Escovitch Fish

No Jamaican celebration is complete without a platter of fried fish and colorful pickled peppers.

  • Serves


  • Prep

    8 hours

  • Cook

    50 minutes


By Lelani Lewis

Published on February 29, 2024

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In her debut cookbook, Code Noir: Afro-Caribbean Stories and Recipes, writer and activist Lelani Lewis celebrates the many intermingling culinary traditions of the Caribbean. In this recipe, she highlights an essential dish on festive tables across Jamaica, a whole fried red snapper surrounded by lightly pickled vegetables, often enjoyed with steamed rice, sliced avocado, and fried banana. Its flavors may bring to mind the Spanish tradition of “escabeche,” fish or meat cooked in vinegar sauce. Yet its use of essential Caribbean ingredients—including red snapper, Scotch bonnet chiles, and allspice berries—and its colorful, flavorful composition explain why it has become a dish of national renown and significant pride. 

Scotch bonnet chiles can be found at many African and Caribbean grocery stores. If you can’t find red snapper, Lewis suggests mahi-mahi as an alternative. 

Adapted from Code Noir: Afro-Caribbean Stories and Recipes (Tra Publishing, February 20, 2024) by Lelani Lewis. Food photography copyright © Remko Kraaijeveld 2023. 


For the fish:

  • 2 whole red snappers (about 2 lb. each), cleaned and scaled
  • ½ tsp. allspice berries, plus 4 allspice berries
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • One 1-in. piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • Fine salt
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 Tbsp. red lentil flour, or all-purpose flour

For the pickled vegetables:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • One ½-in. piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp. turbinado or light brown sugar
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 2 carrots, shaved lengthwise into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 small Scotch bonnet chile, finely chopped
  • ½ medium red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • ½ medium yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • ½ medium orange bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • Fine salt and freshly ground black pepper


Step 1

Prepare the fish: On a large baking sheet, place the red snappers, and using a sharp knife, cut three diagonal, parallel slashes crosswise on both sides of each fish.

Step 2

Using a mortar and pestle or a small food processor, grind the ½ teaspoon of allspice berries, then add the lime juice, cayenne, smoked paprika, and ginger, and pound or purée into a paste. Smear the paste on the inside and outside of each fish and season generously with salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8–24 hours. Bring to room temperature before cooking.

Step 3

Make the pickled vegetables: In a medium skillet set over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, ginger, and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and beginning to soften, 2–3 minutes. Add the rice vinegar, sugar, thyme, allspice, carrots, chile, and bell peppers, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened but still retain some bite, 3–4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper, then remove from the heat and set aside.

Step 4

Fry the fish: Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Sprinkle the flour evenly over both sides of each fish. To a very large, deep skillet fitted with a deep-fry thermometer, add the vegetable oil. Turn the heat to medium-high, and when the temperature reads 340°F, add the thyme and remaining allspice (be careful; the oil will splatter). Working in batches, add the fish and fry, turning halfway through with a fish spatula or tongs, until the skin is brown and crispy and the fish is firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Using a fish spatula or tongs, transfer to the prepared baking sheet to drain.

Step 5

To serve, transfer the fried fish to a platter and top with the pickled vegetables.

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