Ask any fisherman worth his bait to name a few renowned fishing destinations and the Florida Keys is bound to make the list. Just think of Ernest Hemingway, author of The Old Man and the Sea. Like his fictional character, Hemingway spent plenty of his spare time casting lines for fish while living in Key West.
Not only can you flats, troll and bottom fish for exotic varieties such as tarpon, grouper, and dolphin (mahi-mahi), you can proudly carry your catch to a local restaurant where the chef will grill it up to your liking, fresh out of the sea. Make sure your catch is filleted beforehand. Conch is a popular fish served in the Keys; however it is illegal to harvest. So conch served in restaurants is imported.
Chefs at three Florida Keys restaurants share some ways they can serve up your catch of the day.
1.) Lazy Days Restaurant in Islamorada
At Lazy Days Restaurant in Islamorada, Chef Lupe cooks up numerous species, including king fish, wahoo, yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, and mahi mahi (dolphin). Diners can choose from several preparations, such as fried, blackened, grilled, coconut, jalapeno encrusted, sautéed, or their signature Lazy Days Style. “Our Lazy Days Style, of course, is extremely popular,” says manager Lisa Harris. “We encrust the fish with Japanese breadcrumbs, sauté it on the flat top, top with fresh shredded parmesan cheese, diced tomatoes, scallions and key lime butter sauce.”
2.) Half Shell Raw Bar in Key West
Situated in the heart of Key West’s Historic Seaport, you can watch as the fishermen unload the catch of the day into the Half Shell’s Fish Market, or turn in your catch to the chef to do what he/she does best.
"We will cook any fish customers bring in, whether they caught it themselves or bought it from our fish market,” says Chef Sebastian Pilch.
He sees a lot of snapper and grouper, and customers ask for their fish to be fried, blackened or grilled, usually in that order of preference.
3.) Castaway Waterfront Restaurant & Sushi Bar in Marathon
Chef John Mirabella has met many a proud fisherman at his restaurant. “The truth is, [customers] will bring anything they catch even if it may not be one of the most popular eating fish around,” says Mirabella.
“They bring in snapper, grouper, mackerel, lionfish, lobster, hogfish and mahi. We have also had them bring in kingfish, bluerunners, toro and grunts. We really don't mind what kind they bring.”
Preparation styles run the gamut from broiled, grilled, blackened, fried, lemon caper, wreck diver style, mazatlan style, dijonnaise, crab-stuffed with lobster sauce, stuffed with shrimp and scallops, and parmesan.
His recipe for wreck diver-style lionfish and lionfish ceviche is featured on the National Geographic website.