Treats from the Sea
It is easy to take for granted the wonderful seafood that is caught along North Carolina's Crystal Coast. Not long ago we were heading back to the mountains and an evening dinner party.
I checked with one of the local seafood markets and was told their shrimp boat was coming in on Friday evening. The next morning I showed up at around 9:00 AM and bought three pounds of shrimp with the heads off. I packed them well in ice, and at around 11:00 AM we headed for our second home in Roanoke, Virginia.
We arrived about 5:30 PM, and I started cleaning shrimp a few minutes after getting the car unpacked. It took me a little over thirty minutes to clean the shrimp. My wife started cooking them about a quarter after five. It took her about fifteen minutes to cook them, chill them, and pack them back in ice for the trip to the party.
The event we were attending was an annual party of a luncheon group where the husbands are invited once a year. There were something over twenty people in attendance. They had been eating appetizers for several minutes before we got there and started pouring shrimp into a dish.
The shrimp were absolutely perfect, and not surprisingly it took less than ten minutes for all three pounds of them to disappear. People kept asking where we got the wonderful shrimp. I told them that they were fresh from a boat on the North Carolina coast.
This was not the first time we had shared some of our special shrimp with folks in the mountains, and it probably will not be the last. I am never surprised to hear people say that these shrimp do not taste anything like the ones from the grocery stores.
We are extremely lucky to live in a place where fresh seafood is part of everyday life. With my luck at catching only flounders that are fifteen inches or less, about once a month I will head off to one of the local fish markets and find a nice flounder for dinner. While I enjoy traditional fish house cooked flounder like that at T&Ws, I think my home pan fried flounder is far superior to anything you can get in a restaurant.
I seem to have much better luck catching bluefish or Spanish mackerel so we usually have a mess or two of those during the summer. Once in a while I will splurge when I am in one of the fish markets and buy some scallops. While everyone has their favorite way of cooking scallops, I grill mine. It is quick, and grilled scallops are hard to beat as an appetizer.
One of our favorite local dishes to serve for company is crab cakes. We have found that a pound of lump crab meat will make enough crab cakes for four people. We just follow the recipe on the Old Bay box. One of the tricks we have learned is to keep our crab meat packed in ice until the cakes are made. I have been told that the ideal temperature to store crab meat is just above 32F.
A personal favorite of mine from our local waters is the soft shell crab. My wife and kids go nuts when I eat them, but they are so good that I do not even hear them. I usually get mine at Captain Willis in Emerald Isle. You will find a cookie sheet on the counter with live soft shell crabs. I get them to clean them, and I take them home and either saute them in a frying pan with a little oil or grill them on our gas grill. The only seasoning I use is paprika. Fried soft shell crab is hard to beat.
Of course I have saved my favorite fish, grouper, for last. It is a fish which we enjoy in a multitude of different dishes from fish tacos to grilled with a fancy sauce. I am also not above enjoying a grouper sandwich like the Smitty's Big fish or a grouper basket at Ballyhoo's. My favorite grouper is served at Riverside Seafood and Steak, but I invite everyone to let me know where they have enjoyed grouper which is what I consider to be the best of our local fish. I know there are a lot of restaurants out there where I need to sample their grouper.
I am pleased that our fishing industry still provides us with a wide choice of seafood. I do not mind paying a little extra to get quality seafood from our North Carolina fishermen. Commercial fishing is one of the industries that we need to support. I hope that our fishermen never face a future as bleak as the fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.