Hellshire fish

by Victoria Brown

Dawn Smith shares her recipe for spicy steamed fish with pumpkin puree and vegetables, recreated by Victoria Brown

“Imagine this: Saturday morning, you’re on the beach. You have a Red Stripe beer in your hand—okay, so it’s 9 o’clock in the morning, no one cares…” The beach is Hellshire Beach, not far from St Mary’s, and Dawn and her friends each order the local specialty: a whole fish “steamed to perfection” in a pumpkin puree with vegetables and spices.

It’s a dish she often recreates in London when she is trying to forget the rain outside. It’s so full of fresh and bright flavours and colours that I really do begin to imagine I’m baking in the Caribbean sun. I used one large fish for this dish. As you can see, I struggled to find a saucepan to fit it in. Perhaps best to follow Dawn’s advice and go for one per person.

This recipe was given to me by Dawn Smith of Pimento Hill as part of a series of interviews with Borough Market traders on the foods that are important to them. You can read the article here.


1 scotch bonnet chilli, or to taste
Few sprigs thyme
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
1 bunch spring onions, cut into rounds
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5cm piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
6 pimento seeds from Pimento Hill
½ pumpkin, skin removed and flesh diced
Salt and black pepper, to taste
100g okra (optional)
2 carrots (optional)
1 chayote (optional)
1 large or 2 small whole fish, e.g. snapper


Slice the chillies in half and pull out all the seeds and pith—Dawn suggests wearing gloves for this or you may get chilli in your eye later. Finely chop.

Remove the woody stems of the thyme and finely chop.

In a large heavy-based saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat. Add the onion, spring onions, garlic and ginger. Cover with a lid and sweat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the pimento seeds, pumpkin, a little of the chilli and 1 cup of water. Cover and simmer until the pumpkin has liquidised and you have a sauce. Add more water, if required. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Slice the okra into rounds. Peel and slice the carrots into rounds. Peel the chayote, remove the core and slice. Add to the sauce.

Score the fish 3-4 times on each side; this helps the flesh to cook evenly. Place the fish in the sauce and cover with a lid. Cook for approximately 30 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through. Serve the fish whole in the sauce.

ALTERNATIVE: Dawn advises that you can use 1-2 tbsp pepper sauce in place of the aromatics and spices if you are short on time

Recipe: Dawn Smith
Images: Victoria Brown