Poisson Gros Sel, a red snapper cooked in a court-bouillon with coarse salt, is a typical Haitian dish that is quite easy to make. Grab the recipe now. | tchakayiti.com

Haitian poisson gros sel my way, two ways

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Raise your hand if you’ve accidentally cooked fish before without scaling it!

Yes, I just raised my hand. You read that right. I cooked a whole red snapper without getting rid of the scales.

In my defense, I had never had to scale a fish before.

The fishes I worked with in the past were always previously cleaned and unscaled. It didn’t occur to me that this would not be the case with every single one sold on the market. I did not think to scale my store-bought fish before seasoning it and cooking it.

Oh, yes, it wasn’t until I had fully cooked it that I realized that my red snapper still had its scales on.

Needless to say, I panicked. Haitians do not cook their fish without cleaning it first. I was convinced this was the end of the world. My fish was ruined. Everyone would give me a hard time at the table. Luckily, there was an easy fix. As it turns out, it is possible to remove the scales after cooking. The only setback is that the cooked skin also comes off in the process. Some scales also still remain on the fish no matter how hard you try. I had no choice but to serve it any way.

All I could do was pray that the leftover scales wouldn’t bother my family too much. But I took comfort knowing that I still had one uncooked fish left. With my mom’s help, I was able to both have my first lesson in scaling fish and get my second fish ready for the grill.

Poisson Gros Sel, a red snapper cooked in a court-bouillon with coarse salt, is a typical Haitian dish that is quite easy to make. Grab the recipe now. | tchakayiti.com

I know what you’re thinking. Grill? Isn’t the above picture of a fish cooked in a broth?

That is right. But I was not planning on sticking to just one type of cooking that day. See, for my poisson gros sel adventure, I had decided to cook my red snapper two ways. I would stick to the traditional rock salt, lime and piment bouc seasoning. But I would use different cooking methods. I would cook the first fish poisson gros sel style. This meant, boiling it in some water and using the released juices for a court-bouillon. As for the second one, I had set out to pour the court-bouillon over a grilled red snapper topped with caramelized shallots.

Even though I had partially ruined the first red snapper, I was not willing to give up on that plan.

Poisson Gros Sel, a red snapper cooked in a court-bouillon with coarse salt, is a typical Haitian dish that is quite easy to make. Grab the recipe now. | tchakayiti.com

I was, however, worried that this would cause an argument at the family table. Logic had it that I should be the one to eat the unscaled fish. But I was eager to try the grilled fish as well. Surprisingly, that did not lead to a family argument. We managed to split it evenly so that all four of us were able to sample both fishes. And guess which cooking method won the taste challenge? My grilled poisson gros sel.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Of course, they would like that red snapper better. It was unscaled. Well when it came down to it, the grilled fish won the taste challenge because its flavors were bolder. Not because it had no scales. I attribute that difference in taste to the cooking method and the cooking method only. After all, I had seasoned both fishes the same way. Try it for yourself using the recipe below. I have highlighted both cooking methods. If you do try them both, I would love to know which preparation wins your palate over.

Poisson Gros Sel, a red snapper cooked in a court-bouillon with coarse salt, is a typical Haitian dish that is quite popular in many households on Good Friday (Friday before Easter), though we do it it throughout the year. The fish is cooked whole and served with plantains, a salade russe and rice.

Poisson Gros Sel, a red snapper cooked in a court-bouillon with coarse salt, is a typical Haitian dish that is quite easy to make. Grab the recipe now. | tchakayiti.com
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Haitian poisson gros sel (rock salt red snapper) cooked two ways

The traditional poisson gross el recipe calls for a more elaborate marinade than the one I used. I chose to go that route for the sake of simplicity. I wanted to retain the natural taste of the fish without overpowering it. Also, please note that the grilled version, the wine and the caramelized shallots are my own twist on this Haitian staple.

Cuisine Haitian
Keyword caribbean cuisine, caribbean food, haitian food, seafood
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Resting time 3 hours
Total Time 50 minutes

Ingredients

For the marinade

  • Red Snapper
  • Rock Salt
  • Lime juice
  • Sliced lime
  • 1 piment bouc

For the court-bouillon

  • ¼ cup of white wine
  • pickled shallots
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 bell pepper sliced
  • 1 bunch of chopped parsley
  • fresh thyme
  • 1 habanero pepper
  • black pepper to taste

For the caramelized shallots

  • Sliced shallot
  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • 1 splash of red wine
  • 1-2 tbsp of sugar
  • 2 chopped garlic heads
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Clean and scale the fish
  2. Rinse with water
  3. Cut slashes (about 3) in the fish to allow the seasoning to penetrate
  4. In a mortar and pestle, mash the piment bouc with the salt, add some lime juice
  5. Coat the fish with that mixture making sure to add more lime juice as needed. Remember to coat inside the fish as well
  6. Put some lime slices inside and outside the fish
  7. Let the fish marinate for at least three (3) hours, turning it frequently and drizzling it with the seasoning liquid from time to time

For the traditional poisson gros sel

  1. Remove the lime slices from the marinated fish
  2. Place the fish in a shallow pot
  3. Add a tablespoon of oil and cover with water
  4. Cook for about 15 minutes
  5. Remove the fish from the liquid and prepare the court-bouillon

For the court-bouillon

  1. Use the water that cooked the fish
  2. Add the wine, some of the onions, bell pepper, parsley, thyme and a whole piment bouc
  3. Simmer and reduce
  4. Once your court-bouillon is ready, add the remaining chopped onions, bell pepper, parsley and pickled shallots. You don’t want to cook them down at this point as you want to leave them fresh

For the caramelized shallots

  1. Melt the butter in a skillet
  2. Add the garlic, shallots and sugar and cook until the shallots turn brown

  3. At this point, add the red wine
  4. Season with salt and pepper and let caramelize
  5. Set aside

For the grilled poisson gros sel

  1. Remove the lime slices from the marinated fish
  2. Coat a cast iron grill with oil and heat it up
  3. Once the cast iron grill is hot, put the whole fish and grill it on both sides for about five (5) minutes each until fully cooked
  4. Top the fish with the caramelized shallots

For serving

  1. Pour the court-bouillon atop both the traditional poisson gros sel and the grilled one

  2. Serve hot

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