A favorite destination for Ernest Hemingway, Jimmy Buffett, and many more, Key West is known for its palm lined streets and fish that is fresh enough to draw any committed culinary traveler. With a distinct mixture of cultures, the island is not only home to a strong seafood scene, but a tantalizing fusion of cuisines. At night, the street a lit up with vibrant sidewalk cafes that lure in passersby with delicious scents of their specialties. Live music and hopping bars are the perfect pairings to watch the sunset into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Florida Keys is home to five districts, each with their own personality and attractions that make visitors feel like they are a world away. The southernmost paradise, Key West, is just miles from Cuba and is home to an enviably temperate climate and a delicious array of fresh seafood set to a beautiful backdrop. Bringing together a multitude of cultures that have made Key West home during its history, Key West’s food scene has delicious flavors, like African and Cuban, that are difficult to find anywhere else in the US.
As a guide to the restaurant and seafood landscape, Paul Menta of Three Hands Fish gave us the lowdown. A professional chef and community advocate, with long locks and a chill attitude that makes him seem more like a pro kite surfer, which he also is, Paul is the perfect person to talk to to find out the secret dining spots of Key West. The Philly native began his culinary career in Spain and France and eventually came to Key West to continue his love for competitive kite surfing. An athlete, distiller, chef, and entrepreneur, Paul has made it his mission to tap into all Key West has to offer.
Key West has seafood unlike anywhere in the world and the crucial ingredient is the water. The Gulf of Mexico mixes with the Atlantic ocean making a perfect nursery for a plethora of fish, crab, and lobster. Not to mention, the fishermen of the region have come together to create a sustainable plan for the future of their industry, naturally controlling over-producing populations that threaten to take over the ecosystem.
When visiting Key West, be sure to try fish you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. While you may have heard of Key West’s conch fritters, Paul prefers to make grouper fritters, mixed with onions carrots and a traditional Key West seafood seasoning by Key West Spice Company that is made of celery seed, salt, paprika, and red pepper. It is simple, but fresh grouper doesn’t need an overpowering of
flavors. Once the batter is made, Paul fries the fish balls until golden and enjoys them inside of a sandwich or as an appetizer by the water.
Author: Paul Menta
● 1 pound Grouper
● 1⁄2 cup Onions
● 1⁄2 cup Carrots
● 11⁄2 Tablespoons Key West seafood seasoning
● 1 Egg yolk
● 2 Tablespoons Key lime juice
● 1⁄2 cup Flour
● Coconut oil, for frying
1. Chop up, or use food processor, grouper.
2. Fine dice, onions, carrots and mix with grouper.
3. Add key west seafood seasoning, about 11⁄2 tablespoon
4. Mix all together with 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of key lime juice.
5. Add 1⁄2 cup of flour until mixture starts to form a batter.
6. Use a spoon to make balls, fry in coconut oil till brown or bake in the oven
7. Serve with a dipping sauce of your choice.
There you have it, the secret recipe for one of Key West’s most treasured recipes, straight form the chef’s mouth! This recipe is highly adaptable, and you can even choose to replace meat with any chopped veggies like Cauliflower, potatoes, broccoli, scallions, etc. I think a yogurt-based dipping sauce would compliment these fritters well. But feel free to experiment in your own way.
Hope this post gave you an introduction to Key West’s food scene – the next time you are there, be sure to check it out yourself, and come back to share your experiences with us!
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