The Boat Man’s Lemon Fish (Ocho Rios style)

  • Prep Time
    20 minutes
  • Cook Time
    20 minutes
  • Serving
  • View

On the first full day of my August 2023 trip to Jamaica, I met Gerrie the Boat Man on the beach.  He was selling boat rides on his small fishing boat and I was the only taker.  We wound up at what Gerrie called a “real Jamaican” restaurant on the water where the freshest local fish and lobster were served.  The service was terribly slow but no one seemed to care, and when the lobster arrived the wait was well worth it.  My lobster was served steamed with a “run down” of spices and vegetables.  While THIS fish dish is not a replica of what I ate in Jamaica, it certainly evokes the same flavors with coconut milk, garlic and ginger, chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.  It also reminds me of The Boat Man who told me he only eats fish and vegetables, no meat at all.  I have to tell you that the fish Gerrie ordered at the waterfront eatery was FULL of bones, but he ate the entire thing stem to stern, leaving a fully intact fish carcass on his plate which was wrapped up to be taken home.  Clearly, nothing goes to waste on The Boat Man’s table.  He would put a whole forkful of boney fish in his mouth, then noisily suck the flesh off the bones and carefully extrude the slivers of fish bones through his lips and into the palm of his hand.  It was kind of like watching a man tie a knot in a cherry stem without using his hands.  As he ate, Gerrie (pronounced Gary but he spelled his name several times for me) somehow reconstructed the fish skeleton on his plate so it looked like the fish had been dipped in flesh eating acid.  It was a truly amazing if not an unexpectedly provocative sight.  And this chewing, sucking and spitting was done not only with a complete lack of self-consciousness but also with a degree of flirtation.  The fact I was staring in amazement did not daunt The Boat Man.  He only coughed once and then a swig of Red Stripe was enough to get an errant bone down his throat.  Gerrie the Boat Man also told me that I was not “too old” for him, thank you very much.  Then as he said, “Okay, Boss Lady?” he reached over and ate the remaining food on my plate.

I really think Gerrie would appreciate this recipe for fish… it is light and intensely flavored and redolent of lime and cilantro.  The preparation showcases a good fresh piece of fish, and it’s so simple to make.  This recipe was recently published in the New York Times and the only change I made was that I used roasted garlic instead of fresh minced garlic which I believe imparted a certain depth of sweetness.  I also used lemon fish because it was what the man in the seafood department at Dorignac’s recommended.  It was firm and white fleshed, almost “steaky.”  But you could use halibut, sablefish, bass or any other fish fillet you prefer, skin on or off.  Just adjust your cooking time according to the thickness of the fish.  And watch out for bones.


Fish and Sauce


    When you are ready to cook: Heat the oven to 425 degrees and position a rack in the lower part of the oven, and the other rack just beneath the broiler element.

    Step 1

    In a large bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, ginger, garlic, turmeric, red pepper flakes, honey and 1 teaspoon salt.

    Step 2

    Zest and juice 1 lime into the milk mixture. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Place the fish filets in an oven proof casserole, then pour in the milk mixture, and turn the fish to coat. Marinate in the frig for 30 minutes.

    Step 3

    Remove the casserole from the frig. Arrange the tomatoes around the fish and pour a few TBS. of olive oil over the dish.

    Step 4

    Put the casserole on the lower rack of the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until almost done.

    Step 5

    Move the casserole to the top rack, set the oven on BROIL - HI and broil until the sauce is golden and bubbly on top. It will be the most beautiful color!

    Step 6

    Sprinkle the rest of the cilantro over the top of the dish and squeeze some lime juice over everything. Serve with lime wedges on the side.

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