On a recent trip to Negril, I was invited by Chef Anthony Miller, executive chef at Hedonism 11, to join a diving and fishing expedition a few miles off coast. The mission: to enjoy the dive, but, more important, to bring back a sizable amount of lionfish that would be cooked in a myriad of ways to be consumed later that night.
Aside from being an extraordinary chef, Miller is also an experienced, certified scuba-diver. So when we arrived at our designated stop out at sea, he wasted no time grabbing his speargun and heading 30 feet down under in search of the menacing-looking lionfish. Perfect weather and luck were on his side, and less than an hour later, he resurfaced with about a dozen of the spiny, tiger-striped sea creatures.
Lionfish are recent migrants to the Caribbean Sea. Originally from the Pacific Ocean, it is unlikely that your Jamaican grandmother ever saw one before a decade ago. They began appearing in Caribbean waters after a few escaped from a Florida aquarium - and they multiplied so rapidly that local interests in Negril were forced to figure out the best ways to make use of this new marine tourist, turned resident.
The lionfish is light, tender, and flaky, with a texture similar to butterfish. It requires a lot of careful handling and preparation, as their dorsal and pectoral fins are loaded with tiny sharp spears that help them to manoeuvre through water, but are also used for attack and defence. A pair of scissors is probably better than a knife for cleaning this fish. Today, Jamaicans are a lot more comfortable with lionfish than they were a few years ago when the protein was viewed with curiosity and suspicion.
At dinner that evening, the sea-to-table dining experience was exhilarating. Chef Miller and his staff at Hedonism 11 created culinary pandemonium by preparing of the freshly caught lionfish three different ways - lionfish fritters, a savoury, fluffy delicacy that melted in your mouth; a mildly spicy escoveitched lionfish; and an insanely delicious lionfish rundown.
Here is Miller's easy lionfish rundown.
This recipe is for two whole 1/2lb lionfish.
2 whole lionfish, gutted, cleaned and scaled
1 head garlic cloves, chopped
1 small white onion, diced
1tsp of ginger, chopped
8 whole small okra, sliced horizontally
4oz of coconut milk
1 sprig of thyme
2oz whole butter
2tbs of sweet pepper cut in strips
2 cups chicken stock
4 thin slices Scotch bonnet peppers
Salt and pepper
In a large sauce pan, add butter, onions, garlic, ginger and peppers. Add chicken stock, coconut milk and lionfish. Add Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme and okra, allow to simmer for five minutes and cover. Cook for and additional 20 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste and serve.