FLORIDA KEYS -- Coconut-crusted yellowtail snapper, spicy barbecued shrimp and lobster Reuben sandwiches are among the Florida Keys’ distinctive dishes featuring fresh seafood. Chefs throughout the Keys take pride in creating unique interpretations of classic seafood fare.
Finfish preferred by Keys chefs include snapper, tuna, the oddly named hogfish and dolphin fish, also called mahi-mahi. The fish that graces a restaurant table at night was probably unloaded at the docks that morning. With preparation choices such as char-grilled, pan-fried, broiled and blackened, diners can anticipate a rich variety of flavors.
Bounty of the sea includes Key West pink shrimp, considered much sweeter than other shrimp. Whether sautéed in buttery scampi, battered and fried, nestled atop salad or simply steamed, Key West pinks rank among the most popular of the Keys’ “natural resources.”
The mollusk conch, although not harvested from Keys waters, is a traditional favorite served in many forms: lime-kissed salad, spicy chowder and deep-fried fritters among them. However, don’t expect to find standardization of recipes between restaurants, since chefs enjoy dreaming up new preparations.
Stone crab claws, renowned for their succulent flavor, are a seasonal delight and the subject of impassioned debate in the Keys: eat them hot or cold? Claw meat can be used in crab cakes, fritters and stuffing as well as simply savored with mustard sauce.
In fact, the Florida Keys are Florida's leading regional supplier of the world-renowned delicacy — considered a renewable resource because of the crabs' ability to re-grow harvested claws. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, about 40 percent of the state’s annual stone crab harvest comes from Keys waters.
Unlike stone crabs, Keys lobsters are clawless. Known as spiny lobsters, they offer sweet, tender meat. Local restaurants often serve them steamed with butter, stuffed and baked, made into salad or even in unique Reuben sandwiches.
Gary Graves, owner of Marathon’s Keys Fisheries restaurant, dreamed up the signature Reuben that blends lobster meat, homemade Thousand Island dressing and freshly baked bread into a seafood sensation.
Whether served at a dockside eatery or gourmet bistro, daily-caught delicacies prepared by Florida Keys chefs are a singular treat — and a can’t-miss dining experience for visitors from around the globe.