Caribbean Grilled Fish

4 8-ounce fish fillets such as
amberjack, grouper or snapper,
preferably with skin on
4 Tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon salt
10 grinds on a pepper mill
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch ground nutmeg
Pinch ground allspice
Pinch cayenne pepper
Juice of 1 lime

Rinse fillets and pat dry. If skin is on, remove most scales. (It doesn’t hurt to leave some on as the skin serves as a shell in which to cook the fish.)
In a small skillet, melt butter and mix in all other ingredients.
Heat a gas, or preferably a charcoal grill, to hot.
Brush both sides of fish fillets with butter mixture and place over heat on the grill. Cook for about 2 minutes and turn over. Brush again with butter and cook 2 minutes. Move fish to the side and check for doneness. If fish flakes with a fork but is still moist, it should be done. If not, continue cooking
until flaky but moist. Do not overcook.
Serve with mango salsa
(recipe below).
(If you prefer a jerk fish, use a jerk marinade instead of the above butter sauce. In this case the mango salsa
is optional.)
Serves 4

Mango Salsa

2 ripe mangos, seeded and cut into ¼-inch cubes
¾ cup black beans, cooked or canned
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped green onions
1 Tablespoon chopped jalapeno pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
Juice of 1 lime

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to serve, for at least 1 hour.
Makes 3 cups

Creole cooking is a melting pot of cuisines, and Caribbean is one that’s gaining recognition in the Crescent City.

We are linked with our Caribbean neighbors, as we share the Gulf of Mexico, hot weather and tropical climates.

“Most important is a mix of people from the whole region  historically trading with the Spice Islands, people coming here, going there,” says Neal Swidler, executive chef of Broussard’s, of the commonalities shared between Creole and Caribbean cooking. “Hot weather makes for people enjoining more lush flavors.”

So Swidler is one chef putting Caribbean influence front and center on his broad new menu at the historic restaurant in the French Quarter, with dishes such as fish with coconut rice, grilled pineapple, fried plantains and smoked black bean sauce.

 Although Swidler’s menu is complex with a variety of styles, he draws on Caribbean where appropriate. Fish and chicken are staples of the islands and New Orleans, and Swidler prepares a jerk sauce that can go on either. Just as his coconut rice partners well with seafood, he intensifies a crab croquette with avocado salsa, red chile crema and mango glaze.

The original link between Creole and Caribbean cooking came with African slave ships that stopped in the Caribbean for supplies. A variety of spices and other Caribbean products were loaded onto the ships and traveled to New Orleans.

Rice from Africa joined peppers from the Caribbean and seafood from the Gulf for dishes such as gumbo and jambalaya. Peas or beans with rice were enjoyed in the islands much like our legendary combination of beans and rice is loved here.

Another chef to brighten her menus with Caribbean flavors is Nina Compton, a native of St. Lucia and chef-owner of Compère Lapin, recently opened the Warehouse District.

“I showcase conch, curried goat, scotch bonnet peppers, pineapple and mangoes,” she says. “A lot of my cooking is French, Creole and Caribbean all together.”

Compton made her cooking debut in New Orleans when filming BRAVO’s “Top Chef” here. Although it was her first visit to the city, she says, “I knew right away that New Orleans was where I wanted to be.”

The name of her restaurant comes from a favorite childhood story book about Brother Rabbit. Drawing on the story’s themes of exploration and play, she will offer an inventive menu that mixes flavors.

“Curried goat was my comfort food growing up,” she said. Conch fritters is another specialty featured prominently on her menu.

While chefs like Swidler and Compton create new ways to dress local ingredients in Caribbean fare, home cooks have more access than ever to plantains, avocados, a variety of peppers and tropical fruit, all good attire for outfitting seafood, chicken and pork.

Chef Neal Swidler’s Jerk Marinade

12 green onions, chopped
2 habanero peppers, roughly chopped
1 Tablespoon ground allspice
2 Tablespoons dried thyme
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon black pepper
½ cup cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Purée all ingredients in food processor until smooth.
Use as a marinade for jerk chicken and fish. Also, brush the marinade on the chicken or fish while cooking.
Makes about 2 cups

Check Neal Swidler’s Coconut Rice

2 cups sushi rice
2 ½ cups water
1 cup coconut milk
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
½ cup shredded coconut

Rinse sushi rice several times in cold water. You can do this by putting the rice in a bowl, filling it with water and pouring the water off. Drain well. Cook in a rice cooker with water. Or, add rice and water to a medium pot and bring to a boil, uncovered. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Let rice set for 10 minutes. Once cooked, turn out using a rubber spatula and fold in remaining ingredients while hot. Allow rice to sit to absorb flavors for about 10 minutes before serving; or rice can be cooked and reheated.
Serves 8 to 10