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Les Iles des Saintes,
April 2, 2011
Salt and smoke:
And other fishy business

In case we’re skunked at the fish market (or when we’re trolling our own lines), I always keep a few pieces of saltfish in the depths of the fridge. Long aside here: We certainly weren’t skunked yesterday. Even though it was late-morning, the fish market here in petite Bourg des Saintes, the only town on Terre d’en Haut, the largest of the eight tiny Islands of the Saints, still had daurade – dorado – for sale. Also known as mahi-mahi or dolphinfish, dorado is one of my favorites: a sweet, white, firm-fleshed fish, excellent cut into steaks and grilled. And, when we’re in the French islands, with Sauce Chien drizzled on top. Despite the name, this Creole herb sauce is safely vegetarian – no dog involved.

It supposedly gets its name from the make of knife used to chop the ingredients. You can find out more about the sauce, and a recipe for it, in The Spice Necklace.) But back to the saltfish. A staple West Indian food for centuries, it keeps almost forever. Problem is, it doesn’t make a spur-of-the-moment dinner or hors d’oeuvre, since you have to soak it overnight before you can even think about using it.

Smoked fish is a lot quicker – just open the vacuum-sealed package, and Bob’s your uncle – but when we first started sailing in the Caribbean, the only smoked fish I could find was imported smoked salmon. No fun at all; completely unrelated to the place we were in. I stubbornly left it in the freezer case at the high-end supermarkets that stocked it.

Sundown emergency? Carriacou's Windward Smoked Fish (here, tuna) to the rescue

But times have changed, and now a few island entrepreneurs are offering vacuum-packed smoked fish – locally caught, locally smoked fish such as tuna and marlin. Here, in the Islands of the Saints, I check the small supermarkets for packages of “Plaisir de l’Ocean” – Pleasure of the Ocean – the products of a Santois man who spent time in France. His thin, perfect slices of smoked espadon (marlin), thazard (wahoo) and thon (tuna) are fantastic…. albeit fantastically high-priced.

It’s the smoked fish on Carriacou, however, that we really can’t resist. Produced by a couple named Ellie and Herbert, it comes in thick, meaty pieces that we can slice ourselves to suit. Lovely tuna loins, marlin, and sailfish or swordfish are their standard offerings, but you can special-order smoked lobster tails and lambi. Bonus: Ellie lives on a boat much of the time in Tyrrel Bay, and will come around the anchorage with her cooler. Fabulous smoked fish, delivered. (Otherwise, it’s available in a few stores on Carriacou and Grenada, but no further afield at this point.) They call their business Windward Smoked Foods, and they’ve averted many last-minute dinner and happy-hour emergencies on Receta. Thinly sliced and served with a basket of sliced baguette (or similar), cream cheese, capers, olives, and thinly sliced red onion, it’s a wonderful sundown snack or light dinner. It’s also excellent tossed with pasta (which I dress with a little olive oil and herbs), or with greens to make a smoked fish salad. Frances, a friend (and a chef) who lives part of the year on Carriacou, uses it instead of ham or bacon to make her version of eggs benedict. And it makes a dynamite smoked fish spread.

Who needs smoked salmon?

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3 comments on “Les Iles des Saintes,
April 2, 2011
Salt and smoke:
And other fishy business

  1. Terri H on said:

    Just finished reading your latest book. Totally engrossed as I was with Mangoes. This time I read it on my Kindle, I really like having the actual book better for your type of writing because I like to re-read the recipes, etc. Looking forward to making homemade Dark & Stormy’s. Love them!

    Anyway, love the books, look forward to the next one! Keeps me dreaming of one day having my dream come true of moving to a Caribbean island. I am going to start with a visit to Grenada first. Thanks!

  2. Carri Henriques on said:

    I have absolutely LOVED both Mangoes and Spice Necklace; I made each of them last a really long time, as I hated to see them coming to an end!

    I am first generation American, of a Jamaican family going back many generations. When I finished graduate school, about 36 years ago, I was offered a job in Jamaica, with the first program working with disabled adults on the island. Our office was housed in a former residence, and when my parents came to visit, I found out my mother had lived in the house for a period of time when she was a child. At first, I lived with a family I knew, the parents having gone to school with my parents. Eventually, I got an apt. across the street, remaining “part of the family”. I am also an enthusiastic, long-time home cook, and I have traveled several places. So, the books are truly right up my alley!

    I could “hear” the West Indian accent and dialect with every conversation you recounted. You write so clearly and accurately about the culture; each time I was reading the books, I was again transported back to my younger adventure days, exploring the island, meeting new people, enjoying new foods, and finding the parts of myself that are so much a part of the culture. I realized, regretfully, that I had not developed an opportunity to delve more into the Rasta subculture, and their food ways. Our van driver, my boss’ cousin, was a Rasta, and I would love to have cooked with him.

    THANK YOU for writing such wonderful books. I so-o-o-o hope you will be writing more, as you continue your travels. I JUST CAN’T WAIT TO GET STARTED ON ANOTHER ONE!! Happy Cruising!

  3. Walker M on said:

    We just spent a few days in Tyrell Bay, where some friends introduced us to Ellie’s smoked fish. Absolutely wonderful! We have a couple of packages in the fridge here in Houston, Texas now – saving for special occasions.

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