Sandwich of the Week: Escoveitched Snapper Sandwich at Round Hill, Jamaica
An ancient techique makes a masterful modern treat
Everybody knows jerk, the now internationally popular Jamaican genre of chicken, pork, and other meats coated in a spicy dry rub based on Scotch bonnet chiles and allspice, then grilled (at least originally) on hardwood fires in oil drums adapted for the purpose. Almost unknown outside Jamaica, though — at least under the same name — is escoveitch.
This is a traditional preparation technique with deep roots, all the way back to the medieval Arab world, where the word sikbaj meant a dish of meat stewed with vinegar. The term migrated to Spain as escabeche, and came to describe a method of grilling or frying some variety of protein, usually fish or poultry, and then preserving it in vinegar and olive oil with herbs and spices added.
The Spanish brought the idea to Latin America and the Caribbean, where it became particularly valuable as a means of preserving food in a hot climate. (Though ceviche is made differently, its name comes from the same source.) In Jamaica, escabeche became escoveitch, and fish — most often kingfish or red snapper — that has been "escoveitched" remains common traditional fare on the island.
At the legendary Round Hill resort just outside Montego Bay — where the ghosts of celebrities like Noël Coward, Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, Paul Newman, and Fred Astaire might well be imagined wandering along the stone pathways above the sea — chef Martin Maginley, who likes working variations on local specialties (he makes vichyssoise out of tropical breadfruit, for instance), turns escoveitched snapper into the perfect beachside lunch sandwich.
He serves a generous slab of the fish on a big, soft bun moistened with grilled scallion mayonnaise, then adds a wisp of lettuce, a couple of thin slices of the kind of red, ripe tomatoes you don't see north of Florida this time of year, and — this really makes the sandwich — a tangle of shredded pickled onion, carrot, and both sweet and hot peppers. The flavors are bright, clean, and politely spicy, and the pickled vegetables add a satisfying crunch. Everything blends together perfectly, which is the sign of a great sandwich. Washed down with a heady rum punch at the palm-frond-shaded bar just off the sand, it's pretty much the definition of tropical paradise.
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