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.
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)
- 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.