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.
Sautéed Pompano With Melon And Mango Salad by Tenney Flynn
Pompano, a firm and sweet fish with a high fat content, pairs naturally with ripe fruit. This, says Flynn, makes it the perfect warm-weather fish. Pick your three favorite melons – watermelon, honeydew, casaba – to combine with mango and papaya for a bed of salsa underneath the sautéed filet. The key here is to get it crispy, which means considerably more cooking on the skin side. Flynn: "You know when you make pancakes and the first side takes a lot longer to cook than the second? Same thing here."
Sautéed Pompano With Melon And Mango Salad (serves 6)
- 1 cup each of 3 different melons peeled, seeded, and 3/4-inch diced (Any sweet melon will do, such as watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, casaba, Crenshaw, Santa Claus, canary)
- 1/2 cup diced mango
- 1/2 cup diced papaya
- 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 1 tsp chopped mint
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 lime, juiced
- 6 each 8-10 oz pompano filets, scaled and scored, pinbones removed
- salt and pepper as needed
- flour as needed
- canola oil as needed
- butter as needed
Dice the melon, mango, and papaya. Mix together with the honey, cilantro, mint, lime, and salt. Toss, cover, and refrigerate. Season the pompano filets with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Divide the six filets in two large preheated sautéed pans with 1 tablespoon of Canola oil and 1 tablespoon of butter, skin side down. Cook over medium to high heat for about 3-4 minutes. More of the cooking needs to be done on the skin side so it's nice and crispy. Turn and continue cooking for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until done. Serve each fillet atop a scoop of melon/mango salsa.
Credit: Sarah Essex