Often times when driving through the Florida Keys by water or land you catch the view of pelicans crashing into the water. Their beaks wide open taking big gulps of mahua and pinfish. Fishermen usually use this as a sign for where to find baitfish. They will idle up to the schools of bait and tactfully spin and throw their cast net, catching the baitfish.
Pinfish are kept in the live well and work well as live bait. The mahua are usually used as chum and to get the fish behind the boat. Mahua is a small fish that only grows to about an inch or two in length.
What many don’t know is how delicious mahua are! After a quick rinse to descale, a pinch of the head helps clean them out. Toss them in some seasoned flour and quickly fry. When crispy, add a little salt and a squeeze of a fresh key lime and your mahua chips are ready and they are delicious! Grunts are another species of fish that are also over looked at times but another very delicious fish to eat. You can always tell a grunt by the distinctive grunting noise that they make when releasing the hook.
Grunts are usually found fishing near the mangrove islands on reefs. They live in areas where they can find shelter from predators. In the Keys you will usually find this fish prepared whole fried or filleted and breaded with cracker meal. They are wonderful in a sandwich or even served with grits and eggs in the morning.
My family often enjoys eating barracuda as long as they are caught in grass flats and are relatively small in size; two foot long maximum. They have a very nice white flaky meat and quite a clean flavor. Barracuda is said to have a high mercury level and carry sigutara (a disease found in predator fish). It is not a recommended food fish.
In the Caribbean Islands such as the Bahamas, and Jamaica; parrot fish are often found on the dinner plate. On my trips there I have been surprised and felt strange eating such a colorful fish but I quickly forgot about it and enjoyed my meal. In Jamaica it is served as escovich. Escovich is a blend of vegetables; including carrots, onion, thyme, garlic, scotch bonnet pepper, bay leaf, and allspice which is that distinctive flavor of Jamaica.
The Bahamian dish I enjoyed was with a Creole sauce. A stewed tomato based sauce with peppers, thyme and habanero pepper for spice. Definitely on the spicier side, but very exhilarating if you enjoy a dish that brings you to tears.
Two other fish found here in the Florida Keys that are also taken for granted are the rainbow runner and the cero mackerel. Both actually make amazing ceviche, sushi, and sashimi. Make sure to trim all the blood line off the filet and slice thinly. Serve with a side of wasabi and soy sauce and cut the cooked part out. They are really delicious and will melt in your mouth. If you’re not into eating raw fish, I say broil it Key West style! Marinate the rainbow runner filet or cero mackerel filet in garlic key lime, sea salt and fresh ground pepper with a little white wine. Broil for about ten to fifteen minutes, watch closely so it doesn’t burn and serve with black beans and rice.Key West Style Broiled Fish
Preheat oven to 450 degrease. Grease baking pan with olive oil place filets on pan. Rub filets with garlic, salt, and pepper. Drizzle lime juice and white wine over fish. Cook the filets for 10-15 minutes or until done. Make sure to watch carefully so as not to burn. After your fish is finished place small cubes of whole butter on top of the filets.
I hope you all enjoy our Key West cooking!
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