GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND -- Just a few days ago, around 30 friends came to my house for a boil fish and grits brunch. When it's done right, boil fish is the great Bahamian breakfast delicacy, as mysterious, sought after and cherished as a basket of fresh truffles sitting beside a large oak tree in the southwest of France.
When it's done right, of course, is the key, but I am lucky there. Christene Pratt and Sasha Pinder, my housekeeper and her friend and helper, are known as some of the best boil fish cooks on Grand Bahama. My friends know this, know I'm likely to serve it at my farewell gatherings (I'm on a speaking tour for six weeks), and look forward to my trips with unabashed glee.
And since boil fish is synonymous with family, friends automatically bring their kids. My bachelor home turned lively, spiced with the skelter of children, and the smell of freshly baked corn bread and of just-speared grouper bubbling away with onions and potatoes, spices, lime juice, and lava-hot Bahamian green peppers.
You Conch Outs will probably get to eat the real thing when you are here for the mini-triathlon over the last weekend in November. But we don't want to be exclusive.
Here's the way to create boil fish for your friends this weekend, compliments of Christene and Sasha. And while we're at it, you don't have to be in the tropics to have a complete tropical meal.
Here's the menu and recipes that even a bachelor can prepare. Your tongue and heart will thank you. BOIL FISH WITH PEPPER SAUCE A LA CHRISTENE AND SASHA (Serves 4)
Choose fresh fillets of any firm-fleshed fish. Two pounds will serve four people.
2 pounds of fillets
1/2 cup lime juice
2 hot Bahamian peppers chopped (you may substitute Tabasco-type peppers or one large jalapenåo pepper, though flavor will be a bit different)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 large potatoes with their skins, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1/4 pound salt pork, chopped
4 cups water
Marinate fish overnight with salt to taste, lime juice, and two small hot peppers. The next day, put the chopped potatoes in the bottom of a deep pot. Put the fish, serving size, in next. Then add salt pork (or substitute, see below), chopped onions, chopped green peppers and celery, and four cups of water. Boil over medium heat until the potatoes are cooked. Serve in soup bowls with pepper sauce on the side and corn bread.
For the Bahamian Pepper Sauce: Cut four hot peppers into very small pieces, and add 1/2 cup each of lime and lemon juice. Pepper sauce can be made ahead and stored for some time in the refrigerator. If this strength is too hot for your taste, dilute with equal amounts of lime and lemon juice.
This traditional recipe for boil fish, as you may have noticed, uses salt pork, which is high in saturated fat. You could modify this to lower the saturated fat levels by cutting the amount of salt pork in half, by substituting very lean ham, or by omitting it altogether. Each of these substitutions will change the flavor somewhat, but each is a little lower in fat. I've modified the traditional pigeon peas and rice recipe already. PIGEON PEAS AND RICE (serves 4)
3 cups uncooked rice
1 cup lean ham or lean ham scraps
1/2 cup water
1 small onion chopped
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 cup tomato, peeled and chopped (or a 1-pound can of tomatoes drained and chopped)
2 cups green pigeon peas (one can, available in most supermarkets, often in the international foods section)
In a large heavy pot (I like my iron stew pot), cook ham and 1/2 cup water over medium heat until ham flavor permeates water, about 5 minutes. Add onion, thyme, black pepper and 1 tsp. salt. Cook until onion is soft. Add tomatoes and cook about 5 minutes until tomatoes dissolve. Add peas and 3 cups of water; simmer 30 minutes. Add rice and stir. Then add water until it comes to about 1 inch above the rice. Salt to taste. Cook (gentle boil) with lid off until water drops to the top of the rice. Stir and cover pot with a tight lid. Reduce heat to low and cook for 45 minutes. If rice is not soft enough for your taste, add 1/2 cup water and put lid on and simmer another 15 minutes. This recipe is adapted from one given me by Uwe Nath, owner and chef at Pier 1 on the harbor in Grand Bahama.
With the boil fish and pigeon peas and rice, I'd serve a large green salad with a low calorie and low fat dressing. Then I might have Oranges with Raspberry Delight for dessert. ORANGES WITH RASPBERRY DELIGHT (Serves 4)
3 large sweet oranges
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup orange juice
Peel oranges, making sure to cut away all the white membrane. Then slice horizontally, seed if necessary, and arrange attractively on serving plates with a twist of orange zest (the peel with all the white cut off). Heat raspberries and orange juice in a small noncorrosive saucepan just until raspberries begin to exude juice. Pour in equal amounts over orange slices. Serves 4.
To make this meal really authentic, work up a good tropical sweat with some exercise before you eat. Then put a little island music on the stereo and enjoy your own Goombay Festival.
More than 800 teams, consisting of 1,100 participants, are now training for the Conch Man. Newsletters are being mailed out in late February. If you wrote for a calendar: Volunteers are working hard mailing calendars each day. If you haven't received yours, simply start walking 15 minutes three times per week or go to the library and copy the one in the Jan. 18 edition of The Post.
Volunteers are needed in the D.C. area: If you'd like to help match up teams and organize groups for those who need support to continue their training (the couch potato version of Athletes Anonymous), please write me today and mark your envelope "VOLUNTEER." Remar Sutton, P.O. Box 77033, Atlanta, Ga. 30357.