We all love going someplace awesome enough that we’re considered a tourist… but we HATE being treated like tourists. It’s a seemingly unavoidable catch 22. Or is it? Get out your notebooks, folks (or just press print), I’m here to rescue you from flagging yourself as the dreaded ‘T-word’. Well, at least when you’re at a Gulf Coast seafood joint, anyway.
Just like you don’t go to Hawaii to snowboard, you don’t come to the Gulf Coast for clam chowda and fresh lobstah – you’re about 1500 miles too far south for that. Different regions have different things they’re known for. And down here, we have some ridiculously amazing seafood. It just might not be the kind you’re expecting. So, here it is – no funny business, no hidden agenda – just a comprehensive guide to our local seafood. Your only job is to go try some, and tell me how astonishingly accurately I described it for you. I dare you.
Fish can be prepared in several different ways. Some fish are great any way, some are better off being single-minded. Here are the most common ones you’ll find on a Gulf Coast sea food menu:
- Blackened: I promise, the restaurant is not trying to dupe you into buying overcooked fish. This puts a spicy spin on your dish and is my personal favorite. Chefs will create their own blend, typically of butter and Cajun spices, and flavor the fish with it while it cooks to perfection in a cast iron skillet.
- Grilled: Depending on the restaurant you are at, the method used to grill can create a really diverse number of flavors. If you see the words ‘cedar plank grilled’, try it. It’s phenomenal and just the right amount of smoky. Grilling fish properly locks in juices and will make your mouth water.
- Broiled: For the health conscious. Broiled is certainly not the most flavorful or interesting way to prepare a fish, but it does not add more fat or sodium, making it ideal for those on a strict diet. But let’s be fair, if you’re on vacation here, live a little!
- Fried: Quite the contrary of broiled, this is less healthy but absolutely delectable. Each restaurant has their own recipe for breading and/or battering, meaning you’ll get a different flavor everywhere you go. Fried is the way to go for a more casual experience, if you’re getting fish n chips, or if you’re trying a famous po’ boy.
- Black Grouper: A type of reef fish, it’s great for the seafood beginner and the nutrition lover. It has a mild flavor, can be prepared a wide variety of ways, and doesn’t dry out easily. It has a firm, meaty texture, but it’s also flaky.
- AKA: Grouper
- Red Snapper: Also a reef fish and plentiful to the Panhandle, it is similar to Black Grouper. This fish has a mild flavor, doesn’t dry out easily, and is a bit sweet. It has a firm, meaty texture, but it’s also flaky.
- AKA: Pink Snapper, Vermillion Snapper, B-Line Snapper, Jobfish
- Mahi Mahi: Not to be confused with the porpoises we all know and love, this fish is tasty with a firm texture. Not very fishy tasting, it is best prepared grilled or blackened.
- AKA: Dolphin Fish, Dorado
- Amberjack: A mild game fish, it has a fishier taste than reef fish, though it is not overwhelming. It has firm, flaky texture and is prepared in a variety of ways.
- AKA: Yellowtail Kingfish, Yellowtail, California Yellowtail, Buri, Kahala ‘opio, Racing Tuna
- Cobia: With a mild flavor, you will find cobia is an extremely tasty fish that is typically served thick like a steak. It is prepared in many different ways and does not taste fishy. Regarded as one of the absolute favorites by locals.
- AKA: Lemon Fish, Ling, Crabeater
- Kingfish & Mackerel: Not for beginners, these fish are tender and flavorful, but quite oily. These are best in dips, but can also be tasty if they are fresh (aka caught that day). In this case, they are typically cut thick like a steak and are best prepared grilled or blackened.
- AKA: King Mackerel
- Swordfish: With a moderate flavor that is stronger than most listed above, this fish is light and delicious. Typically served in thicker cuts and prepared a variety of ways.
- Wahoo: With moderate flavor, this fish is very lean and firm. It is cut into thicker steak filets and is commonly used as the meat in some of the most delicious fish tacos.
- AKA: Robalo
- Yellowfin Tuna: The most prized and delicious of tunas, this fish is extremely delicious, mildly fishy, and high in protein. It can be eaten raw, like in sushi, or cooked a variety of ways as a larger steak filet.
- AKA: Ahi
- Yellowtail Snapper: This mild fish is delicious and slightly tangy. It has a fluffy texture when pan seared or fried properly. Not an adventurous fish, but not for beginners, either.
- Flounder: Renowned as one of the top three favorites in the Gulf Coast, this fish is delectable. It has a mild flavor, fine texture and is great for beginners and seasoned sea food lovers. This is great prepared any way, and can really handle a hearty sauce like a bearnaise.
- AKA: Door Mat, Sand Dab, English Sole, Fluke, Plaice
- Triggerfish: This guy is extremely flavorful with a distinctive taste. It has a mostly shellfish diet, so it has a hint of that flavor. It is light and flaky, and great prepared blackened, fried or grilled.
- AKA: Fudpucker
- Redfish: This fish has a moderate flavor and is not oily. It is a firmer fish and is best grilled, but can also be enjoyed blackened.
- AKA: Reds, Red Drum, Channel Bass
You’re now armed with the names of some of Florida’s most adored seafood – sure to make you blend right in with the locals. Now go out there, have a little adventure, and make your taste buds love you way more than they do right now.