Mahalia’s Pwason Gwo Sèl

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, I drove to writer Mahalia Solages’ house with that wonderful sense of contended anticipation: we were to spend some time cooking together! It was such a breezy, tulip-soft day. As Mahalia taught me the recipe for Pwason Gwo Sèl she inherited from her grandmother, I listened intently, nodding, cocking my eyebrow, biting my lip, and opening my eyes wide at the simplicity of it all.

Pwason Gwo Sèl is a delicious Haitian dish named after the coarse salt (gwo sèl) traditionally used to prepare it. The dish is both affordable and an excellent source of protein.

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Here’s the recipe, as provided by Mahalia:

What you need:

  • 2 gutted, cleaned whole snappers (tail and fins trimmed). One snapper can feed 3-4 people. (Okay, take a look at the size of your fish. It may feed 1 or 2)
  • 5 limes
  • Sea salt
  • 1 whole lemon (diced)
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 shallots (diced)
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2 C water (*or 4 Cups, see below)
  • 3 celery stalks
  • 3 scallions
  • ½ green bell pepper, sliced
  • bunch of chopped parsley
  • 1/4 C butter

What you do:

In a shallow pan, place snappers and cut slits on both sides of fish about 2” apart. On both sides, sprinkle sea salt liberally along with the juice of 3 limes. Stuff cavities evenly with diced lemon, 3 garlic cloves and shallots. Sprinkle with pepper and brush with olive oil. Let marinate for a few hours. Why? We need all those flavors to develop. Reserve liquid that collects at bottom of the pan.

In a separate pan, add 2 cups of water, celery, scallions, bell pepper and parsley. Bring to a boil. Add reserved fish liquid and butter, and then reduce to a simmer for ten minutes.

You can also grill the fish for 7-8 minutes on each side. (I live in Florida, so the weather is wonderful to grill all year.)

Place in a large platter and pour that simmered liquid over top. Serve with a little salad, some white rice, or rustic bread if you are the type to sop up the liquid. ☺ I like the crispy skin and just prefer the appearance of fish that’s been grilled rather than boiled.

*Traditionally, this recipe calls for the fish to be boiled. Soooo…put 4 cups of water instead to celery, scallions, bell pepper and parsley. Add fish, reserved liquid and butter. Bring to a boil. Simmer for ten minutes.

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