This post originally appeared in the September issue of Satellite Magazine
Summer ends this month. It's official. We're back in Florida, exotic locations forgotten, summer travels fading like so many old photographs. But being back in Florida doesn't mean an end to wonderful food. Florida has rich, diverse culinary traditions that range from Old South and West African traditions that migrated down the coast from Charleston as well as incredible Hispanic and island influences that migrated north from the Caribbean and west from Spain. And many farmers throughout the state grow an abundance of diverse ingredients, all Floridian.
When people think of Florida, it makes sense to think of seafood. After all, we're nearly surrounded by water. So this month I bring you a fairly straight-forward seafood dish made with whiting, a native fish you can catch yourself (if you're so inclined), bell peppers you could grow yourself, and plantains, which I assume you could harvest yourself.
Note: If you don't catch your fish yourself and buy fresh, whole fish, make sure the fish has clear eyes and firm skin. If the eyes are cloudy or the skin seems oily or fragile, forget about it. The fish should also smell fresh and clean like the sea, not overly fishy or tainted in any way.
One of the great things about whiting is that it's a fish that normally has very low mercury levels. As healthy as eating fish is supposed to be, many species contain high levels of mercury. Whiting, however, being low on the food chain, doesn't concentrate mercury like many other fish do, such as orange roughy or tuna. That being said, if you wanted to use a firmer fish for this recipe, you could go with amberjack or grouper.
Honey-lime fillets with peppers and plantains (serves 4)
- Four whiting filets
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper (feel free to use green peppers, there's no difference in taste, just appearance)
- 2 ripe plantains
- Long grain rice (enough for 4 portions)
For the glaze
- 8 tablespoons honey
- 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
- Two cloves minced garlic (more or less, to taste)
- 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
- A couple dashes of salt (to taste)
- Feel free to add some red pepper flakes for a little heat or some finely chopped cilantro for a little freshness
Begin by mixing the ingredients for the glaze together in a small bowl. To help deal with the honey, you might want to heat it a little bit first. This will make it easier to poor and mix. Once you have mixed the glaze, it's probably a good idea to start the rice (just follow the directions on the bag). This is a dish that comes together very fast, and the fish doesn't hold up very well to sitting around. Once the rice is cooking, it's time to start on the plantains.
Heat about a eighth-inch to a half-inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. While the oil heats, peel the plantains and cut them into pieces about an inch thick. When the oil's heated, place the plantain pieces in the skillet on-end. Let them fry for about a minute to a minute and a half, turn them over and repeat. When they're done on the second side, move them to a plate covered with paper towels. After they're cooled, mash them into discs between your palms and fry them again, about 45 seconds on each side. When they're good and golden brown, move them off to a cooling rack and sprinkle with a dash of kosher salt. Dump the oil from the pan and set the pan back on the stove. You should still have a thin coat of oil in the bottom.
Now it's time to move on to the fish and peppers.
Start by cutting the fillets in half on an angle for presentation, and slather one side with the glaze. Let these sit while you slice the peppers in thin strips. Place the sliced peppers in the pan and sautee for about two minutes, then empty them into a bowl. Once the pan comes back up to temperature, it's time to sear the fish fillets. Have your glaze ready, because there's not a lot of time to futz around here. Sear the fish fillets glaze-side down for about 90 seconds. While they're searing, spread glaze over the other side and then flip. Sear another 90 seconds. Use a spatula to bring the fillets out of the pan (using tongs could tear the fish), add a 1/4 cup of water and the remaining glaze to the pan, heat through, and reserve for a sauce. To plate, use the rice as a base, add peppers, and place the fish fillets on top. Place the plaintains on the side, and drizzle everything with a little of the sauce from the pan. Dinner is served!
I would encourage everyone to seek out fresh and local ingredients whenever possible. Buying and cooking local (even if it's as far away as the coast) connects us with the land and our community. It also just might open your eyes to the rich, wonderful diversity Florida has to offer in terms of culture and cuisine.