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Levi Roots' fishy issue

MEMORIES: Levi Roots

MY NUMBER one fish is snapper, which I had always known as bourgeois. When I tell you that this is the ultimate fish, especially for frying, you better believe me!

It was first introduced to me in Jamaica by my dearly departed friend, Mr Philip ‘Fatis’ Burrell. One of reggae’s greatest producers, Fatis was the founder of record label Exterminator, he was instrumental in the development of Sizzla’s career, and he produced and recorded some of Beres Hammond’s finest music.

He was also a notorious fish eater and while I stayed with him for a short time in the 80s, we would go all over Jamaica to enjoy his favourite food from the sea.

Living on the island, Fatis was in water heaven so there was no shortage of the scaly stuff there. From Port Royal to Alligator Pond, to Jollies, a lovely seafood restaurant on the back-road in Portmore, we seriously ate the place down!
The problem began when I returned to the UK. At first, I found it almost impossible to find my favourite fish among fishmongers.

Firstly, they weren’t sure I’d got the name right – they had never heard of a fish called bourgeois and I'm afraid I was rubbish at describing it. I told the mongers all I could remember – that it was red, snapper-like and big!

It was another great friend of mine, the legendary soundman and producer Blacker Dread, who located it in Brixton Market and it was truly a eureka moment. I have been buying it regularly there for years now, but lowdahmercy it is awfully expensive.


TIME TO LIME: Levi preparing his fish

And once you pay for it, unless you’ve got plenty of cash, you won't be able to afford anything else, like the little piece of yellow yam, the sweet potato and couple fingers of green bananas you will need to go with it – not forgetting the okra, some scallions, thyme and scotch bonnet pepper. And at Easter, I will need bun and cheese too!

I have great memories of cooking bourgeois and taking it on tour with my band throughout Europe, whipping it out and having it with water crackers – delicious. It doesn't need much preparation; just a little salt and black pepper and you’re good to go.

Perhaps I am going to have to reach the market from early doors, knowing how our people deal with fish on Easter Friday! Come Easter Friday, that local fishmonger will be like Selfridges during the January sales or Macy’s on Black Friday! Really, the rule is to stock up beforehand and freeze if you can.

I have been doing a bit of research on our fishy friend and Googling ‘bourgeois fish’ brings up results about Emperor red snapper or Lutjanus sebae, a native of the Indian Ocean.

My only fear, now that I've began to investigate, is that it might turn out to be a farmed fish and if that is the case then I am going to be totally gutted…Gutted – get it?

More love, LR

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