Fish tea actually isn't technically a tea at all. It is a fish soup that is a foundation for Caribbean, specifically Jamaican, cuisine. According to Caribbean culinary experts, fish tea is designated as a tea instead of a soup to differentiate it from a thicker, richer fish soup that is also popular in Jamaica. There are both traditional and more modern versions of this recipe that can be found on the Internet.
Preparing a traditional fish tea is a long, involved process that can take up to four hours to prepare from start to finish. As might be expected, the primary ingredient is fish. Five pounds of fish is used to make five gallons of the tea. Fish stock can be used to enhance the fish flavor, and the recipe traditionally called for the bones of the fish to be included. Now that fish filets are readily available for purchase, many people opt not to include whole filets complete with bones.
When working with fresh, whole fish, they should first be descaled and added whole to boiling water. After having cooked for several hours, the fish should be deboned and the meat is then crumbled into the broth. Individual pieces of fish quickly become mushy and finally take on a nearly-liquid consistency.
There are several other ingredients that are then added to the broth in order to add variety. Cooks making fish tea can add carrots, cho-cho — also known as chayote, a vegetable often used in Caribbean cooking, and coconut milk, as well as yam, pumpkin, cassava, and potatoes. These are boiled down with the fish until all the solid ingredients are mushy and liquefied. After extensive boiling, salt, pepper, scallions, and thyme are also added for flavor.
In many Caribbean stores, fish tea can be purchased pre-made. Packaged forms of the soup are also available. Consumers of the packaged soups generally have to reconstitute dehydrated powered or add water to a fish tea concentrate. Using the concentrate reduces the time and money that would be otherwise spent on making the tea.
A variety of legends and rumors surround the practice of drinking fish tea. In Jamaica, the Rastafarian religion has embraced the consumption of fish tea as a healthy, beneficial practice. Others believe fish tea to be an aphrodisiac or fertility aid. Men who drink the tea are said to be more likely to father twins.