James Beard Award nominated chef JJ Johnson (formerly of The Cecil in Harlem) highlights how the African diaspora has impacted global cuisine and shares his own personal twists, tastes, and memories in his cookbook, “Between Harlem and Heaven.” This recipe was inspired by his great-aunt’s West Indian cooking, which he didn’t appreciate as much growing up (he was more into meatloaf and spaghetti back then), but now values not just for its deliciousness, but for the way it connects him to his heritage.
He adds a triple hit of citrus—lemon, lime, and orange—to brighten up the rich flavors of spicy Scotch bonnet pepper, ginger, garlic, and fragrant allspice and thyme, with a little brown sugar to balance it out. Served with fonio (a highly nutritious and versatile gluten free grain from West Africa that’s similar to couscous), which is cooked with aromatics, tomatoes, and okra, this is a complete meal that you can pull off even on weeknights, although it’s best to let the fish marinate for at least two hours.
Notes: The fonio recipe is gluten free, but you will need to make sure to buy certified gluten free brands of soy sauce and Worcestershire if you want to make the jerk fish GF as well. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce is gluten free in the U.S., but not in other areas (due to the use of malt vinegar in other formulas sold elsewhere). If you can’t find bass, substitute any firm, white-fleshed fish.
If you’re looking for other new ways to try bass, check out our Whole Grilled Bass with Olives, Onion, and Artichoke recipe too. Get more okra recipes while you’re at it, and read our interview with Chef Johnson.
Fonio is an ancient grain from West Africa that's gluten free and packed with nutrients, including iron, protein, fiber, and amino acids—plus, it cooks up quickly, like quinoa, and has a neutral, somewhat nutty taste, meaning it's easy to customize to go along with almost any meal. It's a pretty fantastic addition to your pantry.Buy Now ›
To make the fonio:
Excerpted from BETWEEN HARLEM AND HEAVEN by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls. Copyright © 2018 by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Beatriz da Costa.