaica episode with Kwame Onwuachi.