Tenney Flynn, the chef-owner of GW Fins in New Orleans, recently got into a heated debate about America's best seafood cities with Tom Colicchio, the founder New York's Gramercy Tavern, which has achieved fame in part on the strength of its Sea Bass and Arctic Char. In no time, Flynn went for the jugular, pointing out that northeastern fisheries haul in a comparatively limited number of species. "Once you get past scallops and lobsters, what else have you got?" he asked Colicchio. "Just five kinds of fish. We've got five kinds of tuna, five kinds of snapper, five kinds of grouper."
The Gulf of Mexico, which is connected to the Atlantic through the surprisingly narrow Florida Straits and Yucatan Channel, is the ninth-largest body of water in the world and its mild waters, which engulf reefs, sandy shallows, and deep trenches, are home to some 1,447 species of fish. "The Gulf is kind of tropical and kind of temperate," says P.J. Stoops, a Houston-based fishmonger and chef. "It's a weird mix of everything." The same can be said of the local seafood.
The people that live along the gulf's northern edge have spent the better part of the last 300 years learning to cook up whatever they can net or hook and the diversity of recipes reflects the diversity of the fish. Even if the closest you get to the Gulf is your grocery store's frozen fish counter, there is much to be learned from the wisdom of people who prowl the area's piers. That's why we asked Flynn, Stoops, John Currence (City Grocery, Oxford, Mississippi) and Ryan Prewitt (Pêche, New Orleans), for tips and recipes straight from the Gulf.
Batter Fried Speckled Trout Tacos by Tenney Flynn
Next time you're angling and don't bring home as many fish as you expected, make tacos. When Flynn wants to stretch his catch, he turns to this recipe for speckled trout tacos. (It also works with snapper, bass, grouper, and basically anything white and flaky.) "The key is having a nicely seasoned slaw," says Flynn. "You want to put about as much slaw as fish in each taco." If you've been to the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans, these may sound familiar: GW Fins serves nearly 10,000 to festivalgoers every year along the Mississippi River.
Batter Fried Speckled Trout Tacos (serves 6)
- 1 cup cornstarch
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 pinch baking soda
- 1 pinch baking powder
- 1 tsp Creole seasoning
- 1 bottle light beer
Mix the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix in beer. Add a handful of ice and stir. Let sit until ice is melted.
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 chipotle pepper in adobo
- 1 tbsp adobo sauce
- 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
- 1 tsp Creole seasoning
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch pepper
Blend ingredients with a hand mixer until mixed thoroughly.
- 2 cups shredded cabbage
- 1/2 cup finely sliced red pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions
- 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
Mix ingredients together and then pour chipotle dressing on slaw and toss thoroughly.
- 2 lbs speckled trout, cut into 3-inch pieces
- 2 tsp Creole seasoning
- corn tortillas
Sprinkle the fish with Creole seasoning and then dip into batter. Place fish separately in hot oil and deep fry, moving back and forth, for 2-3 minutes. Place it on paper towels to blot extra oil. Brown the tortillas in a hot iron skillet. Place the slaw on corn tortillas, then one or two pieces of fish. Garnish it with avocados, tomatoes, chopped green onions, and diced cilantro. Serve.
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