Seafood in the Virgin Islands

Lobster lunch. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.
Lobster lunch. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.

No food group is as traditional in the islands as seafood. Pot fish, the reef fish caught in fish pots, is ubiquitous in local restaurants and is served grilled, boiled, or fried. Common species are yellowtail, trigger fish, snapper, red hind, and blue runner. Pot fish are typically served whole, sometimes with the head; larger fish are cut into steaks, locally called “junk.” Grilled fish is cooked over a fire with onions, peppers, and other seasonings wrapped in aluminum foil. Fried fish (everyone’s favorite) is cooked in hot fat over a charcoal fire. Boiled fish is topped with a sauce made of cooked onion, pepper, and mayonnaise thinned with the fish-cooking water.

Locally caught pelagic species will be found on the menus of more upscale restaurants. Mahimahi (also called dolphin fish), tuna, grouper, swordfish, and wahoo are some of the most common.

Saltfish is another island favorite, and its history dates back to the days when it was given to slaves as food. Made from imported salt cod, which stores forever without refrigeration, saltfish is a pungent hash of flaked fish seasoned with onions and peppers. It is often served for breakfast, or cooked inside patés—fried, meat-stuffed bread eaten for breakfast or a snack.

Whelk and conch are species of shellfish served stewed, wrapped in rotis, or stuffed in patés. Naturally tough, conch and whelk are tenderized in a pressure cooker before being served. Conch soup, made with dumplings and vegetables, is also well-liked, and every restaurant in the islands has a recipe for conch fritters, fried morsels of batter and conch meat similar to the hush puppies of the north.

The Caribbean spiny lobster is smaller than northern species but equally prized on the dinner plate. Anegada serves the best and freshest lobsters, cut in half, doused with garlic butter, and grilled over a wood fire. Lobster meat also finds its way into rotis and patés.

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