Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Taste of the Florida Keys

I'm sure it won't come as a shock to hear that the seafood in Florida is delicious.  Maralee McGowen of Harbor Seafoods, one of our local seafood purveyors, recently started giving cooking classes as a supplement to their retail business.  Great marketing idea, and a great way to spend an evening!   After perusing the schedule, Dorrit and I decided to take a class called "Tour of the Florida Keys."

Maralee welcomed us into the shop, which had been set up with two high tables with a good vantage point of her cooktop.   One thing that made the evening so much fun was that there was lots of interaction among the six students.  In fact, Maralee often had to make an effort to get a word in edgewise!  Our classmates included two gentlemen who seemed to be quite the chefs.  John owned a breakfast and lunch place back home in Massachusetts and it sounds like he still does a good amount of cooking for his wife (and, on occasion, her eleven siblings and their families).  Patrick is a transplanted New Yorker who, among other things, was related to the late Phil Rizzuto.  (Go, Yanks!)   We shared a table with them and got a pretty good sense of their life stories.  I somehow suspect that they came away knowing nothing about either of us, but that's fine with me. 

Back to the reason for being there--the food!  The class featured recipes adapted from the cookbook Flavor of the Florida Keys by Linda Gassenheimer.  The first course was Shrimp with Ginger Lemon Glaze with fresh cilantro and is definitely a keeper.  (In fact, Maralee gave us all doggie containers of the glaze to bring home.  Dorrit recreated the butterflied shrimp and I seared some scallops to serve as the vehicle for the glaze and both were delicious.)    The recipe for the glaze (which is actually a cross between a glaze and a sauce) can be found at the bottom of this post.

The next course was Island Grill Tuna Nachos.  This was actually my least favorite of the dishes since it was a bit fussy and the sauce didn't really add anything to the incredibly delicious piece of sushi grade tuna that Maralee used for the dish.   Maralee's husband Tony joined the class to tell us a little bit about how tuna makes it from the ocean to the fish case.  Tuna boats can power for as long as three days to get to their fishing grounds.  Once they arrive, they throw out over 50 miles of net with more 1000 hooks (and radar buoys so that the boat can find them).  The fishermen are lucky if they end up with fish on 10% of the hooks.  When it's time to haul in the catch, they pull in about three miles of net at a time.  Once the tuna are on the boat, their tails and heads are cut off and their blood is drained because it makes the fish bitter.  When the boats arrive back at the dock, potential buyers make a tail cut to check the fish's color--the redder the better--and fat and oil content.   It is really quite a process, and hearing this gave me a better understanding of why tuna is so expensive. 

The entree was Salute's Snapper Salad.   The snapper was dipped in a panko-cashew breading and fried in oil.  Then it was topped with a salsa made with pineapple, red onion, red pepper, jalapeno and some spices.  It was accompanied by a salad with avocado and tomatoes topped with a citrus dressing.   This was a great light dish that left us with room to enjoy the Key Lime Cake that Maralee had made in advance.  (We also got to bring some cake home!)

All in all, a fun and tasty evening, and quite the bang for the buck.  For $35, we had some lively conversation, ate some delicious food and came home armed with recipes to try the dishes on our own.   Now if I could just get myself from the stage of gathering recipes to making them......

Ginger Lemon Glaze

2 1/2 c. water
2 c. rice wine vinegar
1/3 c. lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbs. powdered ginger
2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/4 c. combined lemon and lime zest
2 Tbs. corn starch
1/2 c. water

Place the water, vinegar, lemon juice, ginger, zest and red pepper in a suacepan. Bring to a boil. Mix the cornstarch in a small bowl with the water. Add to the saucepan and bring back to a boil over high heat. Cook until the glaze is thickened. Makes at least 12 servings. Can save in the refrigerator for several days (and it gets more kick!)

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