Notes from the Island Fishmonger
Fresh in February
By far, the month of February is the best month of the year for both fresh local seafood and U.S. imports. If you ever Google the most popular fish to eat in the United States, Shrimp and Salmon are always on top of the list and it’s understandable why. Both are healthy, delicious and available, worldwide. It’s when farm raised and inexpensive fish gets mentioned when my eyebrows begin to rise. Fish such as Catfish (although a southern staple), Tilapia, Pollock, Pangasius and farmed Salmon are all good fish that you can get at the grocery store if that’s your thing. In my opinion there is much better fish that the United States oceans have to offer.
Here are my top 10 seafood products available in February:
10. COD – This New England fish sneaks into my top 10 simply because of fish-n-chips. Whether it be for lunch or dinner, in all of the fish markets around the country that I have visited, fried Cod is hard to turn down. When I first opened Big Water Fish Market, I thought I would localize the traditional fish-n-chips by replacing Cod with Grouper. It was good and always an option at Big Water Fish Market but it just didn’t meet my expectations. There is a time and a place for everything and Cod’s place is a Fish-n-Chips dish. Thick, white, flakey, mild meat that is also great in a sandwich. Oh My COD!
9. SNAPPER – A local favorite both to catch and eat. Available this month is Mangrove Snapper which is popular on Siesta Key. Yellowtail Snapper is a Key West favorite and Red Snapper is the most popular when in season which is during the summertime. Snapper is excellent as a ceviche and cooked as a whole fish, either fried or baked.
8. HOGFISH – We are lucky to have this fish on the list as the Hogfish is indigenous to the Gulf and Caribbean areas only. Even then it is not an easy fish to find. Hogfish can only be found on some restaurant menus and in specialty fish markets such as Big Water Fish Market. It’s the mildest of any fish I’ve ever ate. It’s hard to explain but if I had to, it’s almost like taking a bite of a white fluffy cloud. Even those who are not fans of eating fish…you will like Hogfish!
7. TRIPLETAIL – Another rare fish that is abundant in February is the elusive Tripletail. If Stone Crabs are in season, so is the Tripletail. The Tripletail (named for its 3 tail fins) hangs around the Stone Crab traps as its appetite consists of Crabs, Shrimp and Clams. If it’s true that you are what you eat, then this fish is actually a Shellfish. Because of its diet, this fish is healthy and tastes great. I describe this fish as if a Grouper and a Snapper had a baby…it would be a Tripletail as it has the taste and texture of a cross between them both.
6. STONE CRABS – Stone Crabs could easily be on the top of most lists as this is a Florida delicacy only available 6 months a year. Eat them cracked and chilled with a Stone Crab mustard sauce and for the time it takes you to tear through that meal you will feel like you’re in heaven!
5. CHILEAN SEA BASS – Definitely not a local fish but if you ask me it’s the Cadillac of all fish. It’s imported in fresh and is a thick cut of white, creamy, melt in your mouth kind of fish. My favorite way is having it served with sautéed spinach and a soy sauce.
4. TUNA & WAHOO – It’s a tie. All I’ve got to say is SASHIMI. Both can be local or imported from Hawaii. Wahoo will be served on Friday nights at the Big Water Fish Market at the Raw Bar in case you have a little wait for dinner. If you like Sushi, the best in town is Star Thai and Sushi in the Village. I have no association but they deserve a plug as they have the best Sushi around.
3. MAHI-MAHI & AMBERJACK – This is also a tie. Local, firm, darker meat, mild and fantastic blackened or in fish tacos. These fish are often served spicy with a tropical salsa which is why maybe they cracked the top 5 but mostly because the price is right.
2. GROUPER – Grouper is the most well known fish in Florida. All visitors must have a Grouper sandwich or Grouper bites while vacationing in the sunshine state. Red Grouper is the most common but if you can get your hands on Black Grouper, it is the best: white, flakey and mild, similar but more so than a Snapper. When in Rome…right?! See picture of Big Water Fish Market’s Grouper BLT.
1. OYSTERS – February and March is prime time if you’re an Oyster fan. Local and also from the New England area are my favorites. Local Oysters are coming from the panhandle of Florida to Louisiana. Big Water Fish Market also offers Massachusetts Oysters called Hammerheads that I’m probably eating the profit on but I don’t care. They are good, salty, briny, big and easy to open this time of year.
Live well…Eat Fish
Big Water Fish Market
6641 Midnight Pass Road