In one generation, Cabo Verde has leapt from least developed to middle-income country status. But its economy remains fragile. Just over half a million people live on nine scattered islands; a drought or a pandemic such as COVID-19 can quickly tip households into poverty and threaten access to food. Collective memory is still scarred by the pre-independence Desastre da Assistência, or Welfare Disaster, which struck as famine loomed in 1949. On that February day, thousands of Cabo Verdeans had gathered at the welfare office in the capital, Praia. They were queuing for food aid when a wall collapsed on top of them. More than 230 were killed.
Closer to our times, Cabo Verde’s seafood sector acts as a social safety net and export earner. Paradoxically, it’s proving harder to persuade the local hotel sector – the country draws much of its revenue from tourism – to source its fish domestically. FAO has meanwhile been helping Cabo Verde develop sustainable fishing practices and manage its marine ecosystem: at the time of writing, the Dr Fridtjof Nansen, a research ship operated by FAO in a Norwegian-funded programme, had just set off on its third mission to the islands.
The fish trade in Cabo Verde is a gendered business. The men catch and the women sell, either at markets or door to door. The cuisine, in this oceanic nation with ten times more water than land area, has much to offer: it draws on the same blend of Afro-Portuguese and tropical sensibilities that bubble through Cabo Verde’s famed music scene.
In a mortar, make a paste with half of the garlic, salt and pepper, 2 tbsp of oil, the bay leaf and a splash of vinegar. Rub this paste all over the fish fillets and set aside in the fridge for an hour.
While the fish is marinating, peel the bananas and cook them in salted boiling water for 20 minutes or so.
In a large pan, gently heat more olive oil. Crush the remaining garlic roughly and add it to the pan to soften. Add a layer of onion slices, then a layer of tomatoes and herbs. Place the yams, capsicums and kale on top, then top off with the remaining onions, tomatoes and herbs. The tomatoes should moisten the mix, but you can add a little water if needed. Continue to sweat the lot, taking care not to burn it.
Now place the fish on top of the vegetable mix, season the lot generously with salt and pepper, and pour in the lime juice. Add enough water to cover the vegetables, but not the fillets – the fish will cook by absorbing the steam. When the water has come to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer. Replenish the water if necessary, keeping it below the fish line.
When the vegetables look nearly done – always best to taste! – add the diced squash and the pre-cooked bananas cut into thick slices. Pour the coconut milk onto the mix and bring to a boil.
Turn off the heat. Carefully remove the fish fillets to a side dish. Ladle the vegetable chowder into individual bowls, place the fish on top, and serve.
“The Turks are the greatest Mediterranean connoisseurs of the anchovy,” writes the British diplomat and cookery author Alan Davidson. The tone of his Mediterranean Seafood, a book both encyclopaedic and quirkily humane, may seem a little peremptory half a century after publication. Even so, there’s no denying that the Black Sea anchovy – hamsi – is central to Türkiye’s food and socializing culture. The country produces over 170 000 tonnes of anchovies a year, with the season running from November to February: fresh hamsi are a winter delicacy.
Anchovy fisheries are particularly dense in and around the port city of Trabzon. The area is home to Türkiye’s Central Fisheries Research Institute (SUMAE) – but also, more ancestrally, to a seam of anchovy-themed lore: this includes the Horon folk dance, in which shimmying movements are said to replicate the thrashings of the captured hamsi.
As early as the first half of the seventeenth century, the Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi marvelled at Trabzon’s hamsi obsession. Residents – many from the Georgian Laz community – prepared the fish, Evliya wrote, in some 40 different fashions. Among these, he notoriously listed a sweet anchovy baklava. If true, that intriguing recipe appears to have been lost. Then again, the travel literature of the time did not shrink from the odd flight of fancy: Evliya also tells us, for example, that all bodily pains disappear right after consuming anchovy. Our hamsili pilav might not quite hit that target (if it does, we’d like to hear), but should hit a few pleasure centres nonetheless.
Hamsili pilav is unambiguously a party dish; you may think of it as a sea torte. It consists of cooked rice, fragrant with currants and spice, which is then encased in anchovy fillets and cooked again.
If you buy your anchovies whole, you can fillet them by tearing off the head, then running your thumb down the cavity to flush out the innards. When this is done, pinch the top of the backbone between forefinger and thumb and pull down. The bone will come off with the tail, leaving behind naturally butterflied fillets.
Cover the rice with water, leave to stand for half an hour, then strain.
Heat the oil gently in a pan, then tip in the chopped onion and pine nuts and sauté until the onion has become translucent and the pine nuts have coloured, taking care not to burn them.
Add the rice to the pan and sauté for another 3–4 minutes, then pour in the currants, cinnamon, ground pepper, allspice, sugar and a good sprinkling of salt.
Pour the water on top, give it a stir and bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and continue to cook until the water has evaporated. Take the rice off the flame, stir in a handful of chopped parsley and dill, then set aside to cool.
Separately, butter a medium-sized round baking dish. Sprinkle your anchovies with salt and roll them in flour; then, starting from the middle of the baking dish, begin arranging them in a star-shaped pattern, row after row, fanning out till you reach the edges of the dish. Make sure you fill in all the spaces. Continue to line the sides of the dish with anchovies, going up and leaving no space between them, until the anchovies hang off the top of the dish.
Spoon the rice into the anchovy-lined dish until you reach a few millimetres from the top, packing it tightly and smoothing it so it’s flat. Fold the hanging flaps of the anchovies in over the rice, then continue to arrange the remaining anchovies in a star shape, working your way from the edges of the dish to the centre this time, until all the rice is covered.
Bake the hamsili pilav for 25–30 minutes until the anchovies are fried and sizzling. Rest for a few minutes, then turn it out of the baking dish. Carve it up like a cake and serve.
Lying flat in the middle of Europe, Hungary is core carp country – as well as one of the world’s most water-savvy nations. Lake Balaton has the status of an inland sea; the Danube and the Tisza shape the folklore and terroir; and hot springs bubble through Budapest’s cityscape. All of this has built up to a distinct hydrological expertise – for engineering and therapeutic purposes, but also for winemaking and aquaculture. The first fish farms were established here in the 1890s. Add Hungary’s status as the home of paprika, and you’ll find these strands gastronomically synthesized in the hot red halászlé. Historically cooked by fisherfolk riverside, halászlé is now present on tables around the country.
The soup has its variations: the version associated with the town of Szeged, on the Tisza, involves a mix of carp, pikeperch and catfish – as opposed to the carp-only Danubian iteration. Fish roe is sometimes incorporated for extra layering and texture, as are, occasionally, egg noodles. But what halászlé boils down to is a rich, spicy stock made with chopped freshwater fish (skin, bones and all), tomatoes and hot peppers. The soup is then strained and augmented with the finer bits of the fish. Much like in the Sichuanese hotpot, carp’s sturdy flavour stands up well to the fiery broth.
Serve the halászlé with chunks of white bread, good for dunking and soaking, and a glass of Riesling or white wine spritzer (fröccs).
Have the fish gutted and filleted – but keep head, tail, fins and bones as well. (Or do it yourself, but this could be messy.) Cut the fillets into 3-cm thick slices. Salt them and reserve, well refrigerated.
In a large saucepan, fry the chopped onion in oil till golden. Add the paprika and quickly stir to coat the onion, ensuring it doesn’t burn.
Add the fish head, bones and other odds and ends and cover with water. Season with salt and pepper, bring to the boil and let simmer for an hour or so, until the flesh comes off the bone.
When the broth is ready and flavoursome, strain through a colander. Throw out the fish ends, but keep any bits of flesh that have fallen off or that you can pick from the carcass. Grind this extra flesh, manually or mechanically, and pour it back into the broth to thicken it.
Return the broth to the pan and bring back to the boil. Now add the fish fillets to the broth, together with the chillies and the tomatoes. Turn the heat down and simmer for another 15 minutes or so till the fillets are soft. Don’t stir too much, or the fillets might collapse. Serve hot.
Uzbekistan features cooking that is frank and fragrant, a moreish crossroads of Slavic, Turkic and Asian culinary traditions. Dill meets coriander here, while lamb and raisins join parsnips and beets. Uzbek melons once made precious gifts for caliphs and czars. So popular is the nation’s cuisine across the former Soviet space that Moscow alone boasts hundreds of Uzbek restaurants.
That said, fish does not loom large in Uzbek diets. The fisheries and aquaculture sector only employs a few thousand people, in a population of nearly 35 million; production and per capita consumption are low. But what there is, is worth the stop. In this dish served at roadside eateries, the carp is cut to order, deep-fried in bubbling oil (be very, very careful when cooking this at home!) and immediately smothered in garlic marinade and herbs. The clash of the hot and the wet, the sizzling and the raw, the oily and the fresh – all shot through with the tang of allium – will have you begging for seconds.
Slice the fish across the cavity into V-shaped pieces. (This is known as a “darne” cut.) Reserve.
Mix a third of the garlic with half the dill (and other herbs if using) and a pinch of salt. Roll the fish pieces in the mix and leave in the fridge for an hour.
Steep another third of the garlic in some warm water, adding a bit of salt and vinegar, to make the marinade. Chill in the fridge.
Put the tomatoes and the capsicum through a grater or grinder. Add more dill, some water and the squeeze of tomato paste if using, and stir to make the dip. Season as needed.
Now heat cooking oil in a deep saucepan or wok. Take the fish pieces out of the fridge, dust them with a little flour if using (you don’t have to, but it will add extra crispiness) and, once the oil bubbles, fry till golden. You may want to do this in stages to avoid a drop in the oil temperature. When done, take out the fish pieces and place them briefly on kitchen paper to drain off the excess fat.
Almost immediately – or as soon as possible – douse the fried fish in the garlic marinade. Ideally, the pieces of carp should sizzle as the garlicky liquid hits them.
Sprinkle the remaining dill and any other herbs over the fish. Serve quickly with the tomato dip as a side dish.
Moulded by rivers and home to the mighty Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta, Bangladesh is one of the world’s top producers from inland fisheries. The country has a labour force to match: over a million people work in the sector. Fish is the most widely consumed food from animal sources, and carp dominates aquaculture. The popular saying has it that mache bhate Bangal – fish and rice make a Bengali.
In its authentic incarnation, the recipe featured here calls for a carp species called rui or rohu (Labeo rohita). Native to South Asia, rui is popular from Pakistan to Viet Nam. This, however, is specifically a Chakma dish, originating among Bangladesh’s Indigenous minorities. It’s also a fine example of cucina povera that shines through vibrant seasoning, rather than through a multitude of ingredients or complexity of treatment.
If you’re cooking this outside the region, substitute any type of carp for the rui – or indeed, any none-too-bland white fish. Serve the mach kola with (you’ve guessed it) rice.
Blend all the vegetables with salt and turmeric and rub this mix all over the fish. Leave to stand in the fridge for an hour.
Pour the oil into a deep pan and add the fish and marinade, with enough water to almost cover the fish.
Cook on a medium flame for 10-15 minutes, until the fish has become tender and the water has reduced by two-thirds. Chop the coriander and sprinkle it over the finished dish as the rice absorbs the fragrant sauce.
Mboto – sometimes rendered as mbutu or mboutou – is the Lingala name for a fish of the genus Distichodus, endemic to central Africa. Its members frequently resemble the stripier species of carp; some are exported for their ornamental value. In both the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – but also in Cameroon and the Central African Republic – mboto provides a vital source of protein. With access to refrigeration scarce, the fish is often smoked. One survey found that in 2019, nearly nine in ten households in the city of Brazzaville were consuming smoked mboto and similar river fish at least once a week.
This recipe, collected from the riverside municipality of Nsele, just east of Kinshasa, uses the fish fresh. Liboke (again, a Lingala word) is the method of cooking fish, and other foods too, by wrapping them in leaves. These may be banana or maranta, a plant whose root is eaten and whose sturdy, decorative green parts are commonly used as packaging. The wrapping is discarded at the end, so any other thick leaves or barbecue-proof parchment paper will do: the idea is to keep the fish moist, even as it absorbs the charred scent of the barbecue. (Yes, you will ideally need a barbecue for what is essentially an easy party dish; as for the fish, substitute either common carp, other freshwater fish or, ultimately, any fish you like.) Count 200 grams of fish per person – overall quantities will depend on the size of your party and that of your barbecue.
Clean or have the fish cleaned and gutted thoroughly, discarding fin and bones. Dice it all up.
Chop up all vegetables and herbs, together with the chilli if using – de-seeded if you like your food mildly spicy. Pour over the diced fish and mix well, adding some oil and a bit of water. Season with salt.
Divide the fish, together with the marinade, into portions and place each portion onto a leaf or section of parchment paper. Gather the leaf or paper around the fish, leaving it space to breathe, and spear the package closed with a toothpick or chopstick, or – if using paper – tie it up with string.
Place on the hot barbecue for 10 minutes or so. Check one package to make sure you’re not overcooking it – the fish should keep its juiciness. Serve the liboke with cassava, known locally as chikwang, or mashed sweet potato.
Afghanistan’s legacy of upheaval and the civil collapse of 2021 have combined with flooding to cause tremendous food insecurity. At the time of writing, FAO estimated that nearly half the country’s people – 20 million or so – were facing acute hunger. Four-fifths of those most at risk are in the countryside: the better-resourced cities have maintained a degree of economic life, which includes lively fish markets (machli bazaar). Here, as scalers speedily clean the fish, much of it imported from Pakistani farms, cooks chop it up and throw it into bubbling cauldron pots.
Our own recipe features a more affluent and urbane version of Afghan fish fare: it requires some dedication in securing the ingredients, though subcontinental grocery shops will routinely store most. The charcoal will be sold in barbecue bags: in many parts of the world, these may not be available through the year. If that’s the case, save this dish for a summer’s day – you wouldn’t want to miss out on its beguiling smokiness.
Place the fish pieces in a bowl. Add salt and lemon juice. Leave to marinate for 10–15 minutes.
Whizz the onion, garlic, ginger and cashew nuts in a blender, adding enough water to make a paste.
Separately, warm the ghee in a wok or non-stick pan. Scoop in the mixed paste and sauté for 3–4 minutes or until fragrant.
Add the pureed tomatoes and cook down, over a medium flame, for 8–10 minutes. Add in the chilli powder and powdered coriander. Season with salt and bring the mixture to a boil.
Now put in the fish pieces and, depending on their thickness, cook for another 5 minutes or a little longer. Throw in the fenugreek leaves or dried fenugreek and fresh cream. Mix well, then turn off the heat.
Separately, put the pieces of charcoal in a steel bowl, then place the bowl inside the wok or pan, making sure not to mix it with the food. Add the cloves over the coal. In a small milk pan, warm up the remaining ghee, then pour that over the cloves and coal. Cover the entire dish and allow the smoke to infuse it for 3–4 minutes.
Remove the coal bowl from the wok. Your Afghan fish is ready to serve, garnished with extra ginger and fresh coriander.
Smoked catfish is much enjoyed in Guinea. The country’s late president, Lansana Conté, is reputed to have always travelled with a handy supply of it. Guinean expatriates are used to receiving shipments of it from family back home. Unlike most catfish seen globally, the species used here is a marine one, Arius africanus, known in French as mâchoiron – or “big-jawed one” – and in the local Susu language as konkoé. Touré gbél designates the sauce, liquid enough to be halfway to a soup, which accompanies the fish: its colour and warmth are derived from the red palm oil that is also present in Afro-Brazilian cuisine. (For a Brazilian recipe involving the local version of palm oil, see Amazonian fish stew.)
This dish would be served quite spicy in Guinea: dial the chilli content down – or up, for that matter – to suit your taste. The recipe calls for manioc, but if this is hard to come by or too arduous to prepare, replace it with sweet potatoes or yams.
Wash the fish well in warm water to soften it, then flake it into bite-sized pieces (or a little larger). Heat up the oil in a saucepan, add the aubergines, skin on, and sear them on all sides. Turn the flame down a little and continue to cook the aubergines.
Grind the onion, garlic, tomatoes and herbs in a mortar or mixer, with salt, pepper and chillies if using. Take the aubergines from the pan when they’re soft, making sure you don’t burn yourself, add them to the mortar or mixer, and blend them in.
Return the ground mix, aubergines included, to the hot oil. Add enough water to obtain a loose sauce and bring to a low boil. Then add the flaked fish to the pan, together with the rest of the vegetables. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or so, or until the potatoes are done.
Adjust the konkoé for seasoning and serve over white rice.
Southeast Asia is home to the Mekong giant catfish, a critically endangered species in the wild. This 3-metre-long fish, to quote one American Scientist piece from 2004, “grows as fast as a bull and looks a bit like a refrigerator”. While official protection has been insufficient to stamp out poaching, the last few years have seen stepped-up efforts, particularly in Viet Nam, to limit illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Viet Nam is one of the world’s aquaculture powerhouses: it supplies ninety percent of all catfish imports into the United States of America.
Farmed basa (Pangasius bocourti), commonly sold as “pangasius”, is consumed in myriad ways across Southeast Asia. So is the “walking” or Philippine catfish (Clarias batrachus) . In Thailand, the famed cookery teacher and writer Srisamorn Kongpun makes spicy stir-fried catfish (pad prik khing pla-dook foo) by crumbling the fish and sprinkling it into hot oil, then pressing it together in the pan to form a sheet, and further cooking this sheet on both sides: the method ensures that the fish is crispy within and without. Our own recipe comes from neighbouring Myanmar. In it, the catfish – sourced from Lake Inle, rich in endemic species – is steamed and smothered in fragrant lemongrass, coriander and ginger.
Toast the rice lightly in a dry pan, making sure not to burn it, then grind it into a coarse powder.
Cut the fish fillets into strips. Separately, crush the garlic with the ginger, chop the spring onions, coriander and lemongrass (discard the outer skin of the lemongrass if it’s too tough), and add in the toasted rice, mixing well.
Toss the pieces of fish through the mix. Divide this fish mix into two portions and place each portion onto a banana leaf or section of parchment. Bring up the corners of each leaf or section of parchment to form a parcel, then spear through the top with a skewer to close the parcel.
Steam the fish parcels over boiling water for 15 minutes or so. Serve the contents over rice or on its own, as a warm salad.
Unless you get to cook this umami-rich recipe in its homeland, you may need to visit a specialist grocery shop or root around online for much of what goes into the pot. Some of the ingredients – the smoked fish, red palm oil and fermented locust beans – sit on the western African culinary continuum; others are more specifically Nigerian. The beans, known as dadawa (or iru in Yoruba), are a punchy, fermented taste enhancer analogous to miso, Marmite or Vegemite, yet also evocative of shrimp paste. Ground crayfish, another local condiment, further brings out these fishy notes. The fluted pumpkin leaves (ugu) bristle with vitamin C and iron, on top of their pleasingly green tinge and bitter sapidity. The eponymous egusi, finally, refers to a nutty-flavoured melon or gourd seed, used as a protein-rich thickener.
Egusi soup is traditionally eaten with “swallow” – Nigerian dough balls made with either yam or cassava flour – but rice is an established alternative. Or you may sacrifice geographic accuracy and enjoy your egusi with chunks of crusty baguette.
In a mixer, blend the capsicum and habanero with half a chopped onion and a little water to loosen the mix. Reserve.
Separately, blend another half of chopped onion with the egusi and the crayfish. Set aside.
In a saucepan, heat the palm oil and gently fry the remaining chopped onion till translucent. Add the dadawa and simmer for another minute, then pour in the pepper and onion mix and cook until the mixture forms a loose paste.
Add the egusi, crayfish and onion mix to the pan. Thin out the mix with a little water, throwing in the stock cube and making sure it dissolves.
Finally, add in the chopped ugu leaves and the smoked catfish. Cook for 15–20 minutes, seasoning to taste and adding more water if needed. Your egusi soup is ready to serve when it’s achieved the consistency of a liquid stew or dense broth.
Fish consumption is still low in Zimbabwe. Livestock forms the basis of subsistence farming here; commercial agriculture is dominated by land crops such as tobacco. But the potential is great: the waters of the Zambezi River system, which include Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made reservoir, are fish-rich and lend themselves well to aquaculture. FAO’s efforts are mostly aimed at upgrading Zimbabwe’s tilapia sector, seen as the most promising in nutritional and commercial terms. Meanwhile, local species of catfish – particularly the vundu (Heterobranchus longifilis) and sharptooth (Clarias gariepinus) – are generously sized, meaty and popular. A farmed hybrid of these, the Hetero-clarias, is also gaining ground. As elsewhere, use any catfish you like for this no-fuss recipe: basa/pangasius would be easy to source. Take the quantities listed here as a suggestion: this is tasty but largely empirical culinary territory, with calibration anything but prescriptive.
Crush 3 cloves of garlic, mix with salt and pepper, and rub the mix all over and inside the fish. Fry the fish in a pan until brown on both sides (sprinkle it with flour previously for a crustier feel, if desired) and set aside.
Add more oil to the pan if needed, scrubbing in the sticky bits of fish with a spatula, and sauté the onion and remaining 2 cloves of garlic until tender, then add the chopped tomatoes and curry powder. Cook the mixture until soft. Taste it: you’re looking for a sweet-spicy roast aroma. Adjust the seasoning as needed. If the tomatoes are too acidic, sprinkle a little sugar into the sauce.
Place the fried fish in the sauce and baste gently on a low flame until it’s warmed through. Serve over rice or potatoes, and perhaps some raw or wilted spinach for greenery relief.
Norway is an A-list fisheries and aquaculture power. In 2021, it exported nearly USD 14 billion of fish and seafood products – a second place in aggregate terms, but a towering world record at more than USD 2 500 per capita. On one level, this correlates with the country’s general wealth, economic performance and sound environmental stewardship. But it also reflects historic choices shaped by physical and human geography. Norway has one of the world’s longest coastlines; a craggy, mountainous terrain, with little space for agriculture; and a sparsely distributed people to whom navigation was, for centuries on end, inseparable from life.
Norwegians have therefore fished cod for countless generations – since long before they even began to think of themselves as Norwegians. In northern Norway in particular, cod is a staple on Christmas eve – for those who’ll have fish rather than meat, that is, as the two traditions coexist. Our recipe is (kindly and consensually) pilfered from the Norwegian Seafood Council, a public body under the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, headquartered in the northern city of Tromsø: it blends a certain Arctic trimness with Norway’s culture of festive domesticity.
Married with the spices baked into the cod, the sauce bathes the dish in memories of mulled wine: go for a light-bodied red. You may choose to ignore the sauce if you’re not a drinker – though bear in mind that almost all alcohol will have been boiled out of it.
Preheat the oven to 150° C. In the meantime, score the skin of the cod fillets, sprinkle salt all over them, and leave them to rest for 10 minutes.
In an oven-proof dish, pour the olive oil and add the spices and bay leaf, the halved cloves of garlic, the crushed peppercorns, the ginger and the orange peel, disposing them evenly along the bottom of the dish.
Rinse the cod fillets, pat them dry and place them in the oven dish over the spiced oil. Bake for 15 minutes or so. When they’re done – they should be moist inside – gently strip back the skin. (You can save the skin and crisp it up in the oven for a snack or discard it.) Keep the fillets warm, either in the switched-off oven with the door open or in a dish covered with cling film, making sure they don’t dry out.
While the cod fillets are in the oven, boil the carrot and swede until tender, with the rosemary and lemon. Strain the vegetables well. Puree the carrot and swede, separately, and keep warm. Discard the rosemary and lemon.
Now (or while the vegetables are boiling if you’ve managed to synchronize everything) make the sauce. In a small saucepan, soften the chopped shallots with butter, taking care not to burn them. When they’re soft and melting, add the wine and fish stock, and reduce by half over a low-to-medium flame.
Strain the sauce , then pour it back into the saucepan. Add the butter and whisk it in to thicken the sauce and make it glossy.
Time to serve. For a modern brasserie touch, cut a disc of swede mash for each diner and place it in a deep plate. Then cut a disc of carrot mash (this should be a bit thinner) and place it on top, so that you end up with a double-layered mash. Pour some wine sauce around the base of the mash. Finally, place the cod fillet on top of the mash.
Saint Lucia sits like a teardrop along the Lesser Antilles chain. The residents of this lush island are overwhelmingly descendants of slaves – officially English-speaking, but with French Creole elements flowing through the culture and speech. Colonial Saint Lucia changed hands for the last time in the early years of the nineteenth century. Having reclaimed the island from France, the British reinstated slavery, abolished less than a decade before in the wake of the French Revolution. Boilers that produced molasses still dot the Saint Lucian landscape, rusty mementoes of the brutal sugar plantation days.
With the cod trade booming in the 1700s, here as elsewhere in the region, salt cod became the default food fed to slaves. Mark Kurlansky notes in his book that salt, by drawing the moisture out of the fish, reduces its weight by four-fifths: this slashed transportation costs. And although Caribbean islands only absorbed the cheapest cuts and cures, cod’s high protein content kept the slaves working the fields from first to last light.
Slavery did eventually end in the 1830s. But the tradition of eating salt cod – known here as saltfish – endured. “Fig” may be misleading to non-Caribbean audiences: it refers to banana, Saint Lucia’s main crop and export. This recipe is the island’s national dish.
Boil the saltfish for a good 20 minutes to rid it of the salt and rehydrate it. Taste and repeat if necessary. (Alternatively, you may soak the fish in cold water for at least a day in the fridge.)
Drain the fish, pat it dry and cool it. Remove the bones, using tweezers if needed, then use a fork to shred the flesh, discarding the skin.
Trim the top and bottom of the bananas, then cut lengthwise into the skin. Place the bananas in a deep pan, cover with water, add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Continue to boil the bananas for 15 minutes or so, until the skin has darkened and they’re soft inside. When they’re done and no longer too hot, peel them and keep them warm. (You may place the bananas back in the cooking water to ensure they stay soft.)
In a deep frying pan or a wok, warm up some vegetable oil and fry the onions, garlic and peppers over a medium flame. Now add the shredded fish and the herbs, and fry further. Season to taste. The fish should be warmed through and even a little crispy, but the dish should remain richly moist.
To serve, slice the boiled bananas medium thick, arrange the slices on a serving plate, and spoon the fish mix over them.
Like its northern island neighbours, Suriname spent more than two centuries as a slave colony – of the Netherlands in this instance, which has bequeathed the modern nation its official language. In Suriname too, salt cod was a slave’s staple and remains a culinary trope. But in this country where Afro-Caribbean influences meld with those of South America’s native communities – not to mention more recent Indian, Chinese and Near Eastern elements – cassava (yuca) joins the fish on the plate. Alternatively, you may find the fish served in a broodje, a Dutch-style sandwich. The word bakkeljauw itself attests to Suriname’s fusion of cultural and linguistic inputs: it is, of course, a Dutch rendition of the Portuguese bacalhau. As in our (not dissimilar) Saint Lucian recipe – and unlike in Mediterranean countries, where the salt cod is usually soaked for two or three days in cold water before cooking – the Surinamese way is to boil the salt out of the dried fish, and then fry it.
To make the cassava chips, cut into your tubers lengthwise and peel off the bark, then chop them into chunky chip shapes. Rinse them well, bring to the boil a saucepan of salted water, and boil the cassava fries in it till soft, but not disintegrating. Throw out the water, brush the cassava chunks with olive oil, and roast them in the oven at 220° C until golden, turning them over halfway through. (Reduce the temperature a little if you have a fan-assisted oven.)
Boil the cod in (unsalted) water until it sheds the salt and the water runs clear. You may need to change the water and start again, depending on how intensely cured the fish is.
Drain the fish, and discard the water. When the fish is cool enough to handle, remove skin and bones, then shred it into flakes.
Heat the olive oil in a pan and sweat the onions in it, then add garlic and chilli, then the shredded fish. Taste and adjust for salt if needed. Stir-fry for a few minutes, then add the celery, diced tomatoes and tomato puree. Stir again.
Serve when the bakkeljauw is warmed through, with a squeeze of lime and a grind of fresh pepper. Plate it up with the cassava fries, with more chilli or a pepper relish on the side if desired, and maybe some chopped boiled egg.
Red-roofed Struga, on the banks of Lake Ohrid, was once known as Enchalon, the ancient Greek word for “eel”. The town’s symbolic relationship to the fish remains close: in 2010, the sculptor Sergei Cingulovski honoured the eel by creating a semi-submerged wood installation, snaking along the lake shore for nearly 200 metres. But it’s only in the last few years that efforts have begun to create eel passes and restore historic migration routes: starting in the late 1960s, damming of the River Drim, which connects Lake Ohrid to the Adriatic, had severed the fish’s ultimate access to the Sargasso Sea.
Divide the eel mentally into two halves lengthwise. Make deep incisions into one side of the fish, all the way through, every 5 centimetres or so. The idea is to keep the eel in one piece but to increase its deployed length, like an origami garland with one continuous and one tasselled side.
Line the bottom of a round clay dish with the bay leaves, then place the eel over the leaves and arrange it in a spiral, cut side facing out, so that is covers the surface of the dish. Peel and slightly crush the garlic and stick one clove between each incision in the eel.
Pour 100 ml of water over the eel. Place the dish in a preheated oven, at medium temperature. Bake for 20 minutes to tenderize the fish.
Take the pot out of the oven and discard the fatty liquid. Add the chopped parsley, pour in the vinegar and tomato sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Bake for an additional 2 hours at 180 °C. Your eel should come out half soft, half sticky and charred.
The Bahamas may number just 400 000 people, but the span of its islands gives it a diversity of culinary traditions associated with much larger countries – and a similar degree of terroir awareness. Technically composed of three islands but forming a single territorial unit, Andros is big on space, low on residents, and altogether quite special. Its ecosystem includes one of the world’s longest reefs.
Logically enough in this grouper-friendly environment, “berl” (boil) fish hails from here – a sticky, soupy stew that uses the pieces of fish you might usually discard: in them lies its deliciousness. By the same logic of geographic precision, Bahamians will insist that their onions come from the island of Exuma, reputed for its peppery alliums. You will not get those outside the Bahamas, but you may be able to approximate the flavour by adding freshly crushed black peppercorns.
The fish itself, traditionally grouper, can be substituted with snapper, sea bass or cod: just make sure it’s a decent size. (You can save the fillets for another recipe.) Berl fish would be served in the Bahamas with johnny bread, a sweet-savoury cornmeal bake that’s halfway to a biscuit, or else – the faster and easier option – with grits or polenta.
Squeeze one lime over the fish pieces and rub them with sea salt, then wash them well under cold running water until the juices run clear.
In a heavy-bottomed pot, sweat the onions, potatoes, bacon and chilli gently with the butter, so that they’re coated in melted fat, but not sticky or burned.
Season with sea salt and crushed pepper and add the fish. Pour in just enough water to cover the fish halfway. This will ensure a savoury broth. Cover with a lid and simmer for 12 minutes or so, checking the potatoes with a fork for softness. Squeeze in the remaining lime, adjust for seasoning, and you’re done.
Preheat the oven to 180° C.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and salt, then the butter in small chunks. Knead it all in.
Now add the eggs, oil, water and milk. Mix everything into a batter. The mix should be softer than if you were baking bread, but harder than if you were baking cake, so aim for a hybrid. Moisten further as needed.
Grease an oven tin, pour the batter in and bake for about half an hour. When it’s still fairly soft, remove from the oven, brush the mix with the melted butter, and bake some more until the top is firm and golden. Rest the johnny cake for a few minutes before turning out and serving.
Thieboudienne, which you may find spelled in a variety of ways – it’s pronounced tchebou-DJEN – stands for “fish and rice” in Wolof. – It is to Senegal what couscous is to the countries of the Maghreb. On the face of it, this national dish is a straightforward mix of protein, vegetables and starch. But it’s a work of many steps; it comes with a stack of lateral ingredients; and such is its sense of festive informality, and so deeply exuberant its flavours, that you’ll want to live inside it.
Thieboudienne is historically associated with Saint-Louis, in northern Senegal. A political and economic centre in colonial times, the city has long ceded pre-eminence on all fronts to Dakar. But it remains much loved for its UNESCO-listed architecture and languid ocean feel. Its fisherfolk, though, are being squeezed by dwindling stocks and rising sea levels. You’ll often find thieboudienne made with chicken or beef these days, either under the influence of couscous, or just because there’s less fish and more meat to go around than in the old days. Our recipe, as per this book’s remit, sticks to the original. The type of fish is not prescriptive – but it should be a white ocean fish.
You’ll also need a handful of dried bissap blanc (white hibiscus flowers), which can be sourced online or from West African grocery shops; and a piece of guedj, a smoked salted fish used as a condiment: substitute other strong cured fish, or even a couple of anchovies. Finally, a full traditional rendition of thieboudienne would include yet, a dried, fermented sea snail added for pungency, but this you can omit or replace. There are, in fact, as many versions of thieboudienne as there are spellings. Some feature aubergine; ours doesn’t, but is otherwise fairly complex. Certain seasonings are split into two, with one half cooked longer than the other for added layering of flavour. Feel free to simplify things depending on availability – that of ingredients, and your own.
First, make the stuffing for the fish. In a mixer, blend the parsley with the spring onions, garlic cloves, dried chilli, salt and pepper. Season and stuff the fish, rubbing any leftover parsley mix over them, then slice them into 2.5-cm pieces through the bone.
Fry the fish pieces in a large pan with a little oil, in batches if needed. The fish should be golden on the outside, but not cooked through. Drain the excess oil.
Separately, heat more oil in a large saucepan. Add the sliced onions, one of the chopped habaneros, the sea snail (or fish sauce or miso), and a little salt. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, until the onion starts to caramelize. Now add the tomato concentrate and cook 10–15 minutes until the paste begins to form lumps. Add a little water to keep from burning.
Tip in the cherry tomatoes and keep stirring for 5 minutes, add 3.5 litres of water and bring to the boil. Season and add the carrots, turnips, manioc, cabbage, half the dried fish or anchovies, the bundle of hibiscus and the soaked tamarind flesh, and leave to bubble gently for 15 minutes.
Place the fish pieces, the okras and the remaining chopped habanero into the pot and cook gently for a further 10 minutes, then remove fish and vegetables to a large bowl. Cover with cling film and keep warm.
Cook your rice two-thirds of the way in a rice cooker or on the hob, adding the remaining half of the dried fish or anchovies. When the rice has absorbed the water, but retains a crunch, remove 3 or 4 ladles of the sauce, then place the rice in the saucepan where most of the sauce still is. Finish cooking the rice in the sauce, so that you end up with rice that’s rich and slick, but not soupy.
In a milk pan, heat up the small quantity of sauce removed from the main pot, dissolving the shrimp paste in it, and adding the sugar. Plate up the rice onto a tray, and spoon the warmed-up sauce over it. Arrange the vegetables over the rice, and place the fish steaks on top to serve.
Soused herring is closely associated with Vlaggetjesdag (Flag Day) in mid-June, when tens of thousands of people mob the fish stands of Scheveningen, The Hague’s beach suburb. There are residual religious overtones to the festival, but it mostly involves herring-themed revelry. Participants chomp on their fish in the least refined way possible, by holding it up by the tail, high above their heads, and lowering it into their mouths, studded with bits of raw onion.
Maatjesharing is literally “maiden herring”. The fish must be young, caught between late May and early June, when it’s just starting to put on some fat after a winter diet of scarce plankton pickings. (The first catch of the season is auctioned off and the proceeds donated to charity.) At this stage of development, the herring is free of milt or roe, and its taste less pronounced. The fish is first “gibbed” – a gutting method perfected in the Low Countries in the Middle Ages. The gills and some of the innards are removed, but not the liver or pancreas: these go on releasing enzymes that round off the flavour. “Sousing” refers to a mild brining cure that hovers between savoury and sweet: it can consist of salt, vinegar and sugar, or else the vinegar could be replaced with cider, or even, on occasion, with tea.
Our recipe is a modified version of what you might get on Vlaggetjesdag, but you may vary things to taste – by adding capers, for example, and sour cream or mayonnaise. Prepare this a day or two in advance.
Combine all marinade ingredients, making sure the sugar is dissolved. Place the fish fillets in the marinade, cover with cling film, and leave in the fridge overnight or longer.
When it’s almost time to serve, take the fish out of the marinade. Reduce the marinade by about half over a low flame, then strain.
Dice the onion and green apple. Plate up the herring fillets, sprinkle them with the diced apple and onion, and pour the warm strained marinade on top. Serve with boiled potatoes, and maybe parsley or chervil.
With some 400 000 tonnes in 2020, Japan is one of the world’s top mackerel producers, supplying both regional and African markets. Domestic demand too remains strong, absorbing around a third of the output.
Fittingly in a culture that prizes the visuals of food, sashimi pieces sold at counters in Japan are sometimes referred to as hikarimono, or shiny things. This elegantly spare recipe, while not using raw fish, requires no heat cooking; it preserves the skin of the fish to create a burst of iridescence on the plate. Cured mackerel would normally form part of a wider dining experience. Serve it as an appetizer, perhaps. Or, if you intend to make this a single-course meal, adjust the quantities to suit.
The variety used here is the “big-eyed” chub Pacific mackerel, measuring around 30 centimetres or a bit more in length. Rice vinegar is available from many supermarkets or speciality Asian food stores: you may substitute apple cider vinegar to replicate its mild flavour. Kelp is a thick, ropelike seaweed. One of the main ingredients in dashi, the savoury broth that acts as the base note of Japanese gastronomy, kelp is usually sold desiccated: by this stage, it resembles a leather strap or piece of tree bark. Replace the kelp with other seaweed if unavailable, or omit it if you must. Its absence will render your marinade less complex – and, incidentally, less rich in vitamins K and B9, which are good for your blood – but your dish won’t suffer irredeemably.
To fillet the fish (if buying it whole), lay it on its side, chop off the head if present, and cut off the tail and dorsal fin with a pair of scissors. Slice a sharp flat knife through the fish lengthwise, working it gradually to separate the flesh neatly from the backbone. When you have your first fillet, turn the fish over and slice just above the backbone once more to get your second fillet. Discard the bone. Pin bones should be removed too, by cutting them out in a long strip. (Mackerel flesh is too delicate to withstand the repeated assault of tweezers.)
Remove and discard the outer, transparent skin. To do this, grab one corner of the fillet and peel back in one swoop, as if stripping the plastic film off a new mobile phone.
Douse each fillet in sugar on both sides, then again in salt, ensuring that it’s totally covered. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. The fish will release excess water.
Wash off the sugar and salt and dry the fillets on kitchen paper.
Mix the remaining clean sugar with the vinegar and kelp in a largish bowl. When the sugar has melted and the kelp has softened somewhat, soak the fillets in the marinade. Refrigerate again for up to an hour, or until the flesh of the mackerel has turned a paler shade of pink.
Take out the fish and pat it dry. Cut the fillets into medium slices, aiming for a thickness of a little under 1 cm. Serve with soy sauce and wasabi, or with salt and lemon or grapefruit.
Mackerel tops surveys as the Republic of Korea’s favourite fish. It is also a mascot of Busan, the country’s second city. Every October, the southern metropolis dedicates a dazzling beach festival to it.
You will likely skip the fireworks when you cook this recipe at home, but your taste buds will be in a festive mood: it has none of the sobriety of the previous dish. Rather than showcase the main ingredient through muted intervention, it floods it with colours and flavours: this approach to godeung-eo – as the chub mackerel is known here – is brash, spicy and exuberantly aromatic.
This recipe also (marginally) uses kelp – though as in the Japanese dish, you can substitute another strong seaweed. The use of persimmon is a modern twist on the classic recourse to sugar: the fruit is rich in antioxidants, and in vitamins A and C. If no persimmon juice is available, make do with mango juice, adding a dash of lemon to dial up the astringency.The radish referenced here is the sturdy, white-and-pale-green daikon (or, to the Koreans, mu), common in most Asian food stores. If none can be had, try turnip instead.
Bring the dried anchovies and the kelp to the boil in 700 ml of water. Turn the heat down and boil the liquid for a further 5 minutes to make half a litre of pungent stock.
Take a separate pot and line its bottom with the sliced radish. Pour in a generous splash of soy sauce and the stock. Add the chopped ginger, the sections of green onion and the chilli pepper and bring to the boil.
When the liquid has boiled, put in the washed mackerel, the white onion, the chopped ginger, 1 further tbsp of soy sauce, the powdered chilli, the persimmon juice and the cooking wine. Boil down for another 10 minutes.
Throw in the chopped green onion and chopped basil leaves. Give the dish another 30 seconds on the boil.
Turn off the flame, transfer to a bowl and decorate with the sesame seeds before serving.
Way down from Japan or the Republic of Korea in the prosperity league tables, Burkina Faso is landlocked, with a poor record of food security and nutrition. Diets are largely based on agricultural staple crops; beef is the main source of animal protein. Yet here too, urbanization is driving a taste for fish: grill shacks serving the stuff attract large numbers of Burkinabès.
As aquaculture makes modest inroads into the country’s arid landscapes, more fish, especially tilapia, is starting to come from domestic sources. Still, the horse mackerel used in this recipe would be imported frozen from Senegal or another of the region’s coastal states – or, as is ever more the case in Africa, from Japan.
Moringa (Moringa oleifeira) is a plant chock-full of vitamins A and C, calcium and potassium. Its reputation as a malnutrition-buster explains its popularity in South Asia and much of Africa – and increasingly in the west, where it’s more commonly sold as a health supplement. The leaves are often described as tasting earthily sharp: from a western perspective, their flavour falls somewhere between rocket (arugula) and spinach. They are often, though not necessarily, ground up before being added to dishes; in this case, powdered matcha green tea would make a good substitute. If you prefer a grainier, less processed texture – again, assuming moringa is unavailable – use kale, or a mix of kale and spinach, adding some arugula for a tart, bitter kick. Throw in the arugula at the very end, allowing it to just wilt from the warmth of the dish: do not cook it, or it will turn to inedible mulch.
This recipe, which combines frying and stewing, ingeniously uses two fish. One is served whole, the other flaked and sweated with the other ingredients to form a hearty sauce.
Fry both mackerel in olive oil. You may want to do this one fish at time to ensure the oil stays hot. Take out, pat the grease away with kitchen paper, and set aside.
Boil the moringa leaves in salted water. Remove them with a slotted spoon and leave to cool. When safe to handle, squeeze out the water and reserve the leaves.
Tear the flesh off one of the two fried mackerel, and place it in a pan together with the onions, tomatoes, parsley and celery. Add 6 tbsp of olive oil, mix well and warm the mixture up on a medium flame.
Add the boiled moringa leaves and season with salt and pepper.
Simmer the dish for half an hour or so, until you have a dense, rough sauce. When ready, plate up the whole mackerel with some plain boiled rice, and top with the sauce.
In this take on the spicy dish known in Tigrinya, the main language of Eritrea, as tibsi, fish replaces the more common beef. Tibsi is itself a faster – but no less rewarding – spin on the long-simmered tsebhi, much enjoyed across the Horn of Africa.
Eritrean statistics are published sporadically and can be hard to come by; FAO has no reports of commercial aquaculture being practised in the country. Conversely, its position along the Red Sea – Eritrea is largely a coastal state – gives the nation ample access to waters rich in mackerel, tuna, grouper, snapper, sardines and anchovies.
In its purest version, this recipe requires spiced clarified butter, which is obtained by boiling, and then straining, the butter with chopped onions and ground garlic, turmeric, basil, nutmeg, ginger, pepper, fenugreek, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. The result is as entrancing as it sounds, and gives Eritrean and Ethiopian cuisines their distinctive aromatic warmth. You’re welcome to have a go, or else use plain butter or oil as a frying base and add a reduced combination of spices during the cooking process. The berberè mix, on the other hand, is hard to do without: get it from a specialist shop, or make your own by grinding together chilli, coriander seeds, allspice, nigella and (again) fenugreek.
Bear in mind, all that being said, that in Eritrea tibsi is viewed as close to fast food: many of the ingredients would be ready to hand. Elsewhere, you could find yourself sourcing and grinding an array of condiments not once but twice, as well as fiddling with the butter. The staple injera bread, a spongy sourdough pancake, is mouthwatering but takes 2–3 days to ferment. Instructions on how to make it are given below – though unless time is no object, it’s clearly more convenient to buy it or replace it with couscous. Altogether, you may decide to cut a number of corners in approaching this recipe. Take heart: even approximating the outcome will be highly satisfying.
Heat some clarified butter, plain butter or oil in a saucepan and cook the chopped onions and diced tomato until soft.
Add the cut mackerel to the pot, with butter or oil if necessary, and brown until hot.
Turn the heat down, add the berberè and minced garlic, and continue to simmer until the fish is done.
Unless using spiced butter, heat up the peppercorns, cumin seeds and nutmeg in a dry pan until fragrant, taking care not to burn them. Grind these spices together in a mortar and stir into the pot, cooking for another minute. If using the butter, skip this part.
Finish with the sesame oil for a good sheen. The tibsi may be as dry or wet as you like, so play with adding water, oil or butter as desired through the cooking process. The dish, however, should not be greasy. Serve with salad or fruit, and either couscous or injera (see below for recipe) to mop it up.
Injera is made with teff flour, obtained from an ancient grain. It is gluten-free and rich in protein and minerals, and has become popular with endurance athletes beyond Ethiopia and Eritrea, where it is the default bread. Outside the region, you should be able to find the flour in health and organic stores. You will need equal quantities of flour and water, about 4 cups each, plus a pinch of salt.
Place the teff flour in a container with a lid, add the water and salt, and mix well to form a smooth batter.
Place the lid over the container and leave 2–3 days to ferment, by which time it should have acquired a foamy texture. Add 1 cup of warm water.
Let the mixture rest at room temperature for about 2 minutes. It should fizz a little. Meanwhile, spread a clean cloth or kitchen towel on your countertop or work surface.
Heat a non-stick frying pan and 1 cup of the batter, spreading it quickly in a circular fashion as if making a pancake.
After about 30 seconds, the surface should start to bubble. Cover the frying pan and cook for up to 2 minutes longer, adjusting the temperature to prevent burning. Slide the injera gently out of the pan and repeat with the rest of the batter. The injera can be eaten straight away or kept in the fridge for several days.
The Dominican Republic hauled in nearly 500 tonnes of mahimahi (dorado) in 2018, a small proportion of which was shipped to the United States of America. The entire catch, that said, brought in a relatively modest USD 700 000. Starting in 2021, FAO began working with fisherfolk in the south of the country to improve the cold chain, open up new markets and plug artisanal mahimahi fisheries into the tourist industry.
Dominicanos still eat relatively little fish, but do so with tropical verve. Samaná, on the country’s northeastern coast, is an enticingly lush peninsula of wild beaches, rainforests and coconut plantations. The area, in fact, claims to feature the highest concentration of coconut palms in the world – and the local cuisine seems to bear out that metric. Samaná-style coconut fish, the area’s trademark recipe, is not a complex dish. But it shines with the unpretentious perfection of a lazy lunch at the water’s edge. You may add, if you wish, achiote, the Caribbean condiment that gives the sauce both an attractive red colour and a spicy, telluric warmth – or, failing this, smoked paprika. If mahimahi is unavailable, swordfish or grouper, or another firm, characterful white fish will do. Accompany your pescado with cold lager or – if you prefer wine – a chalky dry white.
Season the fish fillets and dust them in the flour, then seal them quickly with oil in a frying pan. Drain them and set them aside.
Into the same oil, pour the onion, capsicum, garlic, tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer on a medium flame to form a fragrant base.
Now pour in the coconut milk, turn up the flame and bring to a low boil. Turn down the flame again and simmer until the sauce has reduced by half. Season as needed.
Place the fish fillets in the sauce and cook them gently for 2–3 minutes per side. Serve with rice or mangú, the Dominican plantain mash.
Despite having one of the world’s longest coastlines (the country is, in effect, one extended coastline), Chileans eat relatively little fish - well below the world average at 12 kilograms a head or so, and certainly much less than they do beef and other meats. Most of what Chile catches, it sends abroad. Salmon alone makes up almost half of the nation’s food exports and takes second place of all exports behind copper. For all of its external popularity, however, salmon faces strong competition in its home market from hake and pomfret. And, as if to belie the paucity of national seafood consumption, this recipe piles on the species: joining the pomfret are clams, mussels, oysters and prawns. (Some of the shellfish may be omitted, but dropping all of it would ruin the layered delight of the dish. The pomfret, on the other hand, can be replaced with other oceanic white fish.) Salsa margarita, a Chilean speciality, combines the seafood juices with flour, butter and milk – creating, in effect, a marine béchamel. Note that in Chile, crustaceans and bivalves are often sold shelled and prepacked, and even precooked.
Preheat the oven to 180° C. Place the fillets in an oven dish and cover them with the wine. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the sliced onion around the dish, and also most of the butter in chunks. Bake for 12–15 minutes.
Place the remaining butter in a saucepan, adding the milk and sifted flour. Over a medium flame, whisk into a sauce. Add the shellfish, with a little of the cooking juices from the fish fillets. Season and simmer for 2–3 minutes.
Remove the fish from the oven dish, place it on a serving dish, and cover it with the white sauce and the shellfish.
Moqueca harks back to the mu’keka, an Angolan dish that may be compared to a ragoût or fricassée. This lineage – moqueca is closely associated with Salvador de Bahia, the Brazilian metropolis whose residents are mostly of African descent – likely accounts for some similarity with the seafood gumbo of Louisiana. Distinctly Afro-Brazilian is the use of dendê, the red palm oil that gives a soulful warmth to much Bahian cuisine. If you have access to sustainably sourced Brazilian dendê, do use it; if not, olive oil will do. For the fish, we suggest adding one part haddock, possibly smoked, to ten parts pirarucu/cod. This turns the haddock, in effect, into a solid fish condiment – for fish.
Season the chunks of pirarucu or cod with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Roll them in grated garlic, half the chopped onion and half the chopped herbs, and leave them in the fridge for an hour.
In a large pan, sauté the diced haddock with the remaining chopped onion until the onion becomes translucent. (This is your fish-enriched refogado, the Portuguese term for a base of allium fried in fat.) Add the seasoned pirarucu and continue to cook on a medium flame for 3 minutes or so, until golden.
Tip in the peeled tomatoes and coconut milk, adding the chilli pepper. Fork through the tomatoes to help them disintegrate. Bring the mixture back to a simmer, then add the softened shallots. Taste and adjust for salt if needed.
Simmer the moqueca for another 3 minutes or so, then remove from the flame. Sprinkle the remaining herbs on top and serve with rice or other starchy accompaniment – polenta or a Brazilian manioc-based farofa (for a wider discussion of manioc, see the recipe for Guyanese tambaqui tuma pot).
Our tambaqui recipe taps into the Indigenous tradition: tuma refers to the cooking of meat or fish in kadakura, the Guyanese name for cassava water. North American readers may know cassava as yuca or Brazilian arrowroot; French speakers will recognize it as manioc. It is, in many developing countries, a reliable source of carbohydrates. It’s also easy enough to obtain these days, even in regions where it isn’t native. But the need to soak the cassava to eliminate toxicity (it contains traces of cyanide), then grate it and strain it to extract the water – Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples would use a flexible cylindrical basket called a matapi for this – means you’re better off attempting the tuma when you have a) time and energy to spare, and b) enough mouths to feed to make it worth it. True to this logic, our recipe lists quantities for eight: adjust everything up or down to match your headcount.
You’ll have noticed that this book takes a make-your-own approach, on the principle that a store-bought jar of mayonnaise, say, is unlikely to taste as good or be as nutritious as the stuff you whip up at home. But given the level of dedication implicit in the tuma, especially when cooking it outside the region, you may as well buy some ready-made cassava water if you find it: there’ll be no stigma attached.
Peel your cassava roots and soak them in water for a couple of hours at least. When the time’s up, throw out the soaking water and keep the roots. Dry them well, grate them, then press or squeeze them hard to extract the juice. Leave this juice to stand in the fridge overnight: it will settle and develop starch. (The leftover cassava shavings can be baked into bread and served alongside the dish.)
Take the starchy cassava juice out of the fridge and boil it to remove any last trace of toxicity. As the juice boils, it will foam. Collect the foamy top layer until you’ve exhausted the liquid; reserve it in a container – this is your kadakura. (The thick residue left behind is known as cassareep – another popular ingredient in Guyanese cooking.)
Brush all sides of the two halves of fish with a little oil, salting generously and rubbing with some of the chopped herbs. Grill each fish half, in a large griddle pan or on the barbecue, until charred yet still moist.
Pour the kadakura into a fresh cooking pot, adding the onion, garlic, the rest of the herbs, the cut and whole peppers and a good pinch of salt. Bring back to the boil.
Cut the grilled fish into large chunks and place it in the kadakura. Simmer for a further 6–8 minutes and serve with bread or a starch of your choice.
In Paraguay – but also in Argentina and Uruguay – chupín is derived from the Genovese ciuppin a dish that is half-soup and half-stew, made with fish and leftover bread. Italy’s regions abound in rustic recipes that put stale bread to good use, such as the Tuscan (and more widely central Italian) panzanella or pappa al pomodoro. Some of these were carried over to South America – in this instance, by Ligurian emigrants. The Paraguayan version uses potatoes.
Paraguay cheese (queso Paraguay) is a soft to semisoft curdled milk cheese. Equivalents should be easy to source in most countries, whether domestically produced or – as is most likely in parts of Asia – imported.
Grease a roasting tin with the butter. Line the pan with the potato slices, then rest the fish fillets on top. Season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the chopped garlic over the fish and potatoes, then layer the onion slices on top, then the capsicum and tomatoes. Make sure you neatly cover the surface, leaving no gaps.
Pour the cream and distribute the cubed cheese over the dish. Refrigerate for an hour to allow the cream to seep through and the flavours to meld.
Bake in the oven at around 160° C, for 40 minutes or so, until cooked through. (The exact timings and temperatures will depend on your oven.) Serve hot.
Despite dampened investor enthusiasm for the technology, funding was secured in 2021 to build Sweden’s first land-based salmon farm. Currently, all farmed salmon eaten in Sweden is imported from neighbouring Norway – though Swedes also consume some salmon from capture. The fish appears in many guises: poached or sugar-cured, in dill and mustard sauces, or as laxpudding – in a gratin, crusty and golden on top, soft and creamy below.
Our recipe features an example of husmanskost, or traditional home-cooking. This is a fish-spuds-greens-and-dairy combo, a simple enough dish, but one where the skill consists (as it often does) of not overcooking either salmon or vegetables. Until you get the hang of it, it’s best to ensure that you have a food thermometer. The internal temperature of the fish should not go above 45° C – or else the albumin, a protein found in liquid form inside the flesh, will congeal. This accounts for the blobs of white gunk on the surface of cooked salmon which, if your experience of office canteens and other mass catering mirrors ours, will have sent you scrambling for a different lunch option. If you’d rather not fiddle with a thermometer, take a leaf from the book of lox and brine your salmon before cooking: the process helps concentrate flavour and seal in moisture.
Melt 50 g of butter over a soft flame and mix with half the lemon juice, then rub the mixture all over the salmon. Place the fish in an oven dish and bake at 100° C, to an internal temperature of 45° C. While the fish is cooking, boil the potatoes.
On the hob, fry the chopped onions in a little butter until they are soft, then add the wine, fish broth and cream, then the remaining lemon juice. Bring to a simmer and reduce to a generous sauce consistency. Strain and keep warm.
Chop the broccoli into small pieces and place in a saucepan with the sugar peas, add 50 g of butter and a good pinch of salt. Soften the vegetables for a few minutes, but make sure the broccoli keeps its crunch.
Now add the remaining butter, cold, to the warm sauce and whisk until frothy. Plate up the fish and vegetables with the boiled potatoes, spooning the sauce on top.
One classic way to prepare spigola in Italy is all’acqua pazza (with “crazy water”). Paternity for this dish, which used seawater back when salt was a pricey ingredient, is disputed between the fisherfolk of Naples and the islanders of Ponza. It involves baking the seabass in salted water and wine, with cherry tomatoes, crushed garlic and parsley. The cooked fish is brought whole to the table and shredded onto individual plates, with a ladleful of the savoury broth poured on top.
At the more recherché end, La Cucina italiana, Italy’s culinary magazine of record, suggests a seabass raspberry confit. To serve four, heat up peanut or another neutral cooking oil to exactly 60 degrees in a saucepan, then turn off the flame. Cut four seabass fillets into three slices each. Salt the pieces of fish and place them in the warm oil for 20 minutes, ensuring they’re completely covered. Separately, whizz 100 grams of raspberries in a blender with four tablespoons of olive oil, two tablespoons of apple vinegar and a pinch of salt. Remove the seabass fillets from the oil, drain them on kitchen paper, and dress them with mixed leaves and piped drops of raspberry sauce. Toss more fresh raspberries over the dish, and serve with a grind of fresh pepper.
Our own recipe keeps things a little more rustic. The fact is, outside of more adventurous restaurants, a side of roast potatoes is rarely absent when you order fish in Italy. This iteration places the spuds under the fish and the courgettes on top, a burst of comfort food (admittedly with a playful touch) enlivened by earthy oregano. As the courgette will obscure the fish, make sure your fillets are thoroughly deboned: use tweezers if necessary. Jazz up the finished dish with a sprinkle of bottarga, the dried fish roe condiment, if you have any handy.
Since our recipe provides both starch and vegetable content, no accompaniment is needed, strictly speaking. But you might want to look in the direction of bitter leaves. A bowl of chicory, sautéed with chilli and garlic, works well. The classic Italian tipple to have with spigola is a light Ligurian Vermentino. Or you could offset the simplicity of what is, in effect, a fish pie with a classy glass of fizz from Trentino or Piedmont.
Preheat the oven to 180° C. Separately, grease an oven tray (or large glass ovenproof dish).
Slice the potato thin and arrange the slices in a broad rectangular pattern in the oven tray. Make sure that the slices overlap a little to provide continuity. Season them and brush them with olive oil.
Now place the fish fillets over the potatoes, next to each other so that they touch, two down and two across. Cut and adjust the edges of the potato layer to ensure the potato rectangle matches the rectangle of fish that sits on top of it. Season the fish.
Next, grate the courgettes on top of the fish, ensuring again that the shape matches that of the fish and potatoes. You should end up with a large, flat sandwich, of which the seabass is the filling. Tap them down to maximize density, but don’t squeeze the courgettes too much: their water content will ensure the fish stays moist.
Sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over the courgettes, with oregano and a drizzle of olive oil. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes or so, then take out of the oven and let rest for 2 minutes. Cut into four and serve.
The overwhelming majority of lobsters consumed in the United States of America – and that’s a great many – are harvested off the state of Maine. In 2021, the haul hit a record value of over USD 700 million, as consumer demand rebounded after the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. By weight, the catch held more or less steady at around 45 000 tonnes – but that in itself is five times as much as fisherfolk were bringing in 40 years ago. The warming waters off the northeastern seaboard are thought to have been propitious for lobsters (although there are fears a cliff edge could be near). The thinning out of cod, lobster’s main predator, may further explain the bonanza of recent decades.
Our lobster recipe comes courtesy of Carla Lalli Music, a US television chef and cookery writer. In her book Where Cooking Begins, she draws on her Italian heritage to create dishes that are stylishly uncomplicated. While there may be a touch of dexterity involved in shelling the lobster, the greater challenge here is arguably not to overboil the pasta – something that almost invariably, and not without some justification, Italians think pretty much everyone else is guilty of.
We’ve adapted Lalli Music’s recipe to reuse the lobster’s steaming water to cook the spaghetti, for added flavour. If you like a touch of spice, we also suggest enlivening the sauce with peperoncino chilli – or, if meat is no object, with a fiery smear of nduja, the Calabrian hot salami paste.
Kill the lobster by splitting its head as previously described. Pour 5 cm salted water into a large saucepan and bring it to a boil. Now place the lobster in the water or in a steamer above it, and cover the pot. Bring back to a boil and cook for 6 minutes if the lobster is sitting in the water, or 8 minutes if it’s in the steamer, until it’s not quite cooked through.
Remove the lobster, crack the shell and retrieve the meat, taking care to keep the claws whole. Cut the tail into bite-sized pieces. Cover with cling film and reserve.
Supplement the water left after cooking the lobster and add more salt. Bring to a boil again.
Cut a slice off the base of each beefsteak tomato, then, holding the tomatoes by the stem, push them through a grater (the side with the large perforations) into a large bowl. Discard the skins.
In a large frying pan, heat up some olive oil (and any butter if using) with the chopped garlic over medium heat, until the garlic is fragrant. If using nduja or any chilli, add that too at this point. Tip the grated tomato in, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes or so, allowing the sauce to thicken and reduce. Throw in the basil and remove from the heat.
Now place the pasta in the pot of boiling water. Once the water is boiling again, keep it going for 3 minutes less than it says on the packet – it should be very al dente, supple but at the threshold of edible, as it will continue to cook in the sauce.
Return the sauce to a medium heat and transfer the spaghetti into it, adding a little of the pasta water if needed. Cook the spaghetti for a couple of minutes until al dente, then add the lobster in, warming it through and no more. Ensure that both diners get a claw with their portion when serving. You may want to add a drizzle of olive oil and a fresh grind of pepper. For added crunch – this, again, is our own twist – you could sprinkle freshly fried breadcrumbs on top.
Moules-frites (mussels and chips) may well be the most reductive shorthand for Belgian-ness. This doesn’t make it any less delicious or evocative – of briny gales at Ostend or Zeebrugge, of piers and carousels, of a heartwarmingly tacky fry-up kiosk on a foggy Saturday night. So intimate is Belgium’s identification with the dish – the average citizen consumes 4 kilograms per year, twenty times the global average; on National Day in July, giant outdoor moules-frites dinners are laid in cities across the country – that hardly anyone cares to remember where everyone’s favourite mussels come from, namely across the border, in the Dutch province of Zealand. Je suis parti vers ma destinée
Mais voilà qu’une odeur de bière
De frites et de moules marinière
M’attire dans un estaminet… “I set off to meet my calling
When a sudden whiff of beer
Of fries and of moules marinière
To a tavern sent me crawling,” sang the punk chansonnier Arno, who was raised a Fleming in Ostend but lived his artistic life in French. In federalized, bilingual Belgium, moules-frites are a cross-community value, whether the mussels are braised in ale, in a curry sauce or – as in our recipe – with wine, garden vegetables and herbs. For the frites, you will no doubt have your own twist on the basic process. Remember also that in Belgium, a slather of mayonnaise comes close to a legal requirement. We tell you how to make it here.
Pour 2 tbsp olive oil and the cloves of garlic into a deep pan. In Belgium, this would traditionally be a black enamel saucepan. Place the pan over a low flame.
Dice up the vegetables – this is known as a mirepoix – and season them with salt and pepper. Add them to the pan, together with the cleaned mussels.
Add the wine and water to the pan and bring to a vigorous boil. Cover the pan and cook until the mussels have opened.
Scoop out the mussels into deep plates and spoon over the cooking liquid. Serve with the frites and mayonnaise or aioli.
New Zealand is the land of kaimoana – the Maori word for seafood, integral to the Indigenous culture of this historically seafaring nation. One friend recalls a childhood indulgence in mātaitai or shellfish gathering, as she’d chase tuatua clams, which squirt water in self-defence and burrow away at astonishing speed, or else the palm-sized toheroa, with their meaty, protruding tongues and gamey flavour. Toheroa are now almost extinct and strictly protected. Poaching them is subject to blistering fines, in a move echoing (belatedly from a conservation perspective) ancestral practices that combined ritual and stock-management concerns: in traditional Maori harvesting, no shellfish could be opened while people were in the water; only one species could be gathered at a time; and during certain periods, no picking could take place at all.
Even so, New Zealand is still, overall, replete with bivalves. The country counts more than 20 types of mussels, including the endemic green-lipped variety (Perna canaliculus). These are large mussels, easily twice the size found elsewhere, rimmed with a green so vivid as to be almost fluorescent. Cultured in large quantities since the 1970s, they’re New Zealand’s top seafood export, shipped under the “Greenshell” trademark as far as the United States of America, Spain and the Republic of Korea. Their nutritional value – they’re full of protein, low in fat and brimming with omega-3 acids, vitamin B12 and selenium – also sees them processed into food supplements.
Mussel fritters are a popular dish with Maori and Pākehā (European) New Zealanders alike. To the extent that they’re egg-and-milk pancakes with savoury ingredients baked in, they channel both American brunch classics and Japanese okonomiyaki waffles. You can use either Greenshells or your nearest available variety for our recipe: they’ll be chopped up, so their pretty lips will be immaterial in this case.
Bring 2-3 cm of water to the boil in a large saucepan. Add the mussels in batches and cook covered for 2 minutes, or until the mussels have just opened. Remove the mussels to a large bowl, discarding any unopened ones, and place the bowl on ice.
When the mussels are cool enough to handle, shell them and chop them up finely, manually or in a food processor.
Separately, combine the egg yolks, flour and milk to make a batter. Mix in the chopped mussels, together with the sliced spring onions and chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
Now mix the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the batter. Heat the oil in a skillet (1 tbsp should do for a couple of rounds), ladle in each fritter and fry till crispy brown. Serve with a lemony or mustardy salad.
Queen conch is far from all-you-can-eat stuff. Overfishing led Florida to ban commercial and recreational harvesting in the mid-1980s. The 1990s saw CITES, the convention that regulates trade in endangered species, list the animal; the body has occasionally shut down production in some countries, pending the adoption of sustainable management plans. Culturing of conch – for education and tourism more than commercial purposes – has only been practised at one farm in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Devastated by the hurricanes of 2017, that facility has closed indefinitely.
Caribbean nations these days have a host of controls in place: these involve bans on immature conch, period closures and geographic restrictions. The archipelago of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines numbers some 45 licensed conch – also called “lambie” – fishers, operating from long open boats between May and August (when the season for lobster, another main source of income, is closed).
The haul, brought up by divers, makes up two-thirds of the country’s fisheries exports. Diving, however, is hazardous work, and FAO has been looking to develop safer capture techniques around the Caribbean. No easy task, this: in fishing subcultures, diving remains powerfully connoted as a masculine exploit.
Our Saint Vincentian recipe is flavoured with chadon beni, French Creole for chardon béni, or “holy thistle”. Sometimes known as culantro, this is a cousin of coriander, but sturdier and more potent. Outside the region, just use coriander and dial up the quantity – a handful will do perfectly. The lambie souse is best made in a pressure cooker.
Wash the conch meat in lemon juice or vinegar, then place it in a pressure cooker with the chadon beni. Cook for 30 minutes. Do not salt at this point.
Place all the chopped vegetables and herbs in a separate container (or soup dish). Remove the conch from the pressure cooker and, taking care not to burn yourself, cut it into bite-sized pieces. Add it to the other chopped ingredients.
Pour the conch stock from the cooker into the soup container, mixing all ingredients well. Season with salt, pepper and hot pepper if using. Serve warm.
From a small player in the late 1970s, China has catapulted into the world’s top league of freshwater prawn producers. But even this level of growth has been outpaced by internal demand. Urbanization and rising incomes have sent domestic consumption of prawns soaring. As much as half of the Chinese market (of combined wild and cultured, marine and freshwater species) is now supplied by imports from Ecuador, another rising prawn power; a further quarter comes from India.
Our recipe marries China’s enthusiasm for freshwater prawns – historically a southern delicacy of more limited currency – with the prestige of Longjing tea. This pale-leafed, mildly astringent, roasted green tea is harvested around the West Lake, the famed setting for the city of Hangzhou. Its fragrance is often described as evocative of chestnuts: you may also find it sold under the Dragon Well name. Legend connects this prawn dish to a visit to Hangzhou by the eighteenth-century Qianlong Emperor, said to have been travelling in disguise: a local innkeeper, we’re told, serendipitously mistook the Longjing leaves for green onions while feeding the sovereign.
Chinese cooks are fond of “velveting” their prawns by dousing them, as we do here, in egg whites, cornflour and salt. The process provides a pleasing touch of crunch; it also insulates the prawns from the searing wok heat and keeps them moist.
Shaoxing wine is used for depth of flavour. If you’ve ever cooked Chinese food, you’ll likely have it in your pantry already. If not, it’ll be readily available wherever you are in the world.
Pour 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine and the egg whites into a bowl, then tip in the prawns and coat them in the mix. Add the cornflour and a pinch of salt and coat the prawns further – you want the coating neither lumpy nor completely homogenous: occasional floury protrusions will add crispy texture. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for half an hour.
With the prawns in the fridge, make a cup of Longjing tea. Don’t strain it – the leaves must stay in. The water should be below boiling temperature to preserve the fragrance. Let the brew stand a while.
Take the prawns out of the fridge. In a wok, warm up the oil and toss in the prawns. Flash-fry them, stirring quickly, until they are semi-translucent white (“like jade”). This could be a matter of seconds. Remove them to a colander to strain any dripping oil.
Now clean the wok and return it to the flame. Add the tea, leaves included, and the remaining Shaoxing wine. Simmer this down a little, then put in the prawns and braise them briefly. Serve them glossy with the reduced liquid.
From Peru, one of the world’s fishing heavyweights and gastronomic powerhouses, comes another all-in-one: the spicy parihuela seafood soup, which combines fish and crustaceans – not just crab, but mussels and clams and prawns and sea snails. That, however, is what you might call a parihuela royale – fit for a banquet, maybe, but hardly the kind of thing you’d whip up for a dinner with friends. It’s also the case that the list of ingredients speaks to the peculiar bounty of Peru’s coastline: elsewhere, securing all the species might prove both a logistical headache and a blow to the wallet.
Ultimately, once you have a fish, a crab and a handful of clams, everything else is an optional luxury. We recommend that you kill the crab first, by splitting it in half: as well as being the more humane route, this will ensure that the internal crab juices leach out during cooking and further flavour the stock. On how to purge the clams, see “Mussels and clams”.
There is, admittedly, a further difficulty involved in this dish, in that it uses the distinctly Peruvian ingredient chicha de jora. This is a refreshing, marginally alcoholic (1 percent to 3 percent) drink obtained from fermented corn. Chicherías are found in Peruvian cities, but also, less formally, in the Andean villages of the south – often simple holes in the wall, advertising themselves by means of a bamboo pole that sticks out over the road, with a roll of colourful fabric or plastic bags wrapped around its end. If there is no Peruvian bodega where you live, and no chicha can be sourced online, try replacing it with apple cider: you may need to reduce it a little beforehand, as chicha is thicker. In Türkiye and parts of the southern Balkans, boza – the fermented barley drink, vaguely fizzy and low in alcohol – would make an exciting alternative.
Place the fish head, together with the prawn heads if using, plus any fishy cut-offs in a large saucepan. Cover with water, season and bring to a boil. Turn down the flame and let simmer until the stock has reduced by half. Skim off any scum and taste regularly to ensure the broth has enough flavour. When it does, remove from the flame and allow to cool, then strain.
In another saucepan, sweat the onion, garlic, chilli and grated ginger in oil, stirring in the red pepper paste or paprika, to make the sofrito base. Keep the flame low and stir to avoid burning, until the mix is soft and fragrant.
Now add the chicha de jora, cider or other substitute. Turn up the flame and let the liquid reduce somewhat.
Add the halved crabs to the sofrito and chicha mix, gently coating them in it, then toss in the clams or mussels and any snails. Cover with a lid to concentrate the heat and allow the bivalves to open.
At this point, add the fish fillets, spooning some of the red sauce over them, and pour the strained fish stock over the lot. Bring back to a gentle boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Let the parihuela cool for a few minutes, during which the flavours will further intermingle. Spoon it into bowls, ensuring everyone gets something of everything. Sprinkle some fresh coriander over each bowl and serve with chunks of bread or a starch of your choice.
Mexico supplies almost two-thirds of the fish fillets sold in the United States of America. Domestic consumers are also well served: the country hosts the world’s largest seafood market after Tsukiji in Japan. Complete with food stands and shops selling cookware, La Nueva Viga drains much of the Gulf of Mexico catch. But geared as it is towards the dense population basin around Mexico City, the market is unique by world standards in its deep inland location. Transportation costs mean Mexican fishing crews need to spend longer periods at sea to keep economically afloat. Some of the catch is directly exported north of the border.
Every day, but especially during big religious festivals such as Lent, La Nueva Viga fills with tens of thousands of shoppers. Piles of red snappers, filleted or whole, greet the eye from the stalls here. Both red snapper from the Gulf and its close Pacific cousin, Lutjanus peru, are known in Mexico as huachinango; the word is derived from the Náhuatl for “red flesh”. Indeed, rather than the Gulf, the recipe featured here is from Baja California on the Pacific side, which supplies a tenth of the country’s haul of pescado y mariscos.
Fish aside, this dish calls for either sour cream or mayonnaise (or, why not, both). If you go for the latter, it’s much more rewarding to forgo the store-bought stuff and make your own. Away from this recipe, you can further customize your mayonnaise with chilli as an alternative to ketchup; with minced garlic for a sharp Mediterranean aioli; or else with chopped anchovies, capers and canned tuna – the dressing for the Italian 1980s classic vitello tonnato.
In a bowl, toss together the tomato and chilli with lime juice, salt and pepper. Reserve.
Now make the tortillas. In another bowl, mix the flour, vegetable oil and salt, and pour 150 ml of hot water on top. Mix further, then knead on a flour-dusted board for a few minutes until you get a soft elastic dough ball.
Divide your dough into 6 parts and roll each one out with a pin, dusting with more flour. Heat up some vegetable oil in a pan and gently fry the tortillas one by one, on both sides, until golden. Remove, drain on kitchen paper, and cover to keep warm.
Make your mayonnaise (if using). Whip the mustard and egg yolk together and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the vegetable oil in a thin constant stream, whipping all the while to avoid splitting, until the mixture stabilizes into a semi-stiff, glowing yellow cream. You can use up to a third of olive oil as a substitute for vegetable oil, but too much of it will give your mayonnaise an unpleasant bitter edge. Finish with a drop of lemon, then cover and refrigerate to set further. (Lemon may also be used sparingly to “catch” the mayonnaise back if it splits.)
Score the skin on your fillets. Heat up the olive oil in a pan and fry the fillets on a medium flame, skin side down first. Remove from the pan and drain off the excess oil.
Taking care not to burn yourself, tear the snapper flesh and distribute it across the tortillas. Add the vegetables, sprinkle with the tomato and chilli mix, toss in a dollop of sour cream or mayo, and fold the stuffed tortillas over. Your tacos de huachinango are ready.
The two-island country of Saint Kitts and Nevis forms an exclamation mark on the map of the Caribbean. The cuisine too – rooted in West African traditions and overlaid with British, French and South Asian influences – is vibrant, brash, straight-up. On the meat side, goat comes paired with breadfruit and green papaya.
Fish and shellfish are often grilled and laced with coconut, or, as here, served en papillote (i.e. in a parcel) with unfussy but colourful vegetables and mash. It is, in short, spunky comfort food to wash down with a brew rather than savour with fine wine – perhaps, if you can lay your hands on it, with a bottle or two of the local Carib lager.
Rub the fish with salt and pepper, inside and out. Insert the sprig of thyme in the cavity and set aside.
Rub a stretch of aluminium cooking foil with the knob of butter, and dot the remainder of the butter over the fish. Place the fish on the foil.
Cover the fish with the vegetables and the onions. Close up the foil and bake in the oven at around 175° C for 20 minutes or so, depending on the size of the fish.
Serve over mashed potatoes or yams, allowing the starch to soak up the juices. Kittian and Nevisian taste runs to spicy foods, so no one will blame you for adding hot pepper sauce on the side.
Sitting at the junction of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Türkiye, the world’s two leading trout producers, Armenia is home to its own highly prized species, ishkhan (Salmo ischchan). The fish, endemic to the waters of Lake Sevan, a historically much-tormented ecosystem, is endangered; two subspecies are already extinct. In the late 1970s, commercial exploitation of wild-caught ishkhan was banned by the then-Soviet authorities, and the lake area declared a national park. If you’re having ishkhan in Armenia, it should be certifiably farmed. Elsewhere, any other kind of trout will make a perfect substitute.
The use of pomegranate here is an elegant, unmistakably Caucasian touch. It’s worth securing the fresh fruit, fairly widespread these days, or else buying the bottled seeds.
Preheat the oven to 200° C. Meanwhile, make diagonal incisions into the fish 3 cm apart.
Combine all the ingredients except the pomegranates. Rub this marinade all over the fish, inside it and into the incisions.
Roast the fish in the oven for up to half an hour or so, depending on size. While the fish is cooking, toss out the pomegranate seeds by beating the outside of the fruit with a spatula and giving it a little squeeze. (Ensure any white pith, which is bitter, is discarded.)
Serve the fish sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, accompanied by long grain rice. For a proper Armenian feast, add toasted pine nuts and almonds to the rice.
Wedged between the Atlantic and the Pacific, Costa Rica, with its coastal delights, is rarely associated with freshwater pursuits. But the cold streams of the interior host populations of trout that attract a large number of fly-fishers. Aquaculture is also well developed, and while rainbow trout comes a distant third in the rankings – tilapia heavily dominates the sector – production has doubled in a decade. The trout in our recipe is set off by a profusion of herbs, making this a zesty counterpoint to the heartiness of our Kyrgyz offering.
In a pan, warm a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil and turn down the heat. Season the fish fillets with salt, pepper and some oregano and gently sauté the fillets until coloured and tender.
Meanwhile, warm more olive oil in a separate pan. Chop the tomatoes and throw them in, adding the torn basil leaves, the cumin and the remaining oregano. Add a pinch of salt, and also a little sugar if the tomatoes are too sharp. Stir and reduce over a low flame to a thick sauce.
Serve the warm trucha with the tomato sauce, spooning over any cooking juices, alongside brown rice, green beans and cold shredded red cabbage.
Kyrgyzstan is described as the country furthest away from any ocean. By way of natural compensation, its river system is stupendous: tens of thousands of waterways, mostly fed by glaciers, run through Kyrgyz mountains. The lakes number close to 2 000. Issyk-Kul, by far the largest of these, saw the introduction of ishkhan trout from Lake Sevan in Armenia in 1930: so well did the fish take to its new environment that it reportedly grew, in some cases, to five times its original size. Trout, in other words, is at home in Kyrgyzstan, and the country is an emerging destination for sports fishing. Fish production, however, fell precipitously after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the trough point of 2009, FAO’s technical assistance has helped the sector bounce back: by 2021, there’d been a fourteenfold jump in output.
In our Kyrgyz recipe, the trout is finely chopped and married to potatoes and onions. This, satisfying as it is, may not be the most unexpected of pairings. But the charm of the dish lies in the manty, the famed Turkic dumplings which encase the mixture. In Kyrgyzstan, as elsewhere in central Asia, a smear of lamb fat (known in Kyrgyz as kurdyuk) might be added to each manty: you won’t taste it, but it will make for a luxurious mouthfeel. Do that, by all means, or else use butter – or indeed, nothing at all if these things aren’t part of your diet. On the other hand, you may wish to chop parsley or dill into the stuffing for a fresher kick.
In the region, the dumplings are steamed in a special dish called a mantyshnitsa, but a bamboo steamer of the kind used for dim sum will do just as well.
Start with the manty preparation. Sift the flour onto a chopping board, then shape it into a mound and make a crater in it. Break the egg into the flour crater and add a pinch of salt. Using a fork, incorporate the egg into the flour, taking care to avoid the formation of lumps. Adding a little water at a time, knead the mix into a firm dough and let it rest.
Now make the mince. Peel the potatoes and onions and dice them up, together with the skinned, boneless fish. Season with salt and pepper, add any herbs if using, and whizz the lot lightly in a blender. (You’re looking for a paste that still has some structure, not a homogenous mush.)
Turn your attention back to the manty. Sprinkle some more flour onto your chopping board. Taking chunks out of the dough, roll it out as thin as you can with a rolling pin, trying to ensure an even surface. Using a sharp knife or round pizza cutter, cut out squares of about 8 cm per side.
Smear some fat onto each dough square if using, then place a dollop of fish mince in the middle. Now gather up the corners of each square to form a peak and twist the peak slightly to form your manty. Press the seams together to make sure the parcels don’t break during cooking.
Steam the manty for 15–20 minutes over boiling water. Taste one to check they’re done, adjust the cooking time as needed and serve.
With its traditional cuisine leaning heavily towards meat (lamb in particular), the Islamic Republic of Iran holds a middling rank in the fish consumption leagues. Even so, per capita intake has been growing steadily, and the country is turning into a fisheries powerhouse. The blessing of an extensive double shoreline – along the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the south, and the Caspian Sea in the north – has a lot to do with this bonanza. The industry employs more than 200 000 people; fish production doubled between the mid-2000s and the mid-2010s. But much of the credit also goes to a booming aquaculture sector, which at the time of writing had topped a million tonnes.
This recipe draws on the gastronomic culture of Bushehr: the southern province, a coastal strip facing Kuwait across the Gulf, is known for its seafood cuisine. Qelyeh Maahi calls for tuna or mackerel, depending on the versions and the degree of refinement sought. Other fish may do, though none too bland or flaky. You’ll want a dense texture to withstand the long simmer, plus enough intrinsic flavour to carry off the spicing.
Tamarind is rich in vitamins B1 and B3 and in potassium. It should be easy enough to find these days, either whole in its hard shell, or else peeled and pressed into bricks. The pulp needs loosening in water; syrupy and tangy, it will lend your stew a delightfully tart note. All told, the finished dish should make you feel you’ve alighted at the gastronomic midpoint between India and the Balkans. Which is, of course, exactly where Bushehr lies on the map.
If no tamarind can be found, grab some plump dates instead and mash them with lime juice. Strain this mixture as you would the tamarind.
Soak the tamarind pulp in 100 ml of warm water. Leave to stand for 30 minutes to an hour, then mash well with fingers or a fork. Strain the mixture through a sieve. You’re aiming for a fluid paste – if needed, thicken with a little flour (or possibly honey if you like your food less sour).
While the tamarind is infusing, grind the salt, pepper and spices together. Use half this spice mix to rub the fish on all sides, adding a little water. Leave the fish to absorb the spiced marinade. Reserve the other half of the spice mix.
Separately, chop the onion and sweat it gently in oil until soft. Add the reserved half of the spice mix and stir well. Simmer until dark golden in colour.
Add the garlic to the pot. Fry the lot for another minute, taking care not to burn the garlic, then tip in the chopped coriander and fenugreek (or fenugreek seeds). Cook for a further 10–15 minutes, adding a little water to keep the sauce loose, until the content of your pot turns emerald green.
Pour in the tamarind paste, then another glass of water. Continue to reduce the sauce. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Separately, flash-fry the tuna pieces in a hot pan. While the inside is still pink, remove them from the pan and add them to the pot, basting them with the green sauce.
Let the qelyeh maahi bubble away on a low flame for 20 minutes to half an hour, partly covering the pot and giving it the occasional shake. Don’t stir the pot: the fish – or chunks of it – should remain whole. Add more water in small quantities if necessary. Keep tasting to make sure the coriander’s bitter edge has been cooked out.
If using saffron, add a couple of threads shortly before serving. Give them a little local jostle to spread the flavour, then turn off the flame and leave to stand for a minute. Plate up on top of rice, with pickled vegetables on the side.
Oman’s spectacular coastline cleaves the Gulf. Despite increasing wealth, the country retains some of the slower, artisanal modes of its rustic past. The national fishing fleet consists overwhelmingly of traditional boats; industrial vessels supply just a fraction of the catch.
Fish production has been rising year on year, with a fair share of exports going to Asian markets. This dynamism ties in with broader GDP growth. But there’s another, less upbeat and more incidental factor: Oman has reported to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission that bigger hauls also correlate with a “slowdown in fishing pressure” across the border, in conflict-ridden Yemen.
Oman’s location astride trade routes accounts for the Indian, Persian, African and eastern Mediterranean influences on its cuisine. Yet a frugal Bedouin heritage also means that tasty simplicity, rather than showy opulence, is the norm. In our example, the fish is grilled, then shredded into a hearty, acidic, spicy soup. The recipe uses a whole Red Sea tuna: it’s meant to feed a large family and, true to this convivial informality, lists no prescriptive quantities. As most readers, fisherfolk aside, are unlikely to have a whole tuna at their disposal, now’s the time to use those cheaper tuna cuts, or – again – go for mackerel instead.
Lemon gives this dish the sourness that is a hallmark of regional cuisine. Dried za’atar leaves can be found in Near Eastern food stores or speciality spice shops: substitute oregano, thyme, marjoram or (even better) a mixture of all three if za’atar proves elusive.
Roast the fish (previously cleaned and gutted) thoroughly in the oven. Alternatively, grill it.
When the fish is done, leave it to cool, then remove the flesh from the bone, preferably by cutting it to preserve whole chunks for the most part. You will end up with flakier bits too, but these will add texture to the soup.
Separately, boil the onion leaves till soft. Drain and reserve.
Place all the ingredients and fish in a saucepan, cover with water, and leave to simmer, allowing the water to reduce. Salt as needed. When the soup is still a little more liquid than you’d like it (the rice will thicken it further), turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.
Boil the rice, then drain it and sauté it quickly in a frying pan with the cumin and chopped garlic. When fragrant, combine with the soup and serve. You can garnish the Ma’soura further with ginger, coriander and lime.
Despite a comparatively modest length of coastline, Ecuador is the top tuna-fishing power in the eastern Pacific: it pulls in over a third of the regional haul. Much of the processing and canning function is concentrated in the province of Manabí, with the port city of Manta seen as the nation’s tuna capital.
While it has yet to achieve the heights of recognition enjoyed by Peruvian cuisine, Ecuador’s riffs off a similar mix of Indigenous, western and modern Japanese traditions. While Peru’s gastronomy has more international visibility, contemporary takes on the national fare flourish in Quito and Guayaquil as they do in Lima. Root vegetables and varieties of corn unknown elsewhere fuel this sense of adventurous rediscovery. In Ecuador as in Peru, and especially in coastal areas, cebiche (the b spelling is preferred locally) cuts across the folk-urban divide. The technique of “cooking” raw fish in a cold citrus marinade is the same; it’s the stuff around the fish that tends to vary. Ecuadorean iterations are generally soupier – with more of the marinade retained or spooned over – and less spicy. In Ecuador, tomatoes (and even ketchup) are commonly added, where more purist versions tend to dominate in Peru. And while in Peru, the dish is frequently served with corn or spuds, Ecuadoreans will often pair it with green plantains.
This version, peculiar to the town of Jipijapa in Manabí province, uses bonito – a more affordable fish that hovers biologically at the edges of the tuna family: it is virtually indistinguishable from skipjack. Bonito is popular around the world, from the Black Sea to the Pacific. In Japan, where it’s known as katsuo, bonito is fermented, dried and flaked to make the condiment katsuobushi: looking rather like pencil shavings and scattered over warm food, the flakes dance prettily in the air before settling into a smoky, rose-coloured mess.
In Ecuadorean cebiche Jipijapa, the bonito is accompanied by mantequilla de maní (peanut butter). As per this book’s rule of thumb, you can use the store-bought stuff or, more heroically, make your own. The recipe is included below.
Patacones are plantain chips. For some of you reading this, securing the plantains may be the toughest job here. If you can’t get them, don’t be tempted to replace them with sugary bananas: opt for some quality ready-made chips instead, such as blue corn or root vegetables. But if you do get plantains, slice them up as you would a banana, salt them a little, dust them with flour and fry them in vegetable oil till golden and still fairly soft. Drain off the excess oil, then place the slices between two sheets of kitchen paper, and use a spatula or the bottom of a jar to flatten them into thin discs. Refry the slices of plantain till crisp, drain them again, and you’re done.
Cover the fish with the lime juice and let it marinate for 2 hours.
Separately, make the mantequilla de maní. Dry-roast the peanuts in a frying pan, stirring constantly to avoid burning, until dark and fragrant. Transfer to a food processor and whizz with the olive oil, sugar and salt until you obtain a rich, semi-solid paste.
When the fish has coloured and lost translucency, divide it into 4 portions and place each portion onto a deep plate. (Glass plates or large glass bows will enhance the appearance of the dish.) Spoon the lime marinade and some olive oil over the fish.
Around the edge of the plate, add the remaining ingredients: the diced avocado, chopped onion and tomato, a squeeze of tomato concentrate, a dollop of mustard and one of peanuts. Garnish with the fresh coriander and the coarse sea salt.