Are cold water fish more nutritious and delicious than warm water fish? This is the dilemma of newcomers to the region who come from areas of the country where cold water fish is plentiful.
Those shopping for seafood no longer find a plethora of northern fish such as pike, whitefish, scrod, cod and other familiar species. It means getting educated and knowledgeable about the local fish. And once they do, they realize why Florida fish is among the most delicious, healthful and popular of all the seafood gathered from waters around the world.
Florida is the nation’s largest producer of a variety of seafood. The waters surrounding the state yield up the most black mullet, spiny lobsters, red snapper, calico scallops, stone crabs, grouper, Spanish mackerel, spotted sea trout, king mackerel and pompano.
Along with citrus, cattle and winter vegetables, the seafood industry contributes mightily to our economy. Seafood harvesters bring more than $250 million in revenues into the state.
Since seafood is highly recommended by nutritionists, it behooves us all to increase our intake. To familiarize old and new residents on the best of the local fish I am giving a description of each of the most popular. Your fishmonger is your best friend when it comes to the selection of Florida fish. He can tell you about the various kinds of fish and in most cases will give you leaflets and brochures with recipes and suggestion on how to prepare and serve this most healthful protein food:
Flounder: A member of the flatfish family, the flesh of this master of camouflage is considered on of the finest of all food fish. The flesh is firm, white and delicate.
Grouper: A member of the sea bass family, all varieties of grouper are meaty and flavorful. The grouper can reach weights from 20 to 40 pounds and are available year-round.
King mackerel: This is considered to be a “fat” fish and as such it grills well. This fish is best during the summer months, and because of its size, strength, speed and courageous fighting ability, it is regarded as a prized game fish.
Spanish mackerel: This is a much smaller member of the mackerel family but no less delicious. It is also high in fat but not dangerous to health since it contains the Omega 3 factors. Usually caught in passes and harbors, they are easily distinguished by the yellowish oval spots and large sharp teeth.
Pompano: Considered the aristocrat of Florida waters, the pompano is easily distinguished by its shimmering, silvery skin and thin body. The white flesh is delicate and firm, the flavor incomparable. Pompano is expensive and not often available because of the demand.
Red snapper: Red snapper has a snowy white meat, which is sweet, mild, moist and nutty in taste. It is caught mainly around Pensacola but is available year-round throughout the state.
Sea trout: There are about four varieties of this fish, which belongs to the weakfish family. Consult your fishmonger on what is available. All species are popular, tasty and have tender white meat. Trout have a low caloric content and are easily prepared. It is relatively inexpensive.
Snapper: There are 34 different species of this favored fish. The meat is juicy, white and very flavorful. This fish may be served broiled, baked, poached or grilled, in a host of imaginative and delicious ways. The variety includes red, pink, mangrove, yellow eye, mutton and the much-favored yellowtail.
Mullet: For many years mullet was so abundant and cheap that connoisseurs underrated it. Since there is now a law governing the netting of fish, its supply is limited. It is a fat fish that is wonderful smoked, fried, baked or grilled.
Fish is one of the easiest foods to prepare since it requires little cooking time when fried, grilled, baked or poached. Here are a few recipes that require a bit more time but the results are worth the effort.
This is one of the most popular dishes at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, Tampa.
1 onion, chopped fine
¼ pound butter (1 stick)
1 cup flour
1 pint boiled milk (whole)
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of Tabasco sauce
1 ounce sauterne or sherry
½ pound cooked shrimp, chopped
½ pound cooked crawfish, chopped
4 pompano steaks (about 6 ounces each)
Salt to taste
Parchment paper or heavy waxed paper, buttered
■ Sauté onion for 5 minutes in melted butter. Slowly add flour to form a paste or roux, and over low heat allow the flour to cook without burning or browning.
■ Add milk and cook to a thick cream sauce. Add chopped shrimp and crawfish. Add salt to taste.
■ For each individual pompano steak: On a large piece of buttered parchment or wax paper spread part of the cream sauce, then place a skinned pompano steak on top. Cover with more sauce and fold paper to form a bag with crimped edges.
■ Brush the paper bag with melted butter so it doesn’t burn and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Serves 4.
Please don’t tell the Food Patrol that my favorite fish dinner is fried grouper. This recipe from Apalachicola is a new and zesty way to enjoy this wonderful fish.
2 grouper fillets weighing about 2 pounds, but not too thick
1 cup Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 or 5 turns of freshly ground black pepper
3 cups vegetable oil (I use less)
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
■ Place the fillets in a baking dish. Using your hands, smear the mustard all over the fillets. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
■ Just before serving, remove the fish from the refrigerator and wipe off the excess mustard, leaving a thin layer. Sprinkle the fish all over with the salt, cayenne and black pepper. Cut the fillet in half to make 4 portions.
■ Start heating the oil in a large, heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat.
■ Combine the cornmeal and flour and dip the fish in the mixture, shaking off any excess. When the oil is very hot, add the fish fillets. Cook until the fish is crisp and golden brown on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes in all.
To fully enjoy serve with hush puppies and a great coleslaw. Serves 4.
Q: Beef stroganoff has always been a favorite dish until I tasted veal stroganoff. I would love to make it for my family and am appealing to you to provide a recipe.
— Myrna Morrisette, Naples
A: This recipe is almost identical to the one using beef and may also be made with pork cutlets.
1½ pounds veal cutlets
¼ cup flour
1½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
¾ cup dry white wine
½ pound mushrooms, sliced and sautéed
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons minced parsley
■ Have the veal pounded thin, then cut into narrow finger-length strips. Toss the meat with a mixture of the flour, salt and pepper. n Heat the butter in a skillet and sauté the veal in it, shaking the pan frequently so as to brown all sides.
■ Add the wine; cook over low heat for 10 minutes or until tender. Mix in the sautéed mushrooms, sour cream and parsley. Taste to adjust seasonings and then heat, but do not boil.
Serve with noodles or rice. Serves 4 to 6.
Doris Reynolds is the author of “Let’s Talk Food” and “When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet Was Fried.” They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also available is a 4-part DVD, “A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds.” For comments and questions about today’s column, contact Doris Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org.