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.
Creamy "West Indies-Style" Crabmeat Salad by John Currence
When it comes to crabmeat, even when you're just making crab salad – hell, especially when you're making crab salad – you need the real thing. "If you're using pasteurized or anything but blue crab, abort this mission now," says Currence. He makes a simple dressing incorporating hot sauce, lemon, celery, parsley, shallots, and "enough mayonnaise to get it creamy," and mixes it with one pound of fresh jumbo lump blue crab meat. The result is unctuous and balanced, and real blue crab meat will not be affected by the acid.
Creamy "West Indies-Style" Crabmeat Salad (serves 4-6)
- 1 lb fresh jumbo lump blue crab meat
- 3 tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 2 tsp hot sauce
- 3 tbsp minced shallot
- 1/4 cup small diced celery
- 1 1/2 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley, celery leaves, and any fresh herbs you may have on hand
Whisk together all the ingredients except the crabmeat in a stainless bowl and set aside. Pick through crab for any remaining pieces of shell. Be careful not to break up crabmeat. Pour dressing over top and blend together well. Refrigerate for 1 hour and serve with crackers or over dressed greens.
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