Cooking from Scratch at Fishes & More
Chef Bruno Santos and his kitchen team at the restaurant Fishes & More spend hours sautéing shrimp and lobster shells, deglazing them with white wine and adding all the scraps from the pounds upon pounds of fish they fillet daily, along with bay leaves, onions, garlic and tomato paste to their home-made fish stock.
— By Amie Watson
— Photography Kenneth Theysen
They let it simmer gently for an hour, then strain it. They use that liquid gold as the basis for everything from their signature Caribbean Seafood Soup to giant platters of paella for two (or more) decorated with rings of mussels and shrimp. “Some people ask for us to add a lobster tail,” notes Santos. Those people are brilliant.
The beauty of Fishes & More’s home-made broth is that it feels luxurious. There’s
no need to add salt or strong herbs or spices that would mask its natural flavor. It’s silky and voluptuous all on its own. And nowhere does it shine more brightly than in the Caribbean Seafood Soup, a mix of pan-fried grouper, mahi-mahi, snapper, shrimp, calamari, mussels and scallops. “We leave it there cooking with the broth and the fish absorb all the flavor,” says Santos.
Santos started at Fishes & More six years ago, working his way up from a line chef to sous chef and most recently to chef de cuisine. He loves cooking seafood because of the adaptability of fish. “You can be more creative with the flavors and textures,” he says.
In the same way that stock forms the foundation of an exceptional soup or sauce, once you master the basic fish-cooking techniques, the world is your oyster. And over the course of his time at the restaurant, Santos has had ample opportunity to compare them all. Guests can choose how they want their fish cooked: grilled, pan-fried, blackened or deep-fried. Grilled works best with firmer fleshed fish like mahi-mahi, which ends up with a delicious smokiness and light char on the outside. Blackening is best for tender, flaky fish like grouper. And deep-frying is best with any small-to-medium whole fish, which end up crispy on the outside and tender on the inside and make for an awesome presentation when placed directly on a plate around a mound of steamed vegetables and a silver dish of drawn butter.
Santos’ favorite recipe, however, is pan-fried fresh grouper, with a beautiful golden crust. He adds butter, garlic, lemon juice, white wine and a little salt and pepper and lets the fish absorb the flavor until it’s perfectly cooked. But he also enjoys coming up with monthly specials because he gets to play with ingredients. Last month, he created a cream cheese paste with shrimp, tomatoes and parsley to top the pan-fried grouper. Another of his creations is the calamari tortilla, which was so popular that it’s now a regular menu item. “I took the idea of fried calamari, but I pan-fried it and added onion, tomato, parsley, tomato sauce and a touch of spice. Then I made chips from flour tortillas,” he says. The result was a kind of seafood nachos dish that’s soft, crunchy and comforting all at once.
Other bestsellers include the Famous Fish Dish – a mix of every kind of fresh fish and seafood sautéed in a creamy lemon-lobster sauce – and the Piña Colada Shrimp, which combines the best of the tropical drink with juicy seafood. “We sauté the shrimp and all their flavor stays in the pan. Then we add pineapple, flambéed with rum and add coconut cream and a little heavy cream,” he says. The result is a sweet, sour, salt and creamy dish with Caribbean flair.
Despite its location next to Tango Argentine Grill, Fishes & More’s most popular non-fish menu item is the beef tenderloin, says Santos. That may have to do with the fact that it’s part of the three-course early-bird special along with a choice of fish (usually grouper or snapper). The menu, served from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. daily and all night on Tuesdays, comes with a choice of soup or salad, plus ice cream for dessert. But it’s worth lingering over dessert to hear the daily outdoor live music: singers, guitar players and even a Sunday evening steel-pan group who set up by the restaurant’s patio in the Arawak Garden. The colorful promenade makes for great people-watching while enjoying a meal, but those who prefer a more intimate setting can also nestle into a corner table inside.
The broth might be the foundation of Fishes & More’s cuisine, but the real secret of its success is the staff, says Santos. “We have a great team. We’re seven in the kitchen and the service staff is great. We understand each other perfectly and we help each other.” From the person filleting the fish, to the cook manning the grill, to the server rushing a plate of perfectly tender grouper to a table of hungry guests before it loses its crisp exterior, it’s a group effort. And while the saying goes, “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” that’s not a problem at Fishes & More. Here, the broth is right on.