Jamaican Escovitch Fish is a quick and easy Caribbean fried fish recipe. It’s made with seasoned red snapper and sliced kingfish, fried until golden and crispy, topped with a colourful medley of pickled vegetables. Serve with fried dumpling, festival or bammy for breakfast, lunch, dinner or anytime throughout the day!
Want more Jamaican seafood inspired recipes? You definitely want to check out these Jamaican Curry Shrimp (Seafood) or this Jamaican Coconut Curried Salmon! And, don’t forget to serve with this Jamaican Pickled Vegetables (Escovitch Sauce)!
Jamaican Escovitch Fish
Growing up, I despised almost 90% of the fish dishes that crossed by eyes. However, I always seemed to make an exception when my mum made Jamaican Escovitch Fish. This was especially true during the holidays and on Good Friday/ Easter weekend! To this day, it’s still an absolute favourite of mine.
In this recipe, the fish is seasoned with a simple but perfect blend, fried until golden and crispy outside, and marinated under a beautiful mix of vegetables cooked in a vinegar-based dressing. It’s a simple dish that comes together quickly, with very few steps but packs great taste, flavour and island feels.
Here’s Why You’ll Love This Recipe Too
Versatile – between swapping the fish for a variety your prefer, to playing around with various veggie combinations this recipe can be made unique to your taste preferences.
Air Fryer Friendly Recipe – instead of frying in oil, try using the air fryer for a healthier alternative.
Texturally Appetizing – the combination of the crunchy pickled veggies along with the crispy fish skin, and fleshy meat it will have you singing for more.
What is Escovitch Fish?
Escovitch Fish is a very popular fried fish dish, served on the island of Jamaican from morning until night. It is fish, often red snapper or sliced king fish fried and then marinated or pickled under a medley of vinegar, spices and vegetables.
History of Jamaican Escovitch Fish
Escovitch Fish originates in Spain and dates back to the 16th century when the Spanish introduced it to Jamaica. This speaks to the complex mix of colonial cultures that influence the island. The word escovitch comes from the Spanish word “escabeche”, which is used to describe a dish of fish that is fried then marinated in vinegar and spices. Also known as pickling, this was a great way to preserve food and keep them from spoiling in the days prior to refrigeration.
What Does Escovitch Fish Taste Like
This dish is similar to ceviche, a South American process of cooking fish or seafood using vinegar. However, unlike ceviche, the fish is first fried and the veggies sauteed until tender crisp before pouring atop the fish to marinate. It has a slightly sweet tangy taste with a hint of spice which enhances the natural flavour of the fish.
What Type of Fish to Use
Traditionally, boneless snapper, whole snapper, sliced kingfish or goatfish is used. Goatfish, may be difficult to find depending on where you live. You can use whatever fish you prefer although, firmer bodied fish are ideal.
Red Snapper – is one of the most popular of all white fish, and most commonly referenced in Jamaica. It has a firm texture and a slightly sweet, slightly nutty flavour with a leaner flesh often sold whole or in fillets. It can be eaten fried, steamed, escoveitched, jerked, roasted or baked.
Sliced Kingfish – particularly enjoyed by those who don’t like to deal with fish bones, this fish can be bought in 1/2 inch to 1 inch slices. It’s popular for their firm, white, slightly oily flesh.
Other varieties of fish that can be used are; goatfish, yellowtail snapper, lane snapper or grunt. Ideally, a white, mildly sweet fish with a firmer flesh works well.
What’s the Best Oil for Frying Fish?
The best oil for frying fish is oil that has a high smoke point and neutral flavor so it doesn’t overpower or interfere with the taste of the fish. Some options are canola, sunflower, peanut or safflower oil.
Infuse Oil With Scotch Bonnet Pepper
Scotch Bonnet Pepper – before frying fish, add a whole scotch bonnet pepper or slices of scotch bonnet pepper with seeds removed to the pot of oil. This adds a boost of flavour and spice to the oil in which the fish will absorb while cooking.
You can also infuse or “season” your frying oil with thyme sprigs, crushed garlic and pimento seeds for added flavour.
How to Prepare Fish for Cooking
Scale Fish by holding the fish by the tail and using the blade of a knife, scrape off the the scales working towards the head of the fish.
Clean Fish – cut the underbelly of the fish, and remove the intestines/guts.
Cut Fins and Trim Tail – using kitchen shears, cut off all fins and trim the tail.
Wash and Pat Dry – Caribbeans typically wash their fish with lime or lemon, rinsing with water and ensuring the cavity is thoroughly cleaned. Then using paper towel or dishcloth, pat dry and set aside.
Season Fish – proceed with seasoning the fish as desired.
Ingredients and Ingredient Notes
Fried Fish Seasoning
- Snapper Fish – this is a red exterior fish, with white flesh that has a firm texture and a slightly sweet, slightly nutty flavour.
- King Fish – this is a firm, white, slightly oily flesh fish. It’s great for those who love a fish with little to no bones.
- Seasoning Salt – alternatively you can use seafood seasoning or all-purpose seasoning.
- Salt – ensure you season both the exterior and cavity of the fish. Salt helps the skin to crisp while cooking and prevents sticking.
- Black Pepper – this adds flavour, along with the salt.
- Scotch Bonnet Pepper – this is a way to season your oil prior to frying fish and add heat.
- Lemon – in the language of my mom, lemon “cuts the rawness”.
- Cooking Oil – use one with a high smoke point and neutral flavour. Canola, sunflower, peanut or safflower oil are great options.
- Yellow Onion – you can use yellow or cooking onions, sweet onions or white onions.
- Carrot – thinly slice or julienne these.
- Orange and Red Bell Pepper – choose between any two colours for variety in the final dish.
- Chayote – is a type of squash and has a taste between a mild apple and cucumber with a crisp texture.
- Scotch Bonnet Pepper – this adds spice and flavour to the dish. It’s extremely hot, so use with caution and sparingly.
- Whole Pimento Seeds – also known as allspice berries and tastes like a warm blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
- White Vinegar – this is a key ingredient in the pickling/escovitch process.
- Granulated White Sugar – this helps to balance out the spiciness of the scotch bonnet pepper.
- Salt – you need just a small amount, as the fish is already seasoned well.
- Oil – use just a teaspoon of the oil used to the fry the fish; this is an optional step.
Kitchen Tools Needed to Fry Fish
Large Heavy Bottom Pot – cast iron pots hold heat well, large pots require more oil however the temperature will be more stable and will recover more quickly, and deep pans ensure a enough oil can fit to fry the fish.
Fish Turner or Flipper – this is a wide spatula, that makes flipping the fish an easier effortless task.
Rack and Sheet Pan: place the rack placed over a sheet pan and drain the fish from the oil after it is cooked.
Splatter Screen – this is optional, but is helpful in keeping the mess to a minimum.
Thermometer – a helpful kitchen tool that reads the heat level of the oil, to ensure optimal temperature for frying.
How to Make Jamaican Escovitch Fish
Prep & Season Fish
- Prepare your Fish – clean and scale fish, then pat dry. On one side of the fish, make 2 slits. Season with all purpose or seasoning salt, salt and black pepper and allow to marinate. Ensure you get the seasoning in-between the slits and inside cavity.
- Fry Fish – using a large, non-stick skillet, heat cooking oil and scotch bonnet pepper on high heat. Fry fish for about 5 minutes on each side. Remove fish from oil and place on wire rack to drain excess oil; set aside.
- Prep Veggies & Sauté – prep your vegetables and set aside. In a medium sized saucepan, add scotch bonnet, chayote, carrot, bell peppers, onions, vinegar, pimento, oil, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat then allow to simmer for about 3 minutes or until liquid has been absorbed.
- Allow to Marinate – transfer fish into a dish with a lid. Pour and spoon the dressing on top of the fish then cover with a lid. Allow to marinate overnight, and serve the next day for best results.
Air Fryer Method
Preheat airfryer to 400°F (200°C) and place seasoned fish in the air fryer basket for about 14-16 minutes, turning at the halfway point. If using whole snapper or fish, cut the fish in half to fit in basket if too large.
See My Story Below for Step-by-Step Instructions
Recipe Variations and Substitutions
Fish – typically red snapper and sliced kingfish are used, however other varieties of fish that can work are; goatfish, yellowtail snapper, lane snapper or grunt. Ideally, a white, mildly sweet fish with a firmer flesh works well.
Vinegar – making this recipe over the years, I’ve always used white vinegar. However, you can also use malt or red wine vinegar,
Scotch Bonnet Pepper – if you’re not able to get your hands on this pepper, you can substitute with habanero pepper or your preferred pepper of choice.
Can I Make this Ahead of Time?
This dish is best served when you allow the flavours of the pickled vegetables to marinate into the flesh of the fish for a few hours ahead of serving or overnight. I’m personally advocating that you make this dish one day ahead; your tastebuds will thank you!
How to Store Escovitch Fish
As this dish is best served the day after it is made; to store, place in an airtight container or dish with a lid and place in refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.
How to Reheat Escovitch Fish
Escovitch fish can be served at room temperature, or cold (if stored in refrigerator). However, if you prefer a heated dish, you can do so by placing in the oven until heated through.
How to Serve Escovitch Fish
Serve escovitch fish with bammy, Jamaican fried dumpling, festival, roasted breadfruit or hard dough bread. Alternatively, you can serve with white rice, or ground provision like potatoes and yams.
Jamaican Escovitch Fish Recipe Notes & Tips
- Don’t Over Fry – once the fish is cooked through (internal temp of 145° F) and has turned golden and crispy, carefully remove the fish from the oil and drain on a wire rack.
- When to Flip Fish – don’t flip your fish until it can freely move in the pan; this will ensure it stays whole and intact.
- This fish is not meant to have “sauce”. Any liquid from the pickled vegetables should all be soaked up by the fish once poured on top.
- Scotch Bonnet Pepper – if you prefer a slight heat, leave the pepper whole. If you prefer more spice, slice the pepper and remove the seeds. But, if you’re up for the challenge include the whole pepper sliced with the seeds!
- Fish – a white, mildly sweet fish with a firmer flesh works well such as snapper or kingfish.
- Marinate – the fish in the dry seasoning overnight in the fridge if time permits, as this adds more flavour.
- Pimento Seeds – also known as whole allspice berries add deeper flavour than ground allspice, but they aren’t meant to be eaten. When ready to eat, leave them in the serving plate.
Interested in more Jamaican Recipes? Check These Out!
- Jamaican Brown Stew Chicken
- Jamaican Rice and Peas
- Jamaican Fried Dumpling
- Jamaican Curry Shrimp (Seafood)
- Vegan Jamaican Bulgur Wheat & Peas (Rice & Peas Remix)
- Jamaican Rasta Pasta
- Quick & Easy Jamaican Jerk Chicken
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Jamaican Escovitch Fish
- Non-Stick Pan or Skillet
- Fish Turner or Flipper
- Rack and Sheet Pan
- Splatter Screen
Fried Fish Seasoning
- 2 Snapper Fish whole, medium
- 2 King Fish sliced, large
- 1/2 tsp Seasoning Salt or seafood seasoning/all-purpose seasoning
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 Scotch Bonnet Pepper sliced, optional
- 1/2 Juice from Lemon
- 1 1/4 cup Cooking Oil canola, sunflower, peanut or safflower oil
- 2 Yellow Onion medium, sliced
- 1 Carrot medium, julienned
- 1/2 Orange Bell Pepper julienned, or any colour
- 1/2 Red Bell Pepper julienned, or any colour
- 1/2 Chayote large, julienned
- 1/2 Scotch Bonnet Pepper seeds removed and sliced
- 6-7 Whole Pimento Seeds
- 1/4 cup White Vinegar
- 3 tsp Granulated White Sugar
- 1/4 tsp Salt more or less to taste
- 1 tsp Oil from pot used to fry fish
Prep & Season Fish
- Prepare your fish (clean/scale); pat dry. On one side of the fish, make 2 slits (ensuring not to cut the fish in half). Season with all purpose or seasoning salt, salt and black pepper. Marinate overnight or a few hours ahead, and refrigerate – ensure you get the seasoning in-between the slits.
- Using a large, non-stick skillet, heat cooking oil and scotch bonnet pepper on high heat. Fry fish for about 5 minutes on each side. Do not flip until it can freely move (a crisp exterior should have formed on the fish). Remove fish from oil and place on wire rack to drain excess oil; set aside.
- Prep your vegetables and set aside. In a medium sized saucepan, add scotch bonnet, chayote, carrot, bell peppers, onions, vinegar, pimento, oil, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat then allow to simmer for about 3 minutes or until liquid has been absorbed.
- Transfer fish into a dish with a lid. Pour and spoon the dressing on top of the fish then cover with a lid. Allow to marinate overnight, and serve the next day for best results.
Note, the nutritional information is calculated using a nutrition facts calculator. It is a rough estimate and can vary based on products used.