10 May 2010

Get a grouper reuben while you can

I live along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

via Flickr

That body of water is why I live here. Usually, it's a calm, warm stretch of emerald sea that forms a backdrop to much of life in this part of the world. No other body of water I know exerts the pull on me that the Gulf, my Gulf, does. I've dallied in The Atlantic. I've dabbled in the Pacific. The Mediterranean's good for an occasional affair and the Caribbean's a nice fling too. But none of them can compare with my Gulf of Mexico.

I'm sick over what's going on 5,000 feet below a spot 250 miles from where I'm sitting. Our beaches aren't likely to be fouled the way the beaches of Prince William Sound were 21 years ago. But the waters here will be fouled by something far more insidious. In the coming months and years, the contamination spreading outward from that spot on the floor of the Gulf is going to spread into every life form, including the ones I like to eat, along this coast.

The Gulf of Mexico is a treasure trove of resources, and all of those resources are linked together. You can't isolate the fisheries from the oil deposits, or the people from from either. Allowing an essentially self-regulated industry to Drill Baby Drill is an insanity on par with enabling unsustainable fish catches or encouraging endless, pointless suburban sprawl. The spill wreaking havoc to my northwest is a symptom of a deeper problem and it has a lot more to do with a human inability to think and act for the long term than it does with which party's in the White House. So instead of Drill Baby Drill, how about a chorus of Manage Baby Manage?

To the outside world Florida has no culture of its own but those of us who live here know it does just as surely as any other place on earth. For better or for worse, Florida does have a culture and it has foods unique to the region. Many of those foods are linked to the Gulf of Mexico. Chief among them is the grouper sandwich. Every restaurant and every aficionado in the region has a pet variation on the theme.

I walked along the beach at Pass-a-Grille yesterday and I stopped at The Wharf for what well may be my last Gulf grouper sandwich for a long time. It was at The Wharf that I first experienced a grouper reuben. While The Wharf's reuben isn't exactly sublime, whatever it's lacking is more than made up for by the jukebox full of Elvis songs.

via Flickr

My grouper reuben is sublime and here it is. It starts with some Thousand Dressing.
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons bottled sweet pickle relish
  • 2 tablespoons bottled chili sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mix together all of the ingredients and sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to let the flavors blend.

Onto the sandwich.
  • 4 grouper filets
  • 1/8 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • pepper and salt
  • olive oil to saute
  • 2 cups of sauerkraut.
  • 12 slices of a good aged swiss cheese
  • 8 slices of good pumpernickel or marble rye
  • butter to brush on the bread to grill
To prepare the grouper, I just put the milk in a zip lock bag and then add each piece of grouper, one at a time. It just gives a light base so the flour sticks well.

Mix the flour, cayenne and salt and pepper again in a dish or a separate bag and then drag each fillet in until it's lightly coated. Heat up the oil in a pan over medium high and saute the grouper until lightly golden on each side. 4-5 minutes per side is about right but it varies with the thickness of the fish.

Drain the sauerkraut and set aside, butter your bread and have the cheese slices ready to go.

Now heat up the pan to medium heat and build your sandwiches. Now lets build the sandwich. Take a slice of bread and smear it with Thousand Island dressing. Add a slice of cheese. Add your grouper filet and cover it with sauerkraut and another slice of cheese. Add the top slice of bread and grill until lightly golden on each side. The cheese should be melted and the sauerkraut nicely warmed.
So whatever happens out there in the coming weeks and months, I'm swearing off the grouper, the oysters, the stone crabs, the shrimp and the rest of the fruits of the Gulf fisheries 'til further notice. Thanks BP.


  1. This is sad. This is far worse than sad. This is a eulogy for a way of life. Your observation of the outside world's erroneous impression of Florida as a cultural wasteland is intrinsic to the impact of your post. And spoken by a resident with a keen eye for the small details and how they inter-relate to form a place in time (that's you, sir!).

    I had the great pleasure, a few years ago, to discover Pass-a-Grille on a short getaway with my honey to the Tampa Bay area. After stumbling on that charming hamlet, and several other equally beguiling and off-the-beaten-path locales, I began to realize that there is a Florida of which few visitors are aware, very real, very seductive, and very endangered. I felt blessed to become aware of this, and a little worried.

    The Gulf's dining pleasure's are a very big portion of this "other world"; the presence of that great blue-green liquid body dominates the scene, giving her treasures to the truly appreciative and unappreciative alike. The memorable taste of stone crab, grouper, and oysters enjoyed on a beachfront patio or second story cocktail bar, with the flaming sun sinking into the west, are one of the strongest evocations of that secret side of the coast.

    Thank you for bringing the impact of this back to me, Paul. I hope that the earth's restorative power can help this catastrophe to pass and the true Florida will live on.

  2. Thanks Rich, I'm glad that resonated with you. I'm thrilled too that you get my references to Pass-a-Grille. My attachment to the Gulf is as much an attachment to Pass-a-Grille as it is to the water that surrounds it. My friends know that when my time comes that my ashes are to be scattered off the fishing jetty at the tip of Pass-a-Grille.

    It's hard to wrap my head around the idea that all of that will very likely change in the near term. The second story cocktail bar you're talking about is at the Hurricane. I've swum in front of that place at night more times than I can count and I've dug up sand dollars with my toes as I've waded and swum.

    The nightmare unfolding to my northwest is like learning that a friend has a terminal illness and it's difficult to fathom.

    Besides, tilapia's just not an adequate substitute.

  3. The thought of all the fishermen and women whose livelihood is threatened by absolutely no fault of their own makes me so so so sad/mad!! Not to mention the wildlife...(sad face here).

    That sandwich looks yummy even at 10:30 in the am.


  4. It's funny that in this age of interwebz friends that I actually know people who're affected by this spill in a fairly direct way, at least location-wise. It really blows me away that anyone thinks that drilling in the arctic would be a good idea for this very reason though.. OIL SPILLS HAPPEN! and then stuff dies.. and we've then successfully contaminated masses of ocean with out own greed.. good job humans.. you suck!

    Wow.. ranty this morning, don't mind me, I've quit drinking coffee and your sandwich pictures are making me hungry. Though, I'm disturbed by a Reuben with thousand island dressing on it. In my world they're made with Russian dressing.

  5. It stinks - so much for technological solutions that have never been tested in anger, apparently. But I'm still driving my car - it's a far smaller and more fuel efficient one than I drove a few years ago, but we're a million miles from curing our oil addiction.

  6. Yes, that's it! - the Hurricane. And we went to a couple others that escape me (the names, not the memories), a bit more highbrow but not much. Used to live on the south side of the bay (Bradenton): the Gulf was a beguiling companion of many beach combing strolls and mangrove wanderings. Also used to tread clams in the Bay shallows with my uncle, a commercial harvester. Good times.

  7. Sharon: Don't forget that these are the same people who are still rebuilding their lives after Katrina/ Rita/ Ivan.

    Nim: Aren't Russian and Thousand Island Dressings the same thing?

    Clarity: It does stink and I'm not exempting myself from all of this. Every time i get in the car or get a plastic bag, this is as much my fault as anybody's. The height of irony is that the richest energy source the Gulf has to offer is the one scuttling plans to cap this well --solid-form methane.

    Rich: Bradenton has the best mud flats although the clam digging days are numbered. Ugh.

  8. No Paul, Russian dressing isn't gross :P (I can't eat "flesh tone" salad dressing)

    Actually, it's more of a tomato based dressing than a mayo-base like thousand island.. It's delicious, you should try it. and no, I don't make mine from scratch.

  9. Now you have me scratching my head. Is it the same thing that's called French dressing in the US? http://www.wish-bone.com/Dressings/1389/Sweet-n-Spicy.aspx

  10. Nope, French dressing is different too! but also delicious :) Russian dressing is very red while in my experience French dressing is bright orange.

  11. I need to investigate this further.

  12. well first off, am might impressed by your use of "swum" vs "swam" with your helping verb! Whoa!

    That shows that I actually read the post and comments:)

    I am, of course, sitting in the bullseye for the oil spill, er, gusher to be soon lapping at my very front door. I am sick about it for many reasons, most selfish, some not so much. I live on the beach as you know and I am friends with many people who make their living on the water or in areas relating to the water. We are indeed, just recovering from Ivan. But, the folks west of it are even in a worse situation. The winds are keeping us oil free for a while.

    This does not address even slightly, the magnitude of the harm to natural habitats and sealife. I drive every day all over town. But, I am prepared to pay higher gas prices and to take my husband and kids to work and school. I really am.

  13. God save our wetlands...If the oil gets into the root systems of the marshes here in Louisiana, we might as well pack our bags and go. The marshes are where many of the treasures of the Gulf Coast begin life. The humble red drum, which not long ago was saved from near extinction will basically put an end to commercial fishing of this beloved fish. Not to mention, of course, the crabs, shrimp and oysters that Louisiana fishermen and in turn, many restaurants in this region, rely on and what brings people to Louisiana in the first place. Many disreputable establishments in the great City of New Orleans serve frozen shrimp from Thailand, crawfish from Japan and soft-shell crabs from Vietnam, the bastards. It is possible to source fresh Gulf seafood from other places, but grouper landed in Houston doesn't sound as appealing as one caught less than two-hours from New Orleans, and brought in the same day. God save us, everyone.

  14. Cheryl: Thanks for noticing my good grammar, I'm quite proud of it.

    B: Thanks, I couldn't have said it better myself. Can you guys smell the oil over there?

  15. Some days, yes. Mostly the air is richly perfumed with magnolia, jasmine and gardenia at this time. I'm about to take to carrying a scented linen handkerchief to aid myself in case of swoons.

  16. Thanks for sharing this in our Love the Gulf Blog Carnival. A fantastic post. I was in St. Pete yesterday and why or why didn't I run out and get a grouper sandwich? I was too spellbound by the water I think. Anyway, I just hope there will be a next time...

  17. Thanks! I found out about your Gulf Blog Carnival over the weekend. I love a good party, even when I'm late.


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