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The Rich Bounty of Key West Seafood

The Rich Bounty of Key West Seafood


At the end of the 19th century, Key West, Fla., was the richest community per capita in the United States. The wealth poured in from the sea, and the people who settled the island developed businesses that related to the ocean. By the 1930s, the free-wheeling town had become notorious, and it began to attract literary folk (Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Robert Frost were part of the famous first wave). Today, fishing and writing remain major interests to Key Westers, and their visitors.

When I first got to Key West it was much of a working fishing town than it is today. The real estate boom had something to do with that. In the 1970s, the shrimp boats still worked the harbor at Land’s End Village. The bars and small restaurants across the street were amazing places to hear the stories of what was going out on the waters just outside our small island. I had not known the fish of this place but soon I was becoming a rapt fan. My cooking career was non-existent when I arrived. The first place I cooked in Key West was a BBQ place that about ruled out seafood. But in very little time I started to move up and with each restaurant I cooked in, my repertoire began to expand "fish by fish."

I was taught by Bahamian and "Conch" cooks. (Folks born on Key West are affectionately known as "Conchs.") The preferred methods of those men and women were steeped in tradition and time-tested. There was a time of wild experimentation during the '80s in some of the restaurants but it didn’t hold. In fact, the really old recipes are coming back as people have learned to honor the roots of American food, particularly in the South. And have no doubt about it: We in Key West are in the South. Our birth date confirms a long habitation here. It is interesting to visit "Key West’s Oldest House" (originally located on Whitehead Street before being moved to Duval where it still stands), which goes back to 1829, and visit the Cook House, which is a separate building behind the main house, and see the symmetry that exists in just the same way that it did in the old homes of Charleston, S.C., and other coastal cities of the Southeast.

The Overseas Highway that spans the 100-odd miles down to Key West could probably be considered the world’s longest fishing pier. The range of fish available to the anglers on the edge of U.S. 1 is staggering! Each year more people come to the Keys to participate in the sport of fishing. They vary in ability and interest but they all have one thing in common; an appetite for seafood.

It is a real inspiration to cook with fish of the superb quality available here. On any given day I can obtain the freshest shrimp ("Key West gold"), snapper, yellowtail, grouper, tuna, dolphin, spiny lobsters, stone crab, and swordfish. Over the years I have developed a coterie of dedicated professionals who know who how to take care of their catch and bring me their best.

If you want to get a real taste of what a Key West seafood dish is, you might want to look on menus for one of the most basic of our dishes: authentic Bahamian conch chowder, made with a mollusk that is equally popular in the Bahamas and Key West. It certainly started me on my now never-ending love of what can be cooked or consumed in Key West. Because fresh conch is hard to find away from Key West and vicinity, the recipe can be adapted to use any flavorful white-fleshed ocean fish.

Chef-restaurateur Van Aken's latest book is a memoir, 'No Experience Necessary: The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken.'


Louisiana Recipes

Ingalls Photography

From the small farms of Cajun Country to the elegant Creole restaurants of New Orleans, Louisiana is home to one of the world’s most colorful cuisines. Here, our favorite recipes from the state, from gumbo to bananas Foster to the classic Sazerac.

Boudin

This is a traditional dish served at many a boucherie (cajun pig party) in southern Louisiana. See the Boudin Recipe

Oyster Po’boy

This New Orleans po’boy is piled high with fried oysters. The spicy sauce in this New Orleans recipe marinates for a full 2-7 days before the shrimp are cooked in it, allowing it to develop a delightful intensity. See the recipe for Shrimp Uggie »

Sweet Potato Bread Pudding

A Cajun-inspired dessert comes from the home of Marcia Ball, blues singer and piano player.

Brennan’s Brandy Milk Punch

Along with the bloody mary, this creamy cocktail is a New Orleans brunch mainstay. It features an aromatic cognac named for the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte that’s aged at least five years. Get the recipe for Brennan’s Brandy Milk Punch » Acadian Syrup Cake »

Upperline’s Oysters St. Claude

Fried oysters are paired with a garlicky sauce in a toothsome appetizer served at Upperline, a restaurant in New Orleans’ Uptown neighborhood. Get the recipe for Upperline’s Oysters St. Claude »

Crawfish Étouffee

“I’ve labored many times through the archaic lingo and typos in The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook version of this Cajun classic. But SAVEUR’s Crawfish Étouffee is similarly authentic, was written for 21st century kitchens, and has no typos. Also, I love Psilakis’ Ladolemono– a very tart, lightly emulsified sauce from the Greek issue. But I’m partial: I used to suck on lemons as a child.” _ –Marne Setton, Assistant Editor_ See the recipe for Crawfish Étouffee » See the recipe for Lemon and Olive Oil Sauce (Ladolemono) »

Creole-Style Fried Fish

This recipe was given to us by Lonnee Hamilton, who recommends spooning some bacon grease into the frying oil to give the fish a smokier flavor.

Stormy Morning

“We wanted to design a drink around this terrific violet liqueur, but we didn’t want it to be too flowery and too soapy tasting, which could have happened if it was on its own. We started adding various things, and fine-tuned it to this particular drink. As you pour the ingredients, the purple of the creme de violette floats around in the glass and settles in the bottom like a dark cloud — like a stormy morning.” See the recipe for the Stormy Morning »

Pigs’ Ears (Oreilles de Cochon)

These crunchy fritters are typically eaten for breakfast or as an afternoon snack with a cup of cafe au lait. Get the recipe for Pigs’ Ears (Oreilles de Cochon) »

King Cake

This traditional cake, made here with a rich brioche dough and stuffed with a decadent cream cheese filling, is drizzled with a buttermilk glaze and sprinkled with crunchy green, gold, and purple sanding sugars. Whisking the roux constantly is the key to evenly browning it for this hearty stew served over rice. See the recipe for Chicken and Andouille Étoufee »

New Orleans French Bread

Known for its irresistibly crunchy crust and sparse crumb, French bread is the ideal po’boy canvas, or cut it into quarters and serve with crab maison. Get the recipe for New Orleans French Bread »

Sazerac

This anise-perfumed cocktail is a New Orleans classic.

Crabby Jack’s Oyster Po’boy

Oysters are fried in a spicy cornmeal breading for this classic New Orleans sandwich.

Classic Bananas Foster

This boozy, buttery concoction of caramelized bananas flambéed in rum sauce is a dining-out classic invented at legendary New Orleans restaurant, Brennan’s.

Henry C. Ramos’s Gin Fizz

A mix of orange flower water and gin gives this venerable New Orleans cocktail a floral character with hints of juniper, while an egg white and heavy cream give it frothy body. The longer you shake the cocktail, the frothier it gets. See the recipe for Henry C. Ramos’s Gin Fizz » See the Recipe

Arnaud’s Café Brûlot Diabolique

Our simplified version of the flaming coffee cocktail served at Arnaud’s in New Orleans uses strong black coffee spiced with whole cloves and citrus peels. Orange curaçao and brandy give it a sweet, boozy kick. Get the recipe for Arnaud’s Café Brûlot Diabolique »

Galatoire’s Rémoulade Blanc

Inspired by a rémoulade served in New Orleans’ Galatoire’s, this white, mayonnaise-y blend of Creole mustard, horseradish, cayenne, and white pepper is rooted in the classic French recipe.

LeRuth’s Red Shrimp Rémoulade

Spicy paprika and whole-grain mustard sauce coats plump shrimp in this classic New Orleans red rémoulade from the late chef Warren Leruth.

Creole Okra Gumbo

Fried Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

New Orleans chef Donald Link was born and raised in the Cajun town of Lake Charles, Louisiana, and this rustic gumbo, which is often served at his St. Charles Avenue restaurant Herbsaint, always reminds him of home. To give the gumbo added flavor, Link makes his roux with the same oil he uses to fry the chicken, which he later shreds and adds to the pot, along with his homemade andouille sausage. The result is a dark, thick, rustic stew with just the right amount of heat. One of the best things about gumbo is that it’s a truly imaginative dish—one that can be made with whatever happens to be in your kitchen at any given time. This recipe—based on a hand-written version given to us by Barbara Sias, a cook at the Rice Palace restaurant, in Crowley, Louisiana—combines inexpensive cuts of meat, including oxtail, ground sausage, and turkey necks, yielding a rich, hearty gumbo that, despite its humble ingredients, is nothing short of extraordinary. Abbeville, Louisiana native Janice Macomber, who teaches Cajun-style cooking at the New Orleans Food Experience, gave us the recipe for this seafood-laden, subtly spicy gumbo made from the bounty of Louisiana’s waters. Into the pot go blue crabs, shrimp, and delicious chunks of lump crabmeat, resulting in a dish that’s reminiscent of the bayous of south Louisiana. No matter where you live, be sure to use the freshest seafood available.

Smoked Goose and Foie Gras Gumbo

Smoked Goose and Foie Gras Gumbo Located in a Lafayette, Louisiana farmhouse from the 1830s that has served as both a Confederate Army headquarters and, during the city’s 1980s oil boom, a singles bar, Café Vermilionville smokes the turkey for this luxurious gumbo right out back in a makeshift smoker. The resulting dish embodies the rich flavors of dark roux and barbecued meat. This dish is sort of a gumbo in reverse: quail, roasted to a deep golden brown, is stuffed with dirty rice and smothered in a chocolate-colored purée of roux, andouille, duck, and vegetables. As you slice the quail, the dirty rice falls out, spilling into the bowl and mixing with the sauce.

Smothered Okra

Okra is a prized ingredient in Louisiana, particularly for gumbo, where it lends an earthy flavor and serves as a natural thickening agent. Since the fuzzy green pod’s growing season is limited to the spring through the fall, resourceful home cooks preserve the vegetable in a variety of ways. Tina Hensgens, who works at the Falcon Rice Mill in Crowley, Louisiana, smothers her freshly picked okra with tomatoes in the summer, and freezes large batches of it so she and her husband can enjoy it year-round. See the recipe for Smothered Okra » If you order one of the spectacular gumbos served at Prejean’s restaurant in Lafayette, Louisiana, the wait staff will likely ask: “Would you like potato salad with that?” The version they serve isn’t simply meant to be a side here, it is common for diners to stir the salad right into the gumbo. Doing so cools the gumbo down to room temperature and adds a creaminess that’s akin to melting ice cream.

Smoked Duck Gumbo

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Bill Stockton, Executive Chef at Bistro 245

Bill Stockton of Bistro 245 at Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina grew up in the kitchen. He’s from a big family that loves good food, where gatherings typically involved large meals.

“My mom made me her sous chef when I was old enough to tie on an apron,” Stockton said. After studying at Western Carolina University and earning his B.A. in Hotel/Restaurant Management, he went on to cook at California Pizza Kitchen and Loews Anatole Hotel Dallas, among a few other hot spots, before landing in Key West.

Stockton likes to update classic dishes by using different ingredients and techniques using fresh, local seafood like yellowtail snapper, mahi mahi, grouper and spiny lobster.

“I like to cook with fresh ingredients and what I really like to do is use ingredients that are in season—what’s fresh today,” he said.

Outside of the Bistro 245 kitchen, Stockton continues to use his culinary skills for good.

He regularly takes part in the Master Chef Classic, a benefit for the Monroe Association for ReMARCable Citizens (MARC) now in its 25th year.

The non-profit agency serves adult clients who have developmental disabilities.

Host a Meeting at Bistro 245

Stockton explained that catering to any size group’s specific needs and providing menu options is a core value of the restaurant.

“We work really hard at creating the same a la carte quality and experience for groups as we do for leisure guests so everyone here enjoys extraordinary meals, regardless of where or with whom they dine,” he said.

While groups used to ask for a chef’s table, Stockton said it’s not that popular now that most restaurants provide the view of the kitchen as part of their general design.

The restaurant and resort can accommodate large groups with its variety of spaces:

  • The restaurant upper deck and patio have sweeping views of the Gulf of Mexico, ideal for group dinners at sunset.
  • The nearby Truman ballroom can accommodate events up to 300.

Other meeting spaces at the resort include small boardrooms and the waterfront pier.


January's Food Festivals

Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce presents the 19th Annual Great Taste of the Grove, a signature food, music and beverage festival featuring live entertainment and culinary delights from Coconut Grove's diverse restaurants.

4th Annual Florida Keys Seafood Festival - January 17, 2009 - Key West, FL

Come join the fun and eat some of the freshest seafood in town. Caught, Cooked and Served by your local fishermen.

Winter Icewine Festival - January 13 - 18, 2009 - Okanagan, B.C., Canada

The Annual Okanagan Icewine Festival in January at Sun Peaks Resort is the most unique of all the wine festivals. Spectacular wines and an award-winning alpine resort create an unbelievable weekend of education and recreation.

The Sun WineFest - January 17-18, 2008 - Mohegan Sun, CT

Learn from celebrity chefs while you enjoy food and wine tastings at the largest Wine & Food show in Connecticut.

The Kingdom of Navarra Gastronomic Week - January 17-25, 2009 - Boston, MA and New York, NY

Prepare your palate for Piquillo red peppers and rosado wine! For nine days Navarra, Spain -- The Kingdom of Flavors -- will visit Boston and New York for a gastronomic celebration. Restaurants will offer menus highlighting Navarra's unique traditional dishes and local wines.

5th Annual Taste of Compassion - January 19, 2009 - Palm Beach, FL

"Dine Around the World" with 20 of the Palm Beach County's finest chefs who will prepare a complete selection of gourmet tastings from their fabulous menus. Southern Wines and Spirits will offer exquisite wines to compliment each of the popular dishes. A treat for the gourmet in all of us!

2009 Montana Winter Fair - January 22-25, 2009 - Lewistown, MT

Tempt your palate with the Death by Chocolate contest, Cinnamon Roll Bake Off, Chili Cook Off and Dutch Oven Cooking.

Deirdre's House Wine and Chocolate Tasting - January 23, 2009 - Morristown, NJ

Drink wine and taste chocolate for a good cause: 100% of net proceeds go to benefit abused and neglected children of Morris County and the surrounding communities.

10th Annual Mendocino Crab and Wine Days - January 23-24, 2009 - Mendocino, California

Recently listed as one of the Top 10 Seafood & Wine Festivals in Coastal Living Magazine, this fun FUNdraiser features two of Mendocino County's most highly prized commodities: Dungeness Crab and Premier Wines! Arrive in time for the family-style, all-you-can-eat Cioppino Dinner on Friday night, and stay for the marathon Crab Cake Cook-Off & Wine Tasting Competition Saturday afternoon!

Oregon Seafood & Wine Festival - January 23-24, 2009 - Portland, OR

This Winter event is a celebration of all things Oregon , but most specifically our wonderful Oregon seafood and wines. Portions of the admission fee benefit the Oregon Chapter of the National MS Society.

Yuma Lettuce Days - January 24, 2009 - Yuma, AZ

"The Winter Lettuce Capital of the World" is celebrating more than just lettuce during the upcoming Seventh Annual Yuma Lettuce Days. Over 93 percent of the country's winter vegetable crops are grown in this area.

18th Annual Holtville Athletic Club's Rib Cook-off Extravaganza - January 24, 2009 - Holtville, CA

Come out and watch teams cook up their favorite rib recipes -- and try a few for yourself. The event starts at 10 a.m. and lasts until the ribs are gone.

7th Annual St. Louis Food and Wine Experience - January 24-25, 2009 - St. James, MO

A tasting festival like no-other, The St. Louis Food & Wine Experience offers a selection of over 500 wines to sample from the world's premier growing regions. Don't miss favorite recipes from celebrity chefs and delicious samples from food specialists.

25th Annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival - January 25, 2009 - Mt. Pleasant, SC

65,00 pounds of oysters are featured here &mdash the World's Largest Oyster Roast!

Oregon Truffle Festival - January 30 - February 1, 2009 - Eugene, OR

This festival brings together harvesters, chefs, growers, and gastronomic aficionados in an unparalleled celebration of one of Oregon's most incredible treasures.

62nd Annual Holtville Carrot Festival - January 30 - February 8, 2009 - Holtville, CA

Crazy for carrots? The Carrot Festival includes everything from a kickoff banquet to a barbecue, a golf tournament, cooking contests, arts and crafts fair, and a carnival.

Annual Kumquat Festival - January 31, 2009 - Dade City, FL

The Kumquat Festival celebrates the harvest of kumquats, a sweet and sour fruit that is a member of the citrus family. Eaten skin and all, kumquats are a pleasant addition to many dishes and desserts.

21st Annual Winter Wine and Food Fest - January 31, 2009 - Sacramento, CA

Enjoy great food and wine from more than 60 renowned Northern California wineries, 60 local restaurants and 7 microbreweries -- all for a good cause. There will also be a silent auction and an exclusive live wine auction. Last year, more than $700,000 was raised to grant wishes. The event benefits the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Napa Valley Mustard Festival - January 31 - March 28, 2009 - Napa Valley, CA

Celebrate the food, wine, art, and the rich, unique agricultural and cultural bounty of the Napa Valley. This festival offers a full palette of food, wine, art, entertainment, and cultural activities staged throughout the world-famous grape-growing region.


Florida Seafood from A to Z

Since there are so many types of fresh catches available, dinner can sometimes be a difficult decision. To help make dining out a little easier, we've compiled a list of seafood you're likely to see on Florida menus. From amberjack to vermilion snapper, you'll discover many tasty treasures from the bounty of the sea. So check out our fabulous Florida seafood guide - and you'll be sure to get hooked.

Amberjack: a darker meat fish with moderate texture that is delicious pan fried, broiled, smoked, baked, deep fried, grilled or cooked in chowder.

Blue crab: found along Florida's Gulf and Atlantic coasts served in both its hard and (more commonly) soft-shell state.

Catch of the Day: you can't go wrong with this fish, as it was probably still flopping around the kitchen when you walked in the door for dinner. Check the blackboard for specials, but the fresh catch is most often snapper, grouper or dolphin (see individual descriptions for details on each).

Catfish: fried catfish is the ultimate Southern specialty Channel catfish can be found most anywhere in the state and make for great eating.

Conch: pronounced "konk." These chewy mollusks are served tenderized with lime juice, raw and chopped in salad. Also chopped, breaded and fried as conch fritters and in conch chowder (usually red and spicy).

Cooter: a pan-fried favorite, the meat from a soft-shelled turtle (more like "lakefood" or "riverfood" than "seafood," but we wanted you to be prepared should you come across it on a menu).

Crab: see descriptions under Blue crab and Stone crab claws.

Dolphin: (the fish, not Flipper) also called mahi mahi a firm, white-fleshed fish that is delicious grilled, blackened or Cajun-style.

Eel: darker meat with moderate flavor and texture most often seen served raw in Japanese restaurants, but can also be baked, stewed or grilled.

Florida lobster: known as the spiny lobster, it has no claws like the Maine variety. The tails are broiled and served with melted butter. Delicious!

Flounder: a fine textured and delicate fish can be baked, sautéed, broiled or steamed.

Grouper: one of the mildest fishes available served blackened, broiled or chargrilled as an entrée, but a fried grouper sandwich is hard to beat.

Hogfish snapper: this rarity (also called hog snapper) is considered by many seafood aficionados to be the best tasting of all reef fish. Its meat is virgin white with a delicious, subtly sweet flavor. You're more likely to see it on Keys' menus than elsewhere in Florida.

Ipswich clams: imported from Ipswich, MA (who'd have thought?), these clams found on many Florida menus are smaller and sweeter than most of their cousins. They are served fried, baked or steamed.

Jambalaya: (o.k., so it's not a fish, but it is a fishy dish) although this southern favorite is most often associated with the Creole cuisine of Louisiana, Floridians have embraced this dish as one of their own. Using fresh (often local) seafood and a variety of inventive herbs and spices, Florida has added a unique twist to this classic Cajun creation.

Key West pinks: large pink shrimp that once accounted for half of Key West's fishing business. The boom is over, but shrimping boats still trawl at night November - July and Key West restaurants offer them year 'round.

Littleneck clams: hatcheries are located in Cedar Key and Boca Grande. They are delicious served raw on the half-shell, steamed, in soups and sautéed with pasta.

Lobster: see Florida lobster

Mahi mahi: see description under Dolphin.

Maine lobster: Fine to order in New England anymore, but when in the Sunshine State, blend in with the locals and order Florida lobster tails.

Mullet: a delicacy in Florida, this fish is usually served smoked. (Another Florida "delicacy" - or disaster, however you may view it - is the mullet haircut. This unique hairstyle - and we use the word "style" lightly - is short on top and long on the bottom. Usually found in more "countrified" areas of the state.)

Mussels: usually served steamed and by the dozen.

Negaprion brevirostris: If you haven't brushed up on your Latin lately, you can order this delicacy by its common name - lemon shark. It's great grilled, but you can also find it seared or broiled.

Octopus: rubbery flavorful meat can be eaten raw (often seen on sushi menus), smoked, pickled, sautéed, deep-fried or boiled.

Oysters: see description under Apalachicola Oysters.

Pompano: a darker meat fish with moderate texture and flavor best served baked, grilled, broiled or sauteed. Some consider it "America's finest fish."

sQuid: (admittedly, we might be reaching a bit with this one) although most often seen as the Italian dish "calamari" (available on most seafood menus), squid can also be baked, broiled, sauteed or served with pasta and salads.

Red snapper: mild, pinkish meat fish served fried, blackened or broiled. Best with butter sauce made tart with Key lime juice.

Rock shrimp: small shrimp from Gulf waters prepared like regular pink shrimp but in less time. The taste is said to resemble that of lobster.

Scallops: sweet, succulent meat that is actually the muscle between two shells, scallops are served lightly breaded and sauteed, grilled, broiled, in soups or served on salads. In Florida, scallops are found in Gulf waters and along the east coast you can even catch your own scallops during summer months in the small fishing village of Steinhatchee and its environs.

Sea bass: a lean-fleshed fish appropriate for almost any cooking method. The white sea bass most often seen on menus is actually a member of the drum family.

Shrimp: see descriptions under Key West pinks and Rock shrimp.

Spiny lobster: see description under Florida lobster.

Stone crab claws: served hot or cold with butter and lemon or with mustard sauce. These are a seasonal delicacy, offered from October to May.

Tilapia: a flavorful, flaky, white meat fish introduced into Florida waters a few years ago. Just now becoming popular. Best fried or sautéed.

Trout: Spotted seatrout is a light meat fish with moderate flavor and firm texture it is most often found fried, but can also be baked, steamed, grilled and broiled.

Tuna: see description under Yellowfin tuna.

Uncooked fish: better known as sushi or sashimi, this Japanese staple is a growing trend in Florida seafood. Served alone (sashimi) as well as on a bed of rice (sushi), long lists of raw fish are found on a variety of menus. You'll find tuna, salmon, whitefish, octopus and many more.

Vermilion snapper: darker, richer and more vividly colored meat than the more common red snapper.

Wahoo: a sweet, white meat (with red undertones) fish served baked, broiled or grilled.

Whitefish: a mild-flavored fish most often baked, broiled or grilled.

Xiphias gladias: (a.k.a. swordfish) this feisty fish is dangerous in the water but delicious on your plate. The fish can be grilled, broiled or baked. It's often served with a fruit salsa or chutney, which add a flavorful accompaniment to its mild taste.

Yellowfin tuna: a firm, flavorful semi-dark meat fish that can be grilled, broiled or blackened. Tuna is also served up rare on many Japanese menus and is a favorite with most sushi connoisseurs.

Zander: a succulent fish most often steamed or broiled (that, unfortunately, you're not likely to find on Florida menus, but we needed a "Z" or else we'd have to call this the "Florida Seafood A to Y")


MeatEater

Hunter, author, cook and conservationist Steven Rinella treks into the world's most remote, beautiful regions, bringing game meat from field to table.

Part 2 of MeatEater's Season 9 is now available on Netflix! Make sure to tune in to follow Steve as he heads out on more adventures in Colorado, South Dakota, Alaska, and Montana.

Dropped off by bushplane on a remote lakeside in the wilderness of Alaska’s Brooks Range, Steven Rinella and wildlife biologist Brandt Meixell have ten days of hunting before the plane returns. Big-antlered Yukon moose are few and far between but hard work pays off for hunters who stick with it until the bitter end.

Dropped off by bushplane on a remote lakeside in the wilderness of Alaska’s Brooks Range, Steven Rinella and wildlife biologist Brandt Meixell have ten days of hunting before the plane returns. Big-antlered Yukon moose are few and far between but hard work pays off for hunters who stick with it until the bitter end.

Steven Rinella has hunted this area before, but he feels he’s just scratched the surface exploring the surrounding country. The top of the mountain is always calling Steve’s name, and for this serious Alaskan backpack hunt he’s bringing along comedians Joe Rogan and Bryan Callen. Cold, wet weather and tough hunting for wily Sitka deer make this a southeast Alaskan adventure these hunters will never forget.

As the prime cuts are often the first to go, most families are left with a freezer brimming with ground wild game meat. Pulled from the pages of his forthcoming Wild Game Cookbook, Steve shares a variety of recipes from burger to meatloaf and more – designed to whittle down this supply and jazz up your ground meat game.

Steve is fascinated by indigenous people who live in the wilds South America. In this three-part series, he travels deep into the Amazon jungle to hunt with and learn from the locals there. Not only will this be one heck of a hunting adventure, it will be a mind-opening, life-changing event. From bowfishing to hunting in the jungle at night, you never know what the evening’s menu will bring.

Steve is fascinated by indigenous people who live in the wilds South America. In this three-part series, he travels deep into the Amazon jungle to hunt with and learn from the locals there. Not only will this be one heck of a hunting adventure, it will be a mind-opening, life-changing event. From bowfishing to hunting in the jungle at night, you never know what the evening’s menu will bring.

Steve is fascinated by indigenous people who live in the wilds South America. In this three-part series, he travels deep into the Amazon jungle to hunt with and learn from the locals there. Not only will this be one heck of a hunting adventure, it will be a mind-opening, life-changing event. From bowfishing to hunting in the jungle at night, you never know what the evening’s menu will bring.

Brittany and Helen have put more work in on MeatEater than just about anyone else. For two years these adventurous ladies have built up an intense desire to learn how to hunt, and it’s about time they get out there. Steven Rinella takes them through the process from beginning to end. They need to get their hunters safety, learn to shoot, train for the woods, and get geared up. When November comes they're ready to go, and they strike out into the mountains of northern Montana for the adventure of their lives. First Lite’s Ryan Callaghan comes along to lend a helping hand, and they all head into the Sweetgrass Hills with high hopes of eating a traditional first-hunters’ meal of fresh elk heart.

Steve returns to southern Arizona to stalk the elusive Coues deer. Unaccompanied, Steve immerses himself in the quiet southwest desert and gets intimate with one of the most wary animals in the west. Throughout the hunt, Steve articulates why solo time in trophy country is good for the soul.

Steve and bird hunting aficionado Ronny Boehme join up with wildlife biologist Ed Arnett in Lubbock, Texas to hunt Sandhill cranes. The Sandhill crane offers a unique wingshooting opportunity and also carries the nickname “rib eye of the sky” because of its supposed similarities to a handsome cut of beef. It’s fast action and plenty of laughs as Steve, Ronny, and Ed explore the culinary delights of these birds with a Texas style “Crane Cookout.”

Lightning strikes twice: Steven Rinella has somehow beaten the odds and drawn a second Muskox tag after having to forfeit his first one four years ago due to unforeseen circumstances. Steve has always regretted passing up an opportunity to hunt Muskox but with another tag in his pocket, nothing will stop this adventure. We learn about the native history and culture of Nunivak Island's as Steve tries to stay warm while chasing Muskox 30 miles offshore in the Bering Sea. The muskox is delicious and so is the tomcod dipped in seal oil.

The last time Joe Rogan and Bryan Callen went out with Steven Rinella they were soaked head to toe and came home meatless. To remedy their meat crisis while keeping them dry, Steve sets up a springtime wild turkey hunt in sunny California. Steve gives Joe and Bryan the A to Z on hunting, butchering, and cooking the wild turkey. Steve caps off the introductory lesson by preparing his favorite turkey recipe: Schnitzel.

In the first part of this series, Steve attempts a unique spring hunt for sooty grouse in the coastal rainforests of southeast Alaska. These mysterious hooters make for a hunt that is markedly different from any other and success doesn't come easily.

In Part One, Steve experienced the difficulty of hunting the Sooty grouse of southeast Alaska. In Part 2, Steve joins his friend Barbara in Juneau who shows him the in and outs of finding “hooters.” Tromping through Southeast Alaska rainforest, Steve and Barbara discover a mutual fondness for an unconventional hunt. Barbara concludes the hunt with a beachside meal of fettuccine a la sooty grouse.

Steve loves to fish as much as he loves to hunt. Steve is on a river in SW Montana for a day to catch some rainbow trout and cook a few over a fire. As fishing and campfire cooking offer time for reflection, Steve takes the time to recall a few memorable MeatEater meals. From caveman style sheep ribs in the Alaska Range to curiosity-induced coyote BBQ in Mexico, these meals give Steve the chance to explore what it means to be a MeatEater.

Last spring, Steve decided to pass up an opportunity to kill a black bear in favor of an extended up close and personal experience. This time, Steve heads back to his shack on Prince of Wales Island and he’s brought his friend Paul Neess from Vortex Optics along to share the experience of using a canoe to slip in close to these giant black bears.

Steve ventures out to his hunting and fishing shack on a remote coastline of southeast Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island. While hunting bears from a skiff and a canoe, Steve gathers a variety of prime seafood and makes a discovery about his own motivations as a bear hunter.

Steven Rinella breaks down an entire boar and shares some of his favorite recipes in this Cooking Special.

Steve and his buddy Ryan Callaghan float a remote river on a bull moose hunt in the wilderness of British Columbia. Here, they'll face one of the most dangerous moments in Steve’s life as a hunter. But they'll also enjoy one the best wild game meals they've ever tasted.

Steve must deal with bad weather and fierce competition during a late-season central Montana elk hunt. With some tips from a friend, Steve encounters plenty of elk on this public land hunt. But he'll have to hike hard in steep country and deep snow to get to the elk and away from other hunters.

Steve and his buddy Ryan Callaghan, a British Columbia guide, hike into the steep backcountry of northern British Columbia in search of grizzlies and black bears. This alpine adventure includes some intense and up-close bear action – almost too close.

Steve and his buddy Ryan Callaghan, a British Columbia guide, hike into the steep backcountry of northern British Columbia in search of grizzlies and black bears. This alpine adventure includes some intense and up-close bear action – almost too close.

Steven Rinella and his buddy Doug Duren give comedians Joe Rogan and Bryan Callen their first taste of Midwest deer hunting culture by sitting in freezing ground blinds on opening day in Wisconsin. It just wouldn't be a trip to the Duren Family Farm without a little trapping and duck hunting thrown in, rounding out the larder for a big wild game feast.

Steven Rinella and his buddy Doug Duren give comedians Joe Rogan and Bryan Callen their first taste of Midwest deer hunting culture by sitting in freezing ground blinds on opening day in Wisconsin. It just wouldn't be a trip to the Duren Family Farm without a little trapping and duck hunting thrown in, rounding out the larder for a big wild game feast.

Steven Rinella and his friend and wild turkey specialist, Robert Abernathy, head to southern Florida to hunt Osceola gobblers. Steve hopes to finish off his Royal Turkey Slam, achieved by bagging all five subspecies of the American wild turkey—a quest that’s been a decade in the making. These two turkey hunting fanatics celebrate with a delicious meal of grilled and stuff wild wild turkey breast.

Steven Rinella is invited by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for a special opportunity to hunt elk during the rut in the mountainous coal country of southeastern Kentucky, a place where his hero Daniel Boone once roamed. This is Steve’s first eastern elk hunt, and he quickly realizes that the rules of the game here are different. If he manages to track one down, he’ll prepare what was supposedly Boone’s favorite meal: elk liver.

Shrimp, crab, fish, and clams. When it comes to seafood, this is as good as it gets. Join Steve as he shares some easy-to-replicate seafood recipes on this Cooking Special.

Steve's annual quest for a giant mule deer buck continues this year in southwest Colorado. Here, Steve fills us in on his favorite critter, the mule deer. As he hunts will share his vast knowledge about these special western game animals including how to hunt, butcher, and most importantly how cook them-if he can put his tag on one.

Steven Rinella scratches his spring turkey itch this year as he visits Southeast Wisconsin to call in some big eastern Toms with his buddy Jerod Fink. The guys also plan to do some bow fishing after dark so they can enjoy a real Midwest turkey and fish fry.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but is often overlooked by wild game cooks at home. Following a series of successful hunts across North America this past fall, Steve demonstrates how to cook a variety of breakfast classics using wild game ingredients—including black bear bacon, which Steve has never tried before.

After four years of waiting, Steven Rinella draws a coveted, limited-entry public land bull elk tag for New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. Steve heads into the backcountry on a solo backpack hunt where his biggest challenge is the vast expanse of hills covered in thick timber. This demanding hunt requires lots of glassing and even more hiking. Here, even just one missed opportunity could result in an empty freezer.

While it’s considered a long-standing hunting tradition to eat the heart of your first kill, the heart is otherwise often underutilized in a wild game chef’s repertoire. Using the hearts from a wild boar, mule deer, caribou, moose and elk, Steve shares five of his favorite methods of preparing this underappreciated, nutrient-rich muscle.

Steven Rinella will take Navy SEAL Rorke Denver on his first hunt deep into the Alaskan backcountry to search for black bears in the mighty Alaska Range. In the remote wilderness, two friends will look into the differences and similarities between the hunter and the warrior. The bears are out but Rorke and Steve will have to work hard to put a tag on one.

Steven Rinella will take Navy SEAL Rorke Denver on his first hunt deep into the Alaskan backcountry to search for black bears in the mighty Alaska Range. In the remote wilderness, two friends will look into the differences and similarities between the hunter and the warrior. The bears are out but Rorke and Steve will have to work hard to put a tag on one.

Steven Rinella and his friend Ronny Boehme drive into the mountains of southwest Montana to hunt the high ridge tops for dusky grouse. Ronny’s Bracco Italiano hunting dogs have been bred and trained for this work, but can Ronny handle the altitude? The duo prepares dusky grouse jalapeño poppers and grouse fettuccine with a white wine and cream sauce.

The goal on MeatEater has always been to make viewers feel like they’re on a hunt with Steven Rinella, but on this two-part episode Rinella grants his viewers an all-access pass to see just how the MeatEater crew works together to make the show.

The goal on MeatEater has always been to make viewers feel like they’re on a hunt with Steven Rinella, but on this two-part episode Rinella grants his viewers an all-access pass to see just how the MeatEater crew works together to make the show.

Television personality Joe Rogan and his best friend, comedian Bryan Callen, join Steven Rinella for their very first hunt. On a float trip for mule deer through the rugged Missouri Breaks, this is as adventurous of a first hunt as anyone could hope for, and Steve’s special guests are in for a memorable experience and delicious wild game field cooking in some gorgeous country.

Television personality Joe Rogan and his best friend, comedian Bryan Callen, join Steven Rinella for their very first hunt. On a float trip for mule deer through the rugged Missouri Breaks, this is as adventurous of a first hunt as anyone could hope for, and Steve’s special guests are in for a memorable experience and delicious wild game field cooking in some gorgeous country.

While Steven Rinella has hunted for javelina, in this episode he’s shown an entirely new tactic when his buddy Remi Warren demonstrates how to use a predator call to call them in at a full charge. After the hunt, the plan is to enjoy a local delicacy, Chorizo de Javelin, with help from an experienced Mexican ranch cook. In addition, Steve and Remi hunt for coyote with the intent of roasting the animal. It's an experience neither hunter will soon forget.

Steven Rinella returns to his cherished boyhood stomping grounds along Michigan’s Muskegon River. He'll paddle his canoe through the marsh to camp and bow fish for sucker, bowfin, and gar. With the rich bounty of overlooked aquatic foods that can be found in this freshwater paradise, he'll demonstrate how beat the heat by salt curing fish and later he'll prepare a camp meal of fried gar.

Steven Rinella and friend Cody Lujan head to Northeastern New Mexico to hunt pronghorn antelope, the fastest big game animal in the United States. In the wide open desert plains, Steve will have to work hard to stalk within range of a mature buck. The payoff will be antelope loin topped with local New Mexico chiles.

In this cooking special, Steven Rinella shows his fans some of his favorite preparations for big, bone-in cuts of red meat. Interspersed with highlights from his recent caribou, buffalo, and mule deer hunts, the show features recipes that utilize some of the most underappreciated parts of big game animals. This episode is an attractive and delicious tribute to Steve’s gun-to-table ethic.

Steven Rinella returns to his favorite hunting grounds of Sonora, Mexico to hunt for a Coues deer buck during the peak rutting season. Steve sets up camp and spends days glassing mountains and canyons for these elusive, wary desert whitetails. Meanwhile, his hunting partner, Remi Warren, attempts the difficult task of stalking one with a bow. To cap off the hunt, Steve cooks a batch of venison ribs braised in a Dutch oven buried beneath hot coals.

In this episode, Steven Rinella joins forces with fellow hunter and wild game chef Hank Shaw in the hills of Central California to go after Columbia blacktail deer, wild pigs, and a handful of small game species that are in season. The end result is a culinary smorgasbord of epic proportions.


Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations

From the blistering "Hot Pot" and fiery Mapo Tofu to spicy Kung Pao Chicken, Andrew Zimmern explores the famous scorching dishes that make Chengdu, China, a delicious destination.

Shanghai

Andrew Zimmern introduces the popular tastes of Shanghai, China. From creamy hairy crab and savory pork-filled dumplings to rice wine-soaked chicken and scallion pancakes on the go, cuisine in this big city is sweet and simple.

San Antonio

Andrew Zimmern showcases the Tex-Mex favorites of San Antonio, Texas, including puffy tacos and a giant chalupa burger. Other featured foods include slow-cooked brisket, melt-in-your-mouth barbacoa and marinated stuffed quail cooked over mesquite.

Dallas

Andrew Zimmern explores the big and bold flavors that are decidedly Dallas -- from comforting chicken fried steak and sweet, creamy pecan pie to hearty tortilla soup and steak aged for 240 days.

Chiang Mai

Andrew Zimmern reveals the most iconic foods of Chiang Mai, Thailand. From coconut curry soup to a signature sausage with pork and chile paste, fish roasted in banana leaves to minced pork salad, the northern city has a regional cuisine unlike any other, boasting salty and bitter flavors, fresh vegetables and thriving rice crops.

Phnom Penh

Andrew Zimmern discovers the complex flavors of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Spicy grilled crab, cold and refreshing beef salad and herbaceous fish and noodle soup reflect a mission to preserve the uniqueness of Cambodian cuisine.

Cape Town

Andrew Zimmern leaves no meal unexplored in multicultural Cape Town, South Africa, where meat comes in all forms, from sausage to stew to pie. The coastal city's seafood is out of this world, and the favorite pastry is nothing without a coat of syrup!

Mauritius

From piping-hot fried dumplings and handmade egg noodles to veggie-stuffed flatbread and curried swordfish, Andrew Zimmern showcases the flavorful fusions of the island paradise of Mauritius.

Asheville

Andrew Zimmern reveals the iconic eats of Asheville, North Carolina. The eclectic food city features tangy barbecue, decadent sweet potato pie, mouthwatering fried chicken, succulent rainbow trout and giant soft-dough biscuits with savory gravy.

Savannah

Andrew Zimmern dives into the flavor-packed favorites of Savannah, Georgia, like creamy shrimp and grits, briny oysters in a half shell, upscale crab bisque and down-home barbecue stew so thick it'll make your spoon stand up.

Jerusalem

Andrew Zimmern investigates the rich culinary heritage of Jerusalem. From savory classics like shawarma, falafel, kubbeh and hummus to tempting pastries like halva and bureka, this holy city's edible icons are steeped in history.

Amman

Andrew Zimmern introduces the rich and welcoming dishes of Amman, Jordan. The city's multicultural influences have created a culinary scene steeped in hospitality. Andrew samples some of the more well-known dishes such as multi-tiered towers of goat and veggies, sumac-coated chicken with onions, lamb cooked in creamy yogurt sauce and fava bean spreads perfect for sharing.

Mumbai

Andrew Zimmern unveils Mumbai's multicultural flavors and addictive ingredients. A city built on chaos, hard work and multicultural melding, Mumbai showcases its history through its delicious eateries. The city's edible icons include deep-fried fish and prawns, saucy goat over rice and vegetarian dishes from puffed rice salad to spicy potato mashups.

Hyderabad

Andrew Zimmern explores the aromatic treasures of Hyderabad, India. From savory potato pastries and silver-garnished syrupy fried bread to spicy pancakes and hearty meals of meat and rice, Hyderabad's menus are fit for royalty.

Panama City

Andrew Zimmern digs in to Panama City's classic tastes inspired by the blended cultures that make up the capital city's population. From fried whole fish and plantains to citric ceviche and yucca fritters packed with steak, the Latin flair of this multicultural city seasons every dish.

Trinidad and Tobago

Andrew Zimmern samples the island flavors and culinary mashups of Trinidad and Tobago. These twin islands have a singular passion for food and life, featuring dishes like curried crab with dumplings, crispy fried shark sandwiches, and soft and silky flatbreads perfect for scooping veggies and curries.

Mississippi Delta

Andrew Zimmern explores the iconic soul food of the Mississippi Delta. From fried catfish and hushpuppies to smothered oxtails and decadent mud pie, the Deep South's down-home dishes soothe the soul.

Key West

Andrew Zimmern delights in the fun and funky flavors of Key West, Florida. From conch fritters, coconut pink shrimp and fried hogfish sandwiches to toasty Cubanos and quintessential Key lime pie, Key West is full of fresh eats and local ingredients.

Quito

Andrew Zimmern explores the diverse culinary classics of Ecuador's capital city, Quito. The urban cuisine satisfies stomachs with fried pork and potato cakes, fresh ceviche, sugar-coated roasted peanuts, fish soup and more.

Antigua Guatemala

Andrew Zimmern checks out the vibrant and flavorful fusions of Antigua Guatemala, home to sacred food traditions and cultural mashups of Mayan and Spanish heritage. His culinary adventure includes colorful enchiladas that face the sky, tiny tamales, traditional handmade confections and sweet and savory pockets of beans and plantains.

Cartagena

Andrew Zimmern shows off the tempting flavors of Cartagena, Colombia. From fried fish and sizzling egg arepas to bedroom-boosting fruits and seafood stews, the taste of the coast infuses every bite.

Dominican Republic

Andrew Zimmern takes a culinary tour of the Dominican Republic, a meat-lover's paradise. From whole roast pig and crispy, Lebanese-inspired fried dough pockets to beef and plantain casseroles, Dominican gastronomy is full of surprises.

Oaxaca

Andrew Zimmern explores regional specialties in Oaxaca, Mexico. From complex mole negro sauce over Mayan-era tamales and crispy tortilla with pork lard to egg bread dunked in hot chocolate, local tradition flavors each bite.

Andrew Zimmern dives in to the Mediterranean and seafood-heavy cuisine of Baja California, Mexico. From simple smoked tuna to crispy fish tacos, Caesar salad to zesty seafood cocktail hangover cures, Baja's cuisine is an international sensation.


To Know Florida Clams, You Need to Understand Cedar Key Clams

Surrounded by the Gulf of the Mexico, this Levy County island community (population around 1,000, spiking to 1,300 in the tourist season) is rich in history, funky art galleries and wildlife refuges.

People come here for its laid-back atmosphere and the unspoiled natural environment. On land, they get around on fat-tired bikes and spiffed-up golf carts offshore, they explore the estuaries and open waters in canoes, kayaks, fishing boats and paddleboards.

Drive over the four bridges from the mainland leading to the heart of Cedar Key and it’s like a step back in time. There’s the charming downtown Island Hotel and Restaurant, established in 1859, which has no televisions or telephones in its turn-of-the-century decorated rooms, but does have a resident ghost wandering the halls. Neighborhoods are lined with two-story clapboard houses in pastel colors and vibrant hues with welcoming wrap-around porches.

The vibe is everywhere you go: Turn off your smart phone, slow down, chill out and exhale.

But second to tourism, something else has put Cedar Key on the map: commercial clamming an Florida clams. It’s grown into a multimillion-dollar industry, giving the local economy a shot in the arm and providing much-needed jobs in Florida’s first key.

And from an ecological standpoint, shellfish aquaculture is regarded a source of habitat enhancement and improved water quality. Marine farmers have bragging rights that their work supports and enhances the state’s fresh, sustainable “green” seafood industry.

Jon Gill of Southern Cross Sea Farms, one of Florida’s largest producers of hard-shell clams, thinks a first-hand education of this thriving business is a must-see for visitors. So he and partner Shawn Stephenson open the doors late fall through May to their full-scale operation for a free behind-the-scenes tour every Friday at 1 p.m.

Apparently, there’s a lot of interest in the birth and life of a clam. The tours have become so popular, Gill says, that they now take reservations for big groups. Their clam farm is the only one on the island that offers an inside glimpse into this burgeoning business.

“All that brownish water at our shoreline may not be so pretty to look at, but it’s why we can have clam farms,” Gill says. “Turns out we have the perfect conditions to raise the best clams.”

For starters, the industry rescued many commercial fishermen who found themselves out of work in 1995 when Florida residents voted to ban the use of gill nets in state waters. Some took advantage of a state initiative that provided clam training programs. Gill (yes, that’s his real name) was one of them.

“I love working on and around the water. This was a natural progression. And I’m happy to say it’s worked out very well.”

Indeed. Southern Cross, which calls itself a “vertically integrated” clam business, ships 20 to 30 million clams annually all over the country. Three years ago, they added oysters to the operation. They’re faster to produce and are in big demand, so that decision turned out to be a profitable one.

Gill typically leads the tour, which runs about an hour.

Think of a mash-up of biology, ecology and business, laced with a little stand-up comedy. It starts at the beginning in the hatchery with the spawning, a temperature-controlled process in a tank that involves no romancing.

“It’s just about getting the moms and dads together and releasing eggs and sperm,” he says. “We don’t keep mood music and wine in here.”

The babies – millions of them in a single batch – are fed a nutrient-rich phytoplankton of cultured algae daily, 365 days a year. Six weeks later, measuring about the size of the head of a pin, they are transferred to the nursery. They live in the farm’s floating dock system for about three months, until they reach the size of an aspirin.

Next is the field work, where they’re put into bags and planted in one of several “lots” in the water leased from the state. Once they grow to the size of a dime, they’re transferred to another set of “growout” bags and taken to fertile clam leases three miles offshore of Cedar Key for a year to 18 months.

Southern Cross keeps four boats available to head out at daybreak to keep on top of filling orders from restaurants all over the country. Once retrieved, the bounty is brought back to the farm to be tumbled (getting rid of anything that’s not a live clam), sorted by four different sizes and counted.

Because freshness is so critical, the Cedar Key clams are harvested, processed and shipped live on the same day.

A little-known clam fact that always surprises the tour participants: The whole process from seed to table takes two years. Though the operation runs like a well-oiled machine, a disruption like a bad storm can wreak havoc.

“If just one step is compromised along the way, it could really knock out our business,” Gill says. “It’s not an overnight process. It requires patience and 24/7 monitoring.”

Southern Cross maintains a small retail operation on location, offering fresh clams and local fish. Epicureans, take note: Pick up free copies of seafood recipes next to the freezer case.

The best way to top off the tour? Head to Tony’s right down the street. What the dinette lacks in charm and space, it makes up for it with some of island’s best home-cooked fare. Topping the list is its famous clam chowder, a three-time consecutive winner in the annual Great Clam Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, R.I., considered the “Super Bowl” of cook-offs.

One bowl of this thick chowder – chock full of clams and potatoes and laced with heavy cream – is the perfect way to fully appreciate the industry that’s keeping Cedar Key humming year-round.

Tony’s also sells fresh, frozen and canned chowder to take home.

“I think if you really want to know Cedar Key, you need to understand this whole clam thing,” Gill says. “Clams gave us new life here. It could have been a sad story after that law was passed, but instead, we have a happy ending.”

Southern Cross Sea Farms
12170 State Road 24
Cedar Key, FL 32625
(352) 543-5980


Taste the flavors of Key West on a sweet and savory food tour

While nibbling a flaky chicken empanada in a poolside cabana at the Havana Cabana hotel in Key West, Florida, it dawned on me that my familiarity with Caribbean flavors does not extend to Cuba. Courtesy of the hotel’s food truck, Floridita, I had been dining regularly on Cubano sandwiches, filled with roast pork, ham and Swiss cheese, and ropa vieja, a shredded beef dish traditionally served over rice but stuffed in a roll here. I savored these meaty treats but wondered why Cuban fare wasn’t as seafood-centric as other corners of the Caribbean. And where was the spice?

The conundrum inspired me to tuck deeper into this distinctive cuisine, so I joined the Southernmost Food Tasting & Cultural Walking Tour, a flavorful, three-hour journey by foot through Key West that highlights the island’s Cuban and Caribbean influences.

El Siboney restaurant, the first stop, is a Key West landmark cherished by locals of Cuban descent, like Analise Smith, the tour company owner and guide.

Who knew so much history could be on a plate of puerco asado, or shredded roast pork?

Smith explained that Cubans' love of pork can be traced back to the 15th century when Spanish colonizers introduced pigs and cattle to a people that had subsisted mostly on seafood. They’ve been eating high on the hog ever since, serving it at almost every holiday and special occasion.

El Siboney serves succulent roast pork so tender you could eat it with a spoon. It’s piled high with onions and topped with a lime wedge that’s meant to be squeezed over the fragrant meat. A mound of white rice, a sweet plantain and a bowl of black beans round out this “tasting” that is more of a full-blown meal.

The meat gets its tangy zip from a mojo sauce marinade made from sour orange, garlic and Cuban oregano. It’s flavorful, but not spicy.

“There’s a common misconception that ‘Hispanic’ foods are spicy, primarily coming from people who are familiar with Mexican cuisine, which uses hot peppers,” said Smith. “Cuban cuisine has spice, but there’s no heat. You’ll never see Cubans putting hot sauce on their food.”

Even humble black beans and white rice, an everyday staple, reflects Cuba’s multi-cultural heritage. It’s called Moros y Cristianos, Moors and Christians, a reference to Medieval Spain when North African Muslims and European Christians battled for control of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s likely the Moors introduced the dish to Spain, and the Spanish brought it to Cuba.

Enslaved Africans who labored on Cuban sugar cane plantations ushered in their own culinary traditions, such as mixing white rice with a variety of vegetables and sauces.

When we had our fill, we hit the sunny streets for a little sightseeing, sidestepping the lethargic feral cats that rule the island. Smith pointed out the Key West Lighthouse and the long-shuttered Gato cigar factory that produced cigars made with robust Cuban tobacco.

Raul Vasquez, a prominent Key West citizen, was a cigar selector there, but he had a far more interesting side gig as a Prohibition-era rum runner.

He once owned what is now the Speakeasy Inn, home to the iconic Rum Bar. As we sipped rum punch on the breezy front porch of the historic property, we heard about how his frequent trips across the Straits of Florida kept his not-so-secret Florence Club in the back of the inn stocked with fine Cuban rum.

Prohibition ended long ago, but the U.S. enforces import restrictions on Cuba, so commercial importation and distribution is still illegal. At the Rum Bar, drinkers make do with a selection of 350 rums from around the world and an impressive list of rum cocktails that includes the house specialty, the Painkiller, a riff on the Piña Colada. Blend Pusser’s rum with coconut cream, orange juice and pineapple juice, sprinkle with a dusting of fresh nutmeg, and you’ve got a panacea for whatever ails you.

Rounding up a herd of content rum-imbibers proved to be a bit of challenge, but Smith eventually persuaded us that a world of gastronomic delights awaited, if we would only pry ourselves out of those comfy chairs.

We were well rewarded for our efforts at Mangoes, a Duval Street restaurant known for Caribbean classics such as fish tacos and deep-fried conch fritters served with a dollop of key lime caper aioli. These are the Caribbean seafood dishes I know and love, and I could have wolfed down every last one of those delectable fritters.

Duval Street has its share of fine restaurants and other attractions, but this tour goes beyond the touristy hotspots and onto charming side streets.

Bahama Village, a 16-block Old Town neighborhood founded by 19th-century Bahamian immigrants, features rows of pastel cottages with tropical flowers tumbling over fences with quirky cut-outs. The neighborhood teems with restaurants and bars with a cool calypso vibe.

“A lot of people think of Key West as just a big party town, and they stay on Duval Street,” said Smith. “But this a culture-filled town with a rich history that has been passed down through generations of families, so I’m proud to share a different side of the island.”

Dessert is served at Moondog Café & Bakery, an eatery with eye-catching murals reflecting Key West life. Key lime pie is an American creation without Cuban or Caribbean roots, but who cares? You can’t have a Key West food tour without a slice.

One bite delivers a trifecta of contrasting textures and flavors — a delicate graham cracker crust, a tart-sweet filling made with condensed milk and a puffy cloud of meringue on top. There’s a longstanding meringue versus whipped cream debate among “conchs,” as Key West residents are called, but since practically every restaurant in the city serves some version of this Southern specialty, finding your topping of choice is easy as pie.

I return to the hotel not only sated by delicious Cuban and Caribbean fare, but full of knowledge about the cultures that brought those flavors to Key West. But now I’m curious about the origins of Key lime pie. I guess that’s a food tour for another day.

Key West, Florida, is 820 miles south of Atlanta. Non-stop flights from Atlanta are available on Delta Air Lines.


  • ASIN : B00AE5T7JG
  • Publisher : Globe Pequot Second edition (November 20, 2012)
  • Publication date : November 20, 2012
  • Language : English
  • File size : 10485 KB
  • Text-to-Speech : Enabled
  • Enhanced typesetting : Not Enabled
  • X-Ray : Not Enabled
  • Word Wise : Enabled
  • Print length : 304 pages
  • Lending : Enabled

Top reviews from the United States

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This cookbook is a good bet for those who love the Florida Keys.. Photos are present, but only for a few recipes. The best part of this cookbook is the history of the Keys. The mixtures of cultures has given the keys a rich heritage. Of course, we all know that famous people inhabit the keys. It was not until the 1990's that the Keys became a place for tourists. It is also known as the place to go for the Gay population.

The history of the Keys takes up a great bit of the beginning, and it is the best part of the book. The book is divided into the history, chapters for food, and then at the end a directory of where you can purchase all the food stuffs found in the book. The book counts heavily on restaurant recipes and is thus credited.

Chapter One- Cocktails - most have a heavily laden rum content,and it was the mojitos that interested me the most. A ship Captain was used to drinking whiskey, sugar water and limes until he ran out of whiskey, he substituted rum and the Mojito was born!

Chapter Two- Soups, Bisques and chowders, the usual roundup but conch is a big draw.

Chapter Three- Salads and veggies- nice coverage of many salads and fruit salad with bananas are featured.

Chapter Four- Rice, Beans, Tubers and Pastas- nice selection all of which are found in the Keys.

Chapter Five- fish and Seafood, this was my favorite with many recipes dedicated to the fish found in the Keys.

Chapter Six-Meat and poultry- Steak is heavily represented along with chicken. Nice selection.

Chapter Seven- Grand Finales- as mentioned elsewhere, cake mixes are featured, but for only a few recipes. The others look delicious and, of course, Key Lime Pie is featured.

Chapter Eight- Bread and Breakfast- luscious food is featured, my favorite part of the recipes.

The absence of photos of the food really took away from this book. As mentioned, the history of the Keys is well worth the price of the book.


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