For 15 years now I have been roaming the state of Florida eating, selling, and studying the Florida seafood industry. Seafood has always been a passion of mine…maybe because it tastes real good! Anyway, I have been in every fish market from the Eaton Street Seafood Market in Key West to the Buford International Fish Market in Atlanta, GA and many others along the East Coast and Midwestern United States. One thing that always intrigued me was Florida’s passion for smoked fish and smoked fish spreads.
For as long as history can record, people all over the world from all cultures have relied on the smoke curing of fish and meat products for long term storage solutions. Nowadays smoking for preservation is common in less developed countries where transportation is limited. In more developed countries such as the United States where transportation is increasingly efficient, smoking remains popular for texture and flavor. This is how BBQ got so popular by the smoking of ribs and briskets which results in mouthwatering, fall off the bone, smoke flavored meats that are finger lickin’ good.
Florida has done with fish what Texas has done with meats only we provide a smoked fish product that is flavorful and healthier than red meats.
When I first opened a fish market on Siesta Key, of course many people had many suggestions for me. One of the most frequently asked questions were, “do you guys know what you are doing?” and “are you going to be smoking fish and especially mullet?” Well I had a lot more experience in the seafood and service industry than I was given credit for by the locals and did not need a fish education but one thing I did do was ask the local fishermen to teach me about smoking fish the “Florida Way”.
Of course my mentors only knew about smoking mullet with buttonwood and were stuck in their traditional techniques and recipe secrets. So I listened and I learned and I practiced. They taught me about this mullet, smoked fish spreads and preserving fish by smoking it.
So after 3 years of practice and experimentation I feel that we at the Big Water Fish Market can put our smoked fish up against any others in the area. We took bits and pieces of what we learned along the way and combined that knowledge with our own theories and developed our own system.
First we put our fish into a spicy salt brine the night before we smoke (we do not put Salmon in the brine as the water would discolor the meat). The next morning we remove the fish from the brine and then apply a dry rub hours before smoking. We smoke it low and slow for about an hour per filet. Brine + dry rub + oak wood + less than 200 degrees indirect heat = moist, smoked flavored fish filets. Many people use this technique but nobody smokes the same quality of fish as we do. Our theory is that if you cook with a superior fish you will get a superior product. For this reason we only smoke with fresh fish and we have chosen to smoke a higher quality of fish than the mullet. Although the old school mullet is still popular in Florida, you will only find fish such as Cobia, Mahi, Amberjack, and Salmon on our smoker. We also smoke whole fish, Eel, Octopus and Grouper heads when available.
Yes, I said Grouper heads, as the tenderest meat falls from the neck, cheeks and top of the head while smoking. We call this the “sweet meat” and sell it from the retail counter. It usually sells out the day we smoke. Andrew Zimmerman would be proud.
Every Tuesday we fill our smoker (located in the alley behind our shop) with oak wood as it is indigenous to Florida along with some of the better quality local and imported fish. We smoke it for various times depending on the size and origin and then we cryovac individual meats and filets for sale. We make our fish spreads with the loose meat and put the “sweet meat” (Grouper cheek meat) on display for sale. Every Tuesday you can come to Big Water Fish Market for a smoked fish lunch or buy smoked fish to take home with you to snack on or even eat for breakfast as many Floridians do.
Live well….Eat fish
Big Water Fish Market
6641 Midnight Pass Rd., 941-554-8101
Here is an easy recipe you can wow your friends or family with at your next get together.
Smoked Fish Spread recipe
Put the following combination in a bowl:
- 1 pound of smoked fish (You can smoke it yourself or buy it freshly smoked on Tuesdays at your Siesta Key Fish Market.)
- 1/2 onion finely chopped
- 1 stalk of finely chopped celery
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup mayo
- 1T. Worchester sauce
- 1T. blackened fish seasoning (For best results add seasoning directly on the smoked fish)
- Squeeze a lemon
- Salt & pepper to taste.
If you want to spice it up add chopped pickled jalapenos. Gently fold your ingredients together for a chunky dip or add more sour cream and stir for a creamier spread.
Serve with crackers & enjoy.