Saturday, February 18, 2012

We're Fish House Fancy Now! Old School Florida Fish Dish

My earliest memories of Florida are standing on the seawall of the beach at St. Augustine or Jacksonville Beach with my Mother and Grandmother. I was one years old but I  can still remember the roar of the waves and the cool blue gray colors. We lived right there and went often on walks to the beach. The ocean has long been a part of my conciousness and a big part of life. I lived near or at the shore for the first 11 years of my life. Sun and sand and water and sky were all a part of my everyday.

After we moved to Washington for my father's business we took our first trip to the beach one year after arriving there. My Mom drove us out to the Delaware coast to Bethany Beach and to a church camp retreat with our church group for a week. When we arrived both my brother and I were so excited to go and see the beach. We collected our towels and things put on our bathing suits and walked the 2 blocks from the Camp to the beach. When we got there we were dumbfounded. My brother burst into tears stating " This is not the beach" having been accustomed to the beauty of Hawaii and Floridian and Carolinian beaches all his life. I too was so upset. The gray Atlantic with the muddled brown sand and the dark grey of the evening sky did not make it the dream we had waited for and we hadcome to know and love beaches far different from this one. Of course with the rise of the next days sun and a few trips into the water from the shore we were happy to be at the beach again, in any form.

The other part of living near the shore growing up was the presence of seafood. We would cook it at home. But when I was little and living in Florida often those dinners were not as memorable as the ones had occasionally at the Floridian Fish houses or Spanish Restaurants we would go to. Later back in Charleston I really came to enjoy the Southern style Fish House and the foods offered there.

 Eating out when I was growing up was a treat not the norm. That was actually true for most of the US. Until the 1980's there was by no means the number or variety of dining options we have now in the US. Many cannot remember a time when we didn't just go out if we did not want to cook. That wasn't always so easy. It meant negotiating crowded places with lines or no tables at all because you had to have a reservation to get a table. The dining out trend grew in the 1970's but only in the larger cities. However, there was one area that had a plethora or options for dining out and that was vacation spots. And lets face it Florida became the vacation darling of the US in the 60's and 70's. So there were lots of places to eat. And because of the geography fish was always on the menu, and seafood was king!

So it was that I discovered my love of Seafood. Beyond my Mother's Puffy Fish ( a story for another day) I grew to love shrimp, scallops, lobster, and fish prepared the old school way. Fried, stuffed or smothered with yummy sauce. Grilling came later and baking was in the game but those were the preparations I learned to love growing up and mostly at Floridian Fish Houses. Now dining at a floridian fish house was somethings special. There were always courses and side dishes to be chosen and the meal normally would start with a amuse of smoked blue fish dip with crackers. Yum!

I rekindled my love of the Florida fish house when I spent years as an actor working down there. Six seasons at Seaside Music Theater in Daytona Beach, Florida taught me to love old school Floridian Seafood Houses again. We would go for the "early bird special" before the show and have a bounteous meal for little money. It was great.

So now in NYC I have craved the Florida Fish House experience and have been so disappointed. I mean Red Lobster is a poor substitution for them and is really excellent and  comes very close but for the price I have a hard time justifying it.

So I have resorted to doing it at home. Now it's hard to recreate restaurant food at home so I thought about trying to make old school Florida home recipes. So given that I wanted to try something that home cooks might have offered up at the table in the 1960's, that would also have a fish house flavor to it, I sought some retro recipes. One source that I found was in an obscure florida website for the seafood industry that had a collection of older recipes and preparations by fishermen and their wives which were published in the 1960's. the pictures alone were amazing!!  Among these was one for a preparation that struck my fancy and made me interested in trying it. I did and as strange as it sounds and as silly as the ingredients are, it was really really good. It's easy and have an old school flair to it. So I have worked on it and made it my own. So here it is for you to try. I hope you enjoy it.

Baked Festive Fish Filets Florida Style


6 fresh solid white fish fillets squared off as much as possible by fishmonger ( Cod, Halibut, Mullet)
1 1/2 cups french dressing ( yes aka Wishbone etc.)
1 cup cheezit crackers
1 cup ritz crackers
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup melted butter


Run Crackers through a food processor till crumbs add cheese and parsley and mix well in a bowl
Grease a baking dish
Pour dressing into a bowl
Place fish filets into dressing coating liberally with dressing
Then dredge in cracker mixture till well and thickly coated
Place into dish repeat till all filets are done
Sprinkle well with Paprika
Cover dish and place into fridge for 10 mins
Preheat Oven to 500 degrees
Remove from the fridge and pour melted butter over the fish filets
Place into oven and cook for 10 to 12 mins until fish is cooked through and flakey.
Serve with a nice side salad with a creamy blue cheese dressing, and as side dishes for the fish, my green cole slaw and a loaded baked potato with butter, sour cream, green onion and bacon.
Now you are Fish House Fancy! Enjoy Ya'll!

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