A Taste of Keys’ Food & Drink
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Stretching more than 100 miles into the open ocean, the Florida Keys can boast early settlers ranging from Bahamian fishermen to Cuban cigar makers and New England merchants. In such a rich melting pot, it's natural that the indigenous cuisine came to incorporate diverse and delicious influences — with a reliance on an abundant array of fish and seafood harvested from surrounding waters.
Commercial fishing, in fact, is the second-largest industry in the Keys. The fresh fish that graces a restaurant table at night was probably unloaded at the docks that morning, and fish and seafood headline nearly every restaurant menu.
Among the favorites are Key West pink shrimp, a delicacy generally considered sweeter than other crustaceans. Whether sautéed in scampi, battered and fried, nestled atop salad or pasta, or simply steamed and served with savory sauces, Key West pinks rank among the most popular of the Keys' "natural resources.”
Yellowtail snapper, hog snapper, mutton snapper, grouper and dolphin or mahi-mahi are just a few of the Keys' scale fish preferred by chefs. At restaurants throughout the island chain, diners can find sautéed yellowtail or snapper with a variety of sauces and accompaniments, along with fried grouper or mahi-mahi sandwiches, broiled or blackened fish entrees and much more.
Stone crabs, renowned for their sweet and succulent meat, also are a popular delicacy. Because nearly all of the crab's meat is contained within its grapnels, these are the only portions of the crustacean that are harvested. Once the claws are removed, the crab is returned to the sea where, over the course of up to two years, the claws regenerate. It is for this reason that stone crabs are considered a renewable resource, and the Florida Keys are responsible for about 40 percent of the state's overall harvest.
Stone crab claws are most commonly served warm with drawn butter or chilled with mustard sauce. The meat of the claws also can be used in crab cakes, fritters and stuffing. Florida's stone crab season runs from Oct. 15 to May 15.