NOTHING CAN COMPARE TO THE TASTE OF OUR FRESHcaught local fish and seafood... but if fresh fish is something not commonly found in your diet, you may be a little apprehensive to order it when dining out. There’s no need to be timid when it comes to tuna; wary of wahoo or even leery of lobster... become a fishaficionado and take every opportunity to enjoy these delicious delicacies of the sea! The dazzling turquoise waters that envelop these islands are teeming with an abundance of ‘marine cuisine,’ so it’s no surprise many of our chefs take full advantage of this versatile and natural resource accessible virtually steps from their kitchens. A seemingly never-ending supply of conch, lobster and a variety of fish are the canvas for culinary masterpieces they continually reinvent using an ever-growing melange of preparation techniques. Incredibly versatile from its most pure and unadulterated form like sushi or ceviche; or baked, broiled, seared, grilled, poached, steamed, pan fried, and even smoked; delightful in soups, chowders, bisques, bouillabaisse and pastas. Now add some flavours, spices and coatings for blackened, jerked, creole, plantain encrusted, coconut encrusted and curry... the possibilities are endless... not to mention the payback from the health benefits of eating fresh fish – rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and polyunsaturated fat. Here are a few of the basic types of fish you are likely to find on island menus. In no way does it cover the vast and extensive species beneath the sea. And of course, no TCI fish story would be complete without paying homage to the Caribbean spiny lobster and the queen conch. Both reign supreme and are also lucrative and significant exports. If you prefer to hook the ‘catch of the day’ yourself, we are a world-class fishing destination. Landing the proverbial ‘big one’ here in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) is the fruitful pursuit of many visitors and residents. From deep-sea to bottom fishing, experience the pulse-racing, heart-throbbing excitement of the thrill of the catch – guaranteed to send the most calm, cool and collected into palpitations. Up the ante to include our reefs, brimming with snapper and grouper, or hunt on the shallow banks for the elusive bonefish. SNAPPER There are many varieties of snapper, but the most popular on island are red snapper, yellowtail and pot snapper. Red snapper are recognised by their shades of rosy pink eyes and skin, while yellowtails have the distinctive yellow stripe running from snout to tail. Both have a soft, delicate, mild flavour with a hint of sweetness and are prepared whole or in filets. Grilled or pan-fried, the very moist and tender meat is white. Pot snapper is known as a ‘plate-size’ fish, usually served whole. Typically weighing up to one pound, it is a smaller snapper and very popular for local dishes like fish and grits. It also has a delicate, flaky texture and mild taste. TUNA The trademark yellow dorsal and anal fins give the yellowfin its name. Its gorgeous, deep red flesh appears pinker in smaller fish. I’m an unyielding advocate of ‘au natural’ here... simply sensational as sushi; tantalising in a tartare and extraordinary when sliced paper thin in a carpaccio. Its texture is firm and lean with a subtle mild, mellow flavour. It is commonly offered as steaks, filets and loins. I have experienced the quintessence of fresh-caught tuna sashimi right on the docks. It melted in my mouth like butter, and I have to say it was the best tuna I have ever tasted. If you must cook it, do no more than sear it, please. Overdone tuna not only suffers from loss of flavour, but also you forfeit its incredible moistness. GROUPER While Nassau grouper and red grouper are similar in texture and taste, the red tends to be slightly sweeter and the Nassau grows to a larger size. However, the larger the fish, the tougher the meat – but once marinated, the fish can be extremely tender and succulent. Often prepared as filets and steaks, grouper has a mild flavour and is very moist and lean. Beneath the surface, they are quite sociable and if you see a picture of a diver engaged in a close encounter with a large fish - it’s most likely a grouper! MAHI MAHI Multi-coloured and chromatic shades of green, blue and yellow make mahi mahi one of the most radiant fish in the sea. A flavourful fish, its taste is similar to that of swordfish and wahoo – lean, firm and extremely moist with a hint of sweetness. It’s usually served up in steaks and filets. Mahi mahi is also known as dolphin fish, but should never be confused with the mammal. WAHOO An absolutely delightful delicacy to discover on any menu, wahoo can be prepared in an array of techniques, including lightly grilled or pan fried. Its pale pink flesh cooks up snow white and is always tender, with a slightly sweet and delicate flavour. It is often compared to albacore tuna because of its similarly mild, clean taste and firm, yet moist texture. Known for their lightning speed, aggressive power and razor-sharp teeth, wahoo are a prized game fish among the most avid and intrepid deep-sea sports fishermen and are a highly sought after catch by food connoisseurs and chefs alike. LOBSTER It hits the TCI in pandemic proportions like clockwork at precisely 12 am each April 1. It affects men, women and children; the young and the old and residents and tourists alike. No one is spared from this insidious, indiscriminate and inevitable anomaly... the heartbreaking and tragic end of the Caribbean spiny lobster season. Each and every chef must throw in their proverbial kitchen towel for the next four months as these delightful, culinary, friendly crustaceans are strictly off limits throughout this entire archipelago. Then... at 12 am each August 1, the Islands’ sidewalks are ‘rolled up’ and anyone who has a boat, or knows someone who has a boat, or knows someone who knows someone who has a boat has ‘gone lobster fishin’!’ That evening, island residents and visitors flock to local dining establishments, eager to rekindle their love and reawaken their palates with revered lobster favourites and hungrily anticipate the many new lobster creations our great chefs of Provo have conjured up. Lobsters of the Caribbean variety are ‘clawless’ nocturnal creatures that hide in the cracks and crevices of the coral reefs and come out to dine when you do. They are very elusive in the daytime, but their trademark long antennae can sometimes be spotted with a keen eye in popular snorkelling locations. It is serendipity if you are visiting the TCI and the season is open. Prepared in so many delectable and divine ways... cracked, blackened, baked, grilled, boiled, steamed, tempura, bisque, thermidor and in an endless medley of pasta variations. The lusciously sweet and succulently tender flesh is all found in the tail and turns a bright snow white when cooked. The shell becomes a striking and brilliant shade of orange that makes for a dramatic and colourful presentation. Low in saturated fat, cholesterol and calories, lobster is also a good source of protein and selenium... but these nutritional facts only hold true without the butter! Pass me a vat! Nothing can match sinking your teeth into that sinfully decadent and tender meat as a deluge of hot, melted butter drips down your chin. It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder... and when it comes to the opening of each new season after a seemingly interminable ‘lobster-less’ drought in the TCI... nothing could be truer! CONCH Repeat after me, “KONK” – the word conch begins and ends with a ‘K’ sound. And while we’re on the subject, “cay” is pronounced “key.” These are two fundamental pronunciations certain to separate you from first-time visitors and tourists. However, if you are sporting a recently plaited head full of braids and beads... you’re on your own! So now that you know how to distinguish yourself from the fresh, new, pasty arrivals, let’s get down to the ‘meat’ of the queen conch matter. While the iridescent pink-lipped shell is quite beautiful, the ‘meat’ of this mild, sweet-tasting mollusc is not about to win any beauty contests. In fact, when the conch shell is ‘cracked’ to release the meat, what comes out... and let’s not beat around the bush here... looks rather peculiar and unappetising. But once that meat has been expertly trimmed and skilfully tenderised, it becomes the royal ingredient for countless culinary creations that will delight and amaze your palate. Conch appears on just about every menu here in the TCI, from beachfront and barefoot, to fivestar fine dining establishments. Once your server has taken your conch order, don’t be surprised to hear a rather loud and recurring whacking sound emanating from the kitchen. Do not be alarmed. This is not reason to believe the chef and your server are having a brutal altercation or on-the-job dispute. On the contrary, he/she is ‘bruising’ or tenderising this prized ingredient, a necessary and essential step for conch creations. No one loves a conch fritter more than I do. Tender, flavourful and finger-lickin’ good, these golden-fried nuggets of minced conch are the epitome of casual, laid-back, islandstyle decadence, but don’t stop there. Embark on your own ‘conch-quest’ and take pleasure in discovering and experiencing our veritable cornucopia of conch creations! Cracked conch is addictive, lip smacking, delicious and every bit as flavourful as the infamous fritter. Bite-size morsels of conch are dipped in flour and an eggwash batter and deep fried. Both cracked conch and fritters are typically served with a tasty and tangy dipping sauce. I dare you to eat just one. A hearty bowl of conch chowder is the heart and soul of Caribbean comfort food, a sure-fire cure for anything that ails - or doesn’t. It’s rich, it’s delicious and it will stick to your ribs. Conch salad or ceviche is conch in its most natural form. Marinating the raw meat in citrus juice, typically lime juice, cooks the meat. Then it’s tossed with chopped onions, bell peppers, tomatoes and sometimes a little added ‘heat’ from our scotch bonnet peppers. Not only does conch rack up points for taste and versatility - it’s also hailed for its nutritional value as a great source of protein. It’s also considered an aphrodisiac. Dubbed ‘The Viagra of the Turks and Caicos,’ legend has it that eating the long, tubular-shaped, transparent worm or pistol that is extracted from the shell increases male stamina. So, if you’re out on a boat charter and ‘conching’ is on your itinerary, when your captain teasingly dangles that wacky-looking worm in the air, eagerly recruit someone ‘man enough’ to take the bait! If nothing more... it makes for a memorable photo-op and entertaining post-vacation fodder to share with family and friends back home. Exploring and experiencing the cuisine of any far-flung destination is one of life’s most exciting and delicious pleasures, and we’re convinced that once you’ve explored and experienced the ‘marine cuisine’ of the TCI, you’ll be hooked!
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