Poisson Gwo-Sel

The antiseptic qualities of certain ingredients was well demonstrated in the preparation of this dish. Without refrigeration, the raw fish attract mass amounts of flies both in the market and as we set up a kitchen in a corner of the twisted ghetto alleyways behind the Grand Rue in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I was initially wary of eating it, but through a slow process of cleaning the fish and marinating it in handfuls of rock salt and citrus, the fish was transformed into a delicious meal that was served over Mais Moulin with boiled yam and banana.


4 whole medium white fleshed fish, descaled and cleaned

4 lemons

7 small limes

2 small handfuls plus 2 T of rock salt

11 shallots

3 slim leeks, tough green tops removed, cut into 3” segments

1 head of garlic, peeled

Small bunch of parsley

1 sweet green bell pepper

1 whole habenero chili

1 cube chicken boullion

¼ cup of mustard

¼ cup white wine vinegar

3 T vegetable oil

2 red onions

1 coconut, meat extracted and finely grated

Herb bundle made of a small bunch of parsley tied together with several sprigs of thyme


After cleaning the fish, make a diagonal cut from head to tail, then cut the fish in half, crosswise. Reserve the juice from one lemon and 4 limes. Squeeze remaining citrus juices over the fish, rubbing the inside and out with the citrus rinds, and keeping rinds in the marinade. Add 2 small handfulls of rock salt, coating the fish inside and out. Peel shallots, throwing the skins and tops into the marinade.

In a large wooden mortar and pestle, combine garlic, 2 shallots, parsley, ½ of the sweet bell pepper, habanero, chicken boullion cube and 2 T rock salt. Mash into a rough paste and reserve. Slice red onion in 1” rings, the remaining green bell pepper into ½” strips and quarter the remaining shallots, reserving together in a bowl. Make a coconut cream by adding 2 cups of water to the shredded coconut and massaging the meat to extract all the milk. Strain the cream through a fine mesh, squeezing as much moisture from the shreds as possible. Repeat the process using 1 cup of water.

After the fish has marinated for a half an hour, rinse the fish with fresh water. Place the fish in a large pot and add reserved citrus juice, mustard, vinegar, oil and reserved shallot paste. Rub the sauce over the fish, coating the inside and out. Place pot on medium high heat. Let it cook for 10 minutes then add reserved coconut cream. Bring to a boil, then stir by shaking the pot gently back and forth so as not to break up the fish. Return to medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes, covered. Add reserved sliced vegetables and herb bundle, lower heat and simmer an additional 15 minutes.

Serve with Mais Moulin, Yam and Banana

Drawing of poisson gwo-sel absorbing the marinade
Drawing by Lee Lee

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