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Fry Like a Bajan

Learning to Fry Like a Bajan

One of my first Caribbean vacations was a week in Barbados with my husband Matt. The Mount Gay rum distillery was a big draw, along with the island's reputation for fresh fish and terrific hospitality. We certainly found all in abundance.

I love fish and planned to eat plenty of it during my Barbados holiday. By the end of the week, my tally was 11 different types of fish, much of it local. I experienced my one and only taste of barracuda (delicious, but risky due to the potential for ciguatera) and sampled wahoo for the first time. What most captivated my taste buds was the Bajan preparation for flying fish: deep fried with a mouth-watering curry-scented breading.

Matt and I grew up in Wisconsin, known for fresh water fishing and brewing beer. So it's no surprise that Friday fish frys with beer battered fish are a long-standing part of our Wisconsin culture. Upon arrival in Barbados, we ventured across the island via bus to the famous Friday fish fry at Oistins, where locals and visitors alike gather for excellent fresh fish. We were pleased to discover that Bajans love their fish frys as much as we do. We were even more delighted to find that Bajan fish frys aren't limited to Fridays. Each day in the late afternoon, no matter where we were on the island, we started smelling what I simply called the "fried curry" smell of Barbados. The scent would inevitably lead us to a terrific meal of fried flying fish.

I was determined to import Bajan-style fish frys to my friends and family in the US, but first I had to ascertain the types and amounts of spices for the fish. In the main city of Bridgetown, I searched shops for a cookbook–always a favourite souvenir of mine–to find a recipe. Unfortunately, none looked quite right. My inquiries at restaurants weren't particularly helpful either, as advice usually involved "a little bit of this" and "a pinch of that" or contained something as elusive as the cook's mother's secret spice blend.

After some trial and error–mainly by Matt, who took on this project as a culinary challenge–we came up with a recipe that mimics the fish served in Barbados. Flying fish are the classic fish for a Bajan-style fish fry, but they can be difficult to find. (Check Sailor's Ketch at Tortola's East End, which sometimes stocks frozen Caribbean flying fish). Fortunately, this easy recipe can be used with any firm white fish. Wahoo is my top choice, although mahi mahi and grouper are also excellent.

A deep fryer helps maintain a consistent oil temperature and keeps frying safer in your kitchen. If you don't have a fryer, carefully fry the fish in a large, deep pan on the stove, ideally using a thermometer. Serve the fish with a mustard-based hot sauce (look for sauce with a yellow colour), such as Pusser's.

Do as Bajans do and pair your fish fry with a cool Mount Gay rum drink. Enjoy this fish fry any day of the week, not just Friday.




Bajan-Style Fried Fish Fingers
Adding the same seasonings to both the egg mixture and the breadcrumb mixture ensures very flavourful fish.

2 lbs wahoo or mahi mahi fillets, skinned and cut into 1" wide strips
Canola oil, for frying
Egg Mixture:
1 egg
1/2 c milk
2 tsp seasoned salt
1 tsp each: granulated garlic, cumin and curry powder
Breadcrumb Mixture:
1 c plain breadcrumbs
2 tsp seasoned salt
1 tsp each: granulated garlic, cumin and curry powder

In a medium bowl, beat egg well with a whisk. Add milk and spices and stir. Add fish and stir to coat. While the fish is soaking in the egg mixture, combine breadcrumbs and remaining seasonings in a zip-top plastic bag. Remove fish from egg mixture and add fish to breadcrumb mixture. Shake the bag well to coat the fish.

Fry fish in batches in canola oil, at about 350∞F, until fish is golden brown. Drain on paper towel, then serve immediately. Serves four.

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