17 April 2008

Back in the blogosphere

After the myriad of changes that follow an international move, life in Bermuda has finally settled down enough for Chefette to get back into the blogosphere. In the interests of fair disclosure, I should probably confess that a lot of the changes have been easy to get used to. Sunshine in January, regular walks along the beach, and Dark & Stormy’s can have an impact for the better on one’s attitude to life.

But what about the food?

Chefette wishes she could say that it was all deliciousness and succulence. But it ain’t quite so simple.

Foodie in Bermuda

Well over 90% of the food eaten in Bermuda is imported, mainly from the US. Factor in the shipping costs and import duties, and it doesn’t take long to realise why prices here would induce sticker shock for most shoppers in the US or the UK. Plus, only locally-owned stores are allowed in Bermuda, so it’s no surprise that grocers on an island of around 67,000 inhabitants won’t have the same economies of scale as a Tesco or a Costco. As one local website put it, “What a couple can buy in the USA for a week will be less expensive than buying food in Bermuda for two days.”

As for the quality of the produce in the supermarkets, it can charitably be described as very uneven. ‘Fresh’ herbs are frequently brown and limp. Nor is it unusual to find a bruised or mouldy piece of fruit in among the display bins.

So how does a self-respecting foodie survive? By procuring as much food as possible outside of the supermarkets. And in one way at least, Bermuda positively excels in direct-to-consumer food distribution. Namely, the cooler of fish by the side of the road.

Heavenly fish

Lots of Bermudians buy their fish directly from fishermen at the side of the road (or off the back of a boat). Sometimes there’s a sign out, saying ‘Wahoo’ or ‘Jacks’. More often than not, there’s just a chap sitting next to his parked car with a couple of big white coolers and a set of scales. Some Fridays he’s there early, some Fridays he’s not there at all, and you never quite know what fish he’ll be selling. All of which adds to the thrill when you get a freshly caught bargain.

The local fish are heavenly eating, and amazing value for money compared with London prices. Last Friday morning, for example, I bought a 2.5 kg red snapper from a fisherman on Trimingham Road for $50. It was a beautiful specimen, really firm with sparklingly clear eyes, that could easily have gone for £60 ($120) at a London fishmonger’s. So beautiful, in fact, that I took a picture. Half of it got eaten at a dinner party at Chefette’s that night, pan-fried and garnished with herb butter (recipe below). And the leftovers went into a mouthwateringly bright fish soup.

Not every fish bought from a cooler will be of top quality. Some fisherman will post a sign for ‘Fresh Bermuda fish’, but when you ask them when it was caught, they’ll happily confess that it spent a few days/weeks in their freezer. Others have been known to try to pass off parrotfish as snapper.

Over time, though, you get to know where and when your favourite fishermen are likely to be. And of course, the locals get their best fish for free when a buddy comes back with extras from his latest day out on the boat. Maybe I need to drop more hints with boat-owning friends now that summer is approaching…

Pan-fried red snapper with herb butter

80g unsalted butter
2-3T of mixed finely chopped fresh herbs*
1 small garlic clove, peeled and mashed to a paste with a pinch of kosher salt
Zest from ½ a lemon and a squeeze of the juice
4x fillets of red snapper, 170-200g each
Salt & pepper
Olive oil


1. Make the herb butter ahead of time. Allow the butter to soften to the point where it is pliable, but not greasy. Cream the butter with a wooden spoon. Add the herbs, garlic and lemon zest and juice, and combine thoroughly. It should be pleasantly light green in colour from the herbs.

2. Form the butter into a roughly cylindrical shape, and then roll it up tight in cling film like a sausage. Refrigerate until firm. (It will hold like this in the fridge for a week or so).

3. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat, and when the oil is hot but not smoking, add the fish skin-side down. Cook until the fish is just cooked through, turning once. (How long this takes will depend on the thickness of your fillets. If they are very thick, you will get the best results finishing them in a 200C/400F oven after you have turned them over.)

4. While the fish is finishing, cut thin rounds from the chilled stick of herb butter. To serve, garnish each fish fillet with 1 or 2 rounds of the herby butter on the flesh side, so that the mixture melts into the flesh of the fish.

* I used a mixture of chives, parsley, thyme and oregano