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How to Make Jamaican Fish Tea (Fish Soup)

I always loved this soup when I was growing up in the Caribbean, and today it is still one of my favorites. My kids love it, too.

In my native Jamaica, fish tea is typically a summertime soup—although I enjoy it at all times of the year.

In my native Jamaica, fish tea is typically a summertime soup—although I enjoy it at all times of the year.

What Kind of Name Is "Fish Tea"?

"Fish tea" may seem like an odd name for a fish soup, but there is a reason for this name choice. The reason has to do with the fact that the broth for this soup is very thin, containing only a few ingredients. In Jamaica, where I grew up, it is typically a summertime soup—although I enjoy eating it year-round.

Don’t Let the Name Fool You

Let me tell you what fish tea is not:

  • It’s not tea.
  • It’s not something you drink out of a dainty teacup that is decorated with flowers.

Now let me tell you what fish tea is:

  • It’s a soup that I enjoy during the summer, especially on a rainy day.
  • It’s a fish-based soup laden with lots of delicious goodness in every bite.

When I was growing up in Jamaica, we used whole fish in this soup. This meant that when we were drinking it, we were constantly looking out for bones.

When I make this soup today, however, I use de-boned fillets. It is much easier to eat, and it’s much safer, as well—especially if there are children at the table.

This recipe is quite versatile. If you cannot find certain ingredients where you live, feel free to make substitutions and make this recipe your own.

This recipe is quite versatile. If you cannot find certain ingredients where you live, feel free to make substitutions and make this recipe your own.

Cook Time and Yield

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

20 min

50 min

1 hour 10 min

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 pound pumpkin, chopped
  • 6 small potatoes, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 sweet green pepper, chopped
  • 1 red sweet pepper, chopped (optional)
  • 1 habanero pepper
  • 2 to 4 scallions, chopped
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • Your choice of herbs and spices; e.g., cumin, basil, oregano (optional)
  • 2 pounds fish fillet (any type)
  • 1 (15-oz. can) coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Instructions

  1. In a large stockpot, add 8 cups of water and salt. Bring to a boil.
  2. Add pumpkin. Cook for about 10 minutes to soften the pumpkin.
  3. Add potatoes, onion, carrot, peppers, scallions, and garlic.
  4. Add herbs and spices. Boil for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables have softened.
  5. Add fish and coconut milk. Stir well.
  6. Bring the soup back up to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Cook for about 30 more minutes.
  7. Enjoy!
When the water has reached the boil, add the pumpkin cubes. The pumpkin will help to give the soup some color.

When the water has reached the boil, add the pumpkin cubes. The pumpkin will help to give the soup some color.

I prefer to keep the skins on the potatoes, but you can feel free to peel yours, if that is your preference.

I prefer to keep the skins on the potatoes, but you can feel free to peel yours, if that is your preference.

Add onions, scallions, habanero pepper, sweet peppers, and garlic.

Add onions, scallions, habanero pepper, sweet peppers, and garlic.

At this point, add the herbs and spices. Boil for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened.

At this point, add the herbs and spices. Boil for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened.

For this recipe, I used frozen whiting as well as some smoked herring. The fish should be added toward the end of the cooking process because otherwise it will break up too much and disintegrate into the broth.

For this recipe, I used frozen whiting as well as some smoked herring. The fish should be added toward the end of the cooking process because otherwise it will break up too much and disintegrate into the broth.

Add the coconut milk and stir well.

Add the coconut milk and stir well.

Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes. At this point you may also want to do a taste test to adjust the salt and other seasonings.

Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes. At this point you may also want to do a taste test to adjust the salt and other seasonings.

Delicious!

Delicious!

Note About Choosing the Fish

Any kind of fish can work well for this dish. The choice depends entirely on your preference. I often use snapper, which is a traditional choice for this tea.

If you are purchasing a whole fish, you can simply ask the butcher to fillet it for you. Or it's entirely reasonable to just use the whole fish.

When I was growing up, my grandmother made this soup using whole fish, head included, with bones. I once had a bad experience when a fish bone became lodged in my throat, requiring medical attention. When I had children, I decided to use fillets to avoid the possibility of this happening to my kids. Now, I am able to enjoy the dish without any anxiety about bones.

Tips on Preparing the Fish

  1. Wash the fish in water and lemon or lime juice.
  2. If the fish has scales, remove them by running a knife against the grain of the scales.
  3. If you are using frozen fish fillets, there is no need to defrost them before adding them to the soup.

Fresh vs. Canned Vegetables

Although I prefer to use fresh vegetables, it's also possible to use canned vegetables for this recipe. Examples of great canned items include:

  • Green beans
  • Carrots
  • Corn

Optional Ingredient: Grace Fish Tea Seasoning

Another ingredient that will enhance the flavor of the fish tea (but is purely optional) is Grace Fish Tea Seasoning. This is not a required ingredient, but it is one that you may want to consider using—especially if this is the first time that you are making the recipe. It will add body and flavor to the soup without the need to add other herbs or seasonings. As an aside, this premade seasoning can also be used to season chicken and other meats.

Cornmeal Dumplings for Fish Tea

Traditionally, Jamaican fish tea contains dumplings, and when I make this soup, I like to include them. If you would like to try making the dumplings, too, I have included a video below that will guide you.

© 2018 Gina Welds