We’ve spent a week vacation in the Caribbean once a year for a while now, and we’ve learned that when the weather forecast says it’s going to rain, unlike in some places, it probably will. However, that rain will only last about fifteen minutes and the rest of the day will be sunny with warm breezes and the shower will be quickly forgotten. Only once have we had a full rain day. That was day three of our trip to Turks and Caicos. I knew when Little Guy woke me up at Oh-It’s-Still-So-Dark o’clock that it was raining, and the sound of the pounding surf suggested this was not a tropical shower. A quick dash outside to grab the still-soaked swimsuits from the day before informed me that it was not going to be a warm day either. Little Guy and I cuddled up and watched TV from his fold-out bed. We watched a lot of TV that day. It was so dark that even Squishy Delishy and Miss Magoo slept late. That was the morning that I discovered that even though Sponge Bob Square-Pants lives in a pineapple under the sea, it still rains and snows in his town of Bikini-Bottom. Who knew? Like I said, a lot of TV.
It might have been the third day we were there, but the beach was so nice and the condo so convenient that we hadn’t bothered to leave the villa to do more than buy groceries. So, a rainy day was a good excuse to see the island. We all piled into the Japanese mini-van and headed off to explore Grace Bay. My goal was to try to find some local seafood to cook.
You would think that this would be an easy goal to fulfill, but finding the fresh local fish on Turks and Caicos is not as easy as it seems. The average fisherman here doesn’t sell to tourists; he catches for his family and probably his close friends then sells the rest to wholesalers who immediately fly the fish to Miami. The fish is then sold to the same seafood suppliers that provide snapper, grouper and other local catch to the US market. Many of the Turks and Caicos restaurants buy their fish from these suppliers to guarantee a reliable who turn around and fly the fish back to the island. Sad, isn’t it?
I did a lot of research on sustainable fishing before leaving for vacation in the Caribbean because the fish usually associated with this part of the world are not harvested sustainably. What I have learned is the the question of whether or not a fish species is sustainable is not answered with a simple yes or no. Many of the fish species that are not sustainable to buy and eat at home are much more sustainable if caught in an environmentally responsible way and eaten here as a local product. The problem is not the local guy with the small motor boat and a few lines; its the deep-sea guys with long trolling lines that catch the fish you want as well as others you don’t (known as side catch). In addition, eating fish local to an area is a more natural way to eat than to eat fish from half way around the world which then needs to be kept fresh and flown thousands of miles to your plate. It’s when you want fresh grouper in Boston and fresh scallops in Turks and Caicos (which they offered at insane prices at the local grocery store) that you have a bigger problem.
Blue Ocean Institute has a fantastic sustainable seafood guide that lists an incredible number of species along with the problems associated with the sustainability of that fish. When I was researching the fish of the Caribbean, this guide was a huge help. According to them grouper, which seems to be the most overfished fin fish in the area, as fine if it is not long line caught. The same is true with snapper and mahi mahi. Local queen conch is slightly more problematic because of the need for better species management.
I had heard that finding local fresh fish was difficult. Message boards on cooking and traveling sites said to get fish at this Marina or from the fish packing plant, but all the messages were mixed with very little concrete information.
For the first few days I was there I kept asking people where to get fresh fish, and I kept getting the same responses that provided ideas but no real answer. Then finally I talked with the owner of a shop that told me where all the locals go. There is a guy who parks his red pickup truck in a pot-hole filled dirt parking lot on the road to the airport and lines up his coolers by the road each day with fresh caught fish to sell. It was certainly a place for locals; everyone seemed to know each other and most of the people who would come did not even see the need to get out of their cars.
When we got there he walked us over to the coolers and showed us the fish. He then reached down and pulled out a grouper and a huge snapper that looked so fresh I would not have been surprised to see either of them move. We agreed on the snapper which weighed in at a little over eight pounds and he then told us he would clean it but that we would have to give him “a little something”. With the most basic of supplies: a plastic bin for scaling the fish, a utility sink (without running water; it drains to a bucket), several absolutely huge knives and a single stainless steel work table set up under a bean umbrella, he scales, cleans and filets the fish to your specifications. Our eight and half pound snapper lasted four adults and Little Guy three meals.
Three days later, when the fish was finally all gone, we got back in the car and headed back to the guy with the red truck. Much like main lobster, Caribbean spiny lobster is sought after and overpriced in restaurants. In St. John, U.S.V.I., the one and only time I had spiny lobster cost me about $50 for one lobster tail. Unlike Maine lobster with its big meaty claws, spiny lobster is always sold as just the tail. The fish guy told us on our first visit that he had Lobster on Wednesdays and that a bag costs $90.00. We did know how much was in a bag, but figured since the prices were so affordable for the snapper, that we’d give it a chance and that we would probably end up with 4-6 tails to grill; enough for the four adults in our group.
Like the first time when we got there, our fishy friend led us over to the coolers by the curb. He pulled open one of the coolers and pulled out a gallon-sized ziplock bag full of lobster tails. He then counted them (an even dozen!) and we paid him and were on our way with huge smiles on our faces. That night we would FEAST on lobster.
I have a confession to make. If there were only one lobster of any species left on the planet and my eating it would mean extinction, I would probably stare at it and ask myself if I wanted it steamed or grilled. I blame my parents; they started me out on steamed blue crab at an early age, and we all know that blue crab is the gateway crustacean.
In fact, the Caribbean Spiny Lobster is not seriously endangered, but its harvesting requires more study, responsible fishing methods, and needs a Caribbean-basin-wide management plan.
Cooking a Caribbean spiny lobster was one of the recipes I had committed to memory during my months of armchair traveling. The books I read on Caribbean cuisine had recipes for curried lobster, BBQ lobster and many others, but I knew if I had one chance at a spiny lobster dinner there would be only way to make it: grilled with just a little seasoning, butter and a spritz of citrus. The meal was one of those meals that you know while you are eating it, it will go down in your mind as one of the most memorable meals you ever had. Years from now, I’ll still be able to feel the warm evening breeze and the sounds of the waves on the beach as I ate that meal.
You could make this same recipe with Maine lobster. Maine lobster is tougher and not as sweet, so it is not grilled as frequently as spiny lobster is, but the difference is minimal enough that this recipe would still be delicious using Maine lobster if that is the lobster local to where you are. This same recipe is also wonderful with shrimp, scallops and many types of fish. Enjoy!
Please note that the pictures from this and other posts from my trip in the Caribbean were taken using a point and shoot camera with flash. I apologize for the lack of any photographic skill in these pics. I was trying to relax, put down the camera and enjoy my vacation.
Thanks needs to be given to the lovely bloggers, Byron and Polly, at 2 Gringos in the Caribbean. The endless amounts of information on their fascinating blog, along with the information they shared with me were very helpful on my research for this and all of my Turks and Caicos posts.
Grilled Caribbean Lobster Tail
4-8oz lobster tails
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter plus more for serving
1/2 lime, cut in wedges
1/2 lemon, cut in wedges
about 1 tablespoon Caribbean seasoning (see below for links to some options)
Heat a grill to medium heat. Butterfly the tails by cutting through the thinner, underside of each tail. Then take a large sharp knife and cut through the hard upper shell. Slide your fingers through either side of the thin bottom shell and try to pry the shell back, breaking open the shell into two parts, still connected at the end of the tail.
Brush the lobsters with 1/2 of the butter and sprinkle with the seasoning. Run a skewer down through the center of each tail to prevent the tail from curling on the grill. Place the tails bottom (cut side) down on the preheated grill. Grill the tails for five minutes and turn over.
Spritz the tails with a few wedges of lemon and lime juice and cook for about another five minutes. Remove from heat when the meat is firm and they have cooked a total of about 8-10 minutes. Cover and let the lobster rest from about five minutes before serving. Serve with butter and the remaining wedges of lemon and lime.
These are a few of the brands that I’ve tried and enjoyed
- Old Bay: The classic is always a good choice. It’s good on everything!
- St. John Spice: I discovered St. John Spice a few years ago on a trip to St. John and love the Cruz Bay Grill Rub and Roasted Garlic Pepper. The Cruz Bay Grill Rub is what I used for the lobster in Turks and Caicos.
- Sunny Caribbee: A small spice company out of the B.V.I. I love their Super Spice on veggies, and it would have been lovely on the lobster as well.