Gulf seafood is starring on menus all across the country right now, as food purveyors and chefs celebrate the recovery of Gulf of Mexico fisheries from last year’s oil spill. One trend-spotting newsletter even declared, "Gulf seafood is the new bacon!" Translation: Just as foodies lusted after bacon in the last few years, devouring it in the most unlikely preparations, so are diners enjoying the riches of the Gulf in dishes both old and new.
We asked some local chefs to share their favorite ways to prepare Gulf seafood. Their dishes are as varied as the species that swim off our shores, from a sophisticated, Asian-inspired entrée of pompano and shrimp to that old-Florida classic, fresh-caught mullet fried in a cast-iron skillet.
Stone Crab Cannoli with Meyer Lemon Gastrique
8 wonton skins
Oil, for frying
6 ounces mascarpone
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon fresh Meyer lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 pound stone crab, de-shelled claw and knuckle meat torn
2 teaspoons chopped tarragon leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
Preheat the fryer or a large pot halfway filled with oil to 360 degrees. Diagonally wrap a wonton wrapper around a cannoli mold. Lightly brush the ends with water and press to seal. Immerse in the oil and fry until golden brown, about 1 minute. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Season with salt.
When cool enough to handle, gently twist the cannoli mold and remove. Set aside while you make the filling.
In a large bowl, add the mascarpone, 1 tablespoon butter, the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and slowly heat. Stir until well blended. Gently fold in the stone crab meat and herbs.
With a spoon, fill the cannoli shells with the stone crab filling. Drizzle with the gastrique and garnish with tarragon leaves.
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 cup sugar
1 cup Meyer lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and reduces to a thick syrup, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and place in a heatproof bowl so the mixture stops cooking.
Karen Bell, Star Fish Seafood Company
Karen Bell doesn’t claim to be much of a chef, but she knows Florida seafood like few others. For 15 years, her Star Fish Seafood Company Market and Restaurant, at the docks in the historic fishing village of Cortez, has served seafood pulled straight from the Gulf and delivered from boat to kitchen.
Even with a wealth of fish at her fingertips, her favorite is the humble mullet, an old Florida classic. For her, it’s all about flavor.
"A lot of seafood, flavor comes from whatever you put on it," Bell explains. "Mullet is so distinctive on its own you don’t have to do a whole lot to it." Fried, blackened, smoked or grilled, mullet’s rich, fatty texture carries through in every bite. That fat also makes it forgiving for novice cooks. "And it has a higher oil content, so it’s chock full of omega 3 oils," says Bell.
Spray the interior of a black iron skillet with a non-stick cooking spray.
Let the skillet get hot on the stove. Have mullet fillets ready. (Star removes the skin and bones, but lots of Southerners prefer the skin on—scaled, of course.)
Using any of the blackening seasons sold at grocery stores, dust the fillets with the seasonings. Paul Prudhomme has a good one, but they’re all pretty similar. (Bell lightly seasons hers, as she doesn’t want the spices to overwhelm the fish itself.)
Place fillet belly-side-down in the skillet, where it will cook quickly.Test with a fork for meat to flake easily. Once it’s white and flaky, remove from pan. This shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, depending on the size of the mullet.
Star serves this with tartar sauce, although it’s delicious on its own. Go, mullet!
Lemongrass Seared Pompano & Chopstick Grilled Shrimp
Chef David Shiplett, SoMa Diner
Chef David Shiplett took the Bradenton restaurant scene by storm with his Ezra restaurant almost six years ago. Now he has a calmer spot called SoMa Diner near downtown Bradenton’s waterfront. Shiplett says he loves working with local seafood, because his diners seek out local ingredients, and because he can promote it after recent tough times for Gulf fishermen. "People trust me, so they feel that if I’m using something it’s OK to eat it," says Shiplett.
Why pompano, as in the dish included here? "I love kung pao and I’ve been doing a lot of it lately," he explains. "Pompano is perfect for things like that because it is assertive enough to stand up to it."
This fish is one of the richest caught in Florida waters, and had been one of the most expensive. But new pompano aquaculture projects have increased the supply. "It’s gotten much, much better and the prices have come down recently," says Shiplett.
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon molasses
1/4 cup minced fresh ginger
1/2 Spanish onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 1/2 tablespoon mirin or cooking sake
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons soaked, fermented black beans (available at Asian markets, or substitute black bean sauce)
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons sambal olek (a chili sauce available at Asian markets)
4 pompano filets, skinned
12 large (16-20 per pound) shrimp
Thinly sliced lemongrass
1/4 cup toasted, cracked macadamia nuts
Bring honey and ginger to a simmer, then cool. Strain the honey into a bowl.
Sauté onions over medium heat until softened; add the garlic, ginger, mirin and vinegar and reduce for three minutes. Add soy sauce, black beans and hoisin and simmer for about two more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the sambal olek.
Coat fish and shrimp with sesame oil and lemongrass. Heat oil in sauté pan over medium heat.
Slowly sauté fish until lightly cooked, a few minutes per side. Sauté shrimp briefly until just done. Thread 3 shrimp each onto chopsticks.
Place sauce on plate, top with fish and add a pile of jasmine rice. Stick shrimp chopsticks into rice and drizzle outside of plate with macadamia nuts and ginger honey. Serve immediately with cilantro for garnish.
Roast Corvina with Purée of Carrot, Ginger, Basil and Lemon Air
Chef Mark Traugutt, Sarasota Bay Club
The food is so good at the Sarasota Bay Club luxury retirement community near downtown Sarasota that the club’s restaurant is now open to the public. Credit chef Mark Traugutt with revitalizing the menu. Traugutt’s classical French background gives him an appreciation for serious sauces that don’t overwhelm delicate fish, while his modern sensibilities lead him to seek out local ingredients.
Traugutt uses Gulf-caught corvina in a recipe that takes advantage of the fish’s firm flesh. He adds ginger to cut through the fish’s natural oils, and he recommends quick cooking methods. "Corvina is great, but you have to cook it really fast, at high heat," he says. "Otherwise it can dry out."
4 6-ounce portions of corvina
2 tablespoons Wondra flour
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
12 ounces diced carrot
1/2 cup diced leek
1 small piece grated ginger
1 stalk diced celery
1/4 cup diced shallot
3 cups chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon agar agar or powdered gelatin
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup basil leaves
1 cup heavy cream
Fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small pot add the grapeseed (or canola) oil over medium heat and sauté the leek, ginger, shallot and celery until opaque. Add 2 cups of chicken stock to leek mixture and bring to a simmer. Add the carrot to the mixture and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the carrots are soft.
Take off the heat and transfer the mixture to a food processor; pulse until blended. Strain the mixture, then add 1/4 cup of heavy cream and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
In another small pot bring 1 cup of chicken stock to a simmer with 1/4 cup of heavy cream, lemon zest and lemon juice. When mixture comes to a simmer, turn off the heat, add the basil, season with salt and pepper and let rest for 20 minutes.
Pat the skin side portion of your fish with paper towels until dry. In a sauté pan heat 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil over medium-high heat until you see light wisps of smoke. Coat the skin of the corvina with the Wondra flour and set the fish in the pan—skin side down—for 2-4 minutes, until it’s crispy. Turn the fish over and place the pan in the oven for 10 minutes.
While the fish is in the oven, take the basil cream mixture and add the agar agar or gelatin. Use a hand blender or whisk to blend the mixture until it creates bubbles or foam.
Place some of the carrot purée on a plate and top with corvina. Use a spoon to carefully scoop out foam from the basil cream and place on top of the fish.