Vacation Eats

I’m on vacation this week with my family in the Florida sunshine, desperately trying to soak in some vitamin D and thaw out from this brutal, seemingly endless winter.  For this week’s Foodie Friday, I’m going to give you a glimpse of what we’ve been eating.

If accommodations allow, I often like to cook while on vacation.  I know that may seem strange, and I should just relax and put my feet up and let someone else make my meals, but I actually enjoy trying my hand with the fresh, local ingredients of our destination.  Because on this trip we are visiting my parents in a fully equipped kitchen that dwarfs the size of my claustrophobic NYC kitchen, and we are staying oceanside, where the day’s fresh catch from the Atlantic is immediately available, the cooking has been a vacation in itself.  My husband takes great pride each afternoon in his newfound responsibility of heading out to the fish market to select the day’s ingredients.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that if I have really fresh, in-season ingredients, I don’t need to do much to them to enjoy a terrific meal.  Sometimes all it takes is a bit of salt and pepper or a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to bring out naturally delicious flavors.  In cooking the local fish, I definitely found this to be true.

Here are a couple of our favorite end results for the week.  There’s no official “recipe” for these, because I was just throwing things we already had in the fridge together with my husband’s treasures from the fish market and tasting and seasoning and tasting and seasoning and tasting some more as I went.

Pan Seared Grouper with Wilted Spinach and Tomatoes

Florida Grouper

On his first trip to the fish market my husband brought home enough grouper to feed a small army, definitely more than we could reasonably eat in one night.  I couldn’t really blame him.  Florida is known for its grouper and the selection he found was right off the boat.  I made this dish the first night and planned to do something different with the remaining portions the following night, but it was such a hit we ended up eating it two nights in a row.  As an added bonus, it was as simple as it was delicious.

I simply heated two skillets to medium/medium-high on the stove and drizzled each of the pans with a bit of olive oil, enough to coat the bottom and create a non-stick surface.  Meanwhile I rinsed the grouper, cut it into individual portions, patted it dry with a paper towel, and sprinkled the top of each filet with sea salt and pepper.  I placed the filets top down in one of the skillets and let them sizzle away for 3-4 minutes.  I sprinkled the tops with a little more salt and pepper before flipping to cook through for another 3-4 minutes.

While the fish cooked, I minced two garlic cloves and sautéed it in the second heated and oiled skillet for 1-2 minutes.  Then I added about of cup of halved grape tomatoes and let cook for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently until the tomatoes began to soften.  Finally, I added a 10oz package of baby spinach and allowed it to wilt and cook down with the tomatoes.  I had to add the spinach a bit at a time, because 10oz of spinach takes up a lot of volume before it cooks down!  Finally, I sprinkled the mixture with some sea salt and pepper to taste.

The fish was served on top of the spinach mixture and we also enjoyed some oven-roasted asparagus on the side (again, just a drizzle of olive oil, and a few pinches of sea salt and pepper and a 425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes).  I swore I took a picture of the asparagus, but it’s nowhere to be found, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

Fish Tacos with Rainbow Slaw

Florida Fish Tacos 2

When we finally worked through the last of the grouper, I sent my husband back to the fish market.  He happily returned with a piece of fish that while a white fish, reminded me more of chicken than a flaky fish.  He excitedly told me this was a truly local fish, common to the waters in the area we were staying.  When I asked him what it was called he stared at me blankly.  “Um, I don’t know.  Something with a ‘P’.  Maybe.”

What he lacked in information, he certainly made up for in selection.  In addition to the fish, he picked up the most perfectly ripe, sweet and juicy mangoes I have ever tasted and a few limes.  We had a large bag of corn tortillas in the fridge that needed to be used, so I decided on fish tacos.  (I warned you in a previous post, we eat a lot of tacos.  You can find some other versions here and here.)

We saved most of the mangoes to eat as is, with a sprinkle cinnamon, as a sweet end to our meal, but I reserved about a cup of diced mango and used it as a component in the rainbow slaw I had settled on making to accompany the fish tacos using purple cabbage, cilantro and some sweet red peppers we already had on hand.  I dressed the slaw with the juice of 1 ½ limes and a teaspoon of maple syrup, followed by a few dashes of, what else, sea salt and pepper.

Florida Fish Tacos 3

For the fish, I prepared a spice rub using chili powder (2 tsp), cumin (1 TBSP), coriander (1/2 tsp), paprika (1/2 tsp), garlic powder (1/2 tsp) and sea salt and pepper.  I coated the tops of the fish and placed it in a heated and oiled skillet to cook.  Again, it took about 3-4 minutes on each side.  When the fish was finished, I broke it up with a fork and divided it evenly among the warmed corn tortillas that were waiting.  I topped the fish with the prepared rainbow slaw and each taco was topped with a slice of perfectly ripe avocado.  Easy. Fresh. Healthy. Delicious.

Florida Fish Tacos

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