Next on my armchair trip around the country is the Sunshine State. Florida is the southernmost state in the Lower 48, an eclectic mix of Dixie, Yankee and so many immigrant cultures and cuisines (notably Cuban). It will be difficult to limit myself to just a few recipes this time if I want to truly represent the diversity of this state.
Official Name: State of Florida
State Nicknames: The Sunshine State
Admission to the US: March 3, 1845 (#27)
Capital: Tallahassee (8th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Jacksonville (largest city), Miami (2nd largest), Tampa (3rd largest), St. Petersburg (4th largest), Orlando (5th largest)
Region: South, Gulf Coast; South Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Cornbread & BBQ, Crabcake, Gumbo
Bordered by: Alabama (northwest), Georgia (north), Atlantic Ocean (east), Caribbean Sea (south), Gulf of Mexico (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: Key lime pie (pie), orange (fruit)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: Cuban food (southern Florida), Key lime pie, seafood (stone crab, shrimp, conch, crawfish, etc), alligator (northern Florida) typical Deep Southern foods (northern Florida), foods of New York/New Jersey especially Italian & Jewish (southern Florida)
Like California, Florida has a varied and unique blend of cuisines that reflect the history and diversity of the state.
- There are various regions, influenced by their long history of Native American, Spanish, African and English foodways.
- The northern part of the state is the more traditionally Southern part of the state, with notable Creole and Cajun influences from further west.
- The central and southern parts of the state aren't really considered "Southern-with-a-capital-S" anymore, thanks to the massive influx of emigres from the Northeast (Perhaps there are but a few New Yorkers who haven't made a joke about their uncle in Boca Raton.) That doesn't mean Florida's food traditions have gone out the window, but they have been influenced.
- The Florida Keys have a food tradition all their own (and Jimmy Buffet to boot). Some of that tradition has spread statewide and even nationally (Key lime pie, for instance). Others, for practical reasons, have not (the mighty conch - I tried to get a hold of some but I just never could get around to it, and it is not the cheapest seafood to buy when you do find it in the Mid-Atlantic).
- Florida also has a diverse set of immigrant cuisines, notably from its Cuban, Haitian, Dominican and Puerto Rican communities, as well as traditions from all over Latin America (Mexican, Nicaraguan, etc) and Asia (Cambodian, Vietnamese, etc).
- Florida is one of the great seafood destinations of the country - again, the aforementioned conch is but one of its famous delicacies. There’s the stone crab, which unlike our own blues do not have to be killed in order to enjoy them. Instead, the legs are harvested and the crabs are thrown back to grow new ones. And then there’s red snapper, mackerel, oyster, clam, etc.
- Finally, Florida is one of the important centers of citrus production in the US, specifically in terms of its oranges. But note again the famous Key lime. [bulleted information compiled in part from Voltz and Stuart 1993, Elliott 2010 and Rattray 2011]
There is enough diversity (and stuff to write about) in the foods of Florida that I am going to go the same route I did with California: one post this week, another post next week. This week I am focusing on northern Florida, the "Southern" half.
Northern and Central Florida - the Panhandle, Jacksonville and into Orlando - is generally agreed to be Dixie’s southern frontier. You can see this in the food: many (Deep) Southern classics are common in this part of Florida, from barbecued oysters and shrimp to cheese grits and straws, and from iced tea - the assumed-to-be-sweet kind - to blackened alligator to boiled peanuts (look for this last one in a future post), One recipe that jumped out at me was a barbecued shrimp recipe that smacked of one I ate last year at Mr. B’s Bistro in New Orleans. They gave me a bib to keep from splattering myself, but little do they realize I’ve been peeling shrimp for years, and I know how not to make a mess. I don’t like mess. This recipe was a more Floridian take on this Gulf Coast classic. Or at least it should be a classic if it isn’t already.
The recipe: Florida Barbecued Gulf Shrimp
Barbecued shrimp is by no means “grilled” shrimp - but we all know the difference between “barbecue” and “grill”. It is shrimp that is cooked for a while in a barbecue sauce that you make yourself. Voltz and Stuart discuss the recipe, titled “Linda’s Barbecued Shrimp”
Peel-your-own shrimp recipes are popular all over the South, but nowhere more than in the Florida Panhandle, where you’;re never far from the Gulf. Caroline [Stuart]’s sister and brother-in-law, Linda and Bill Virgin, worked this one out for easy entertaining. The advantage of this recipe is that the sauce can be made ahead of time; the shrimp are then added to the sauce and cooked in the oven, rather than on top of the range, freeing the cook to join the party. [Voltz and Stuart p. 81]Hopefully I do justice to the author’s sister’s work.
What I needed for the recipe (which I halved):
* 2 ½ lb raw shrimp (mine were Texas Gulf shrimp, smallish and pink but, yes, raw, that I bought at Cross Street Market in Federal Hill for about $7 a pound - in the end, an expense of $17, easily my priciest expense for this project thus far)
* 2 sticks butter (had, but didn’t realize this and rushed out to buy some anyway. Duh. An extra $3 I don’t have to spend on butter in the future)
* 1 onion (about 60¢)
* 2 cloves garlic (had it)
* salt, pepper, paprika (smoked in this case), chili powder, brown sugar (had all of them)
* Worcestershire sauce (same)
* ketchup (I was out, so I had to buy a bottle - $2 from Trader Joe’s, without the corn syrup)
* liquid crab boil (First off, I had to stop shuddering from the idea of boiling a crab, anathema to anyone from these parts. Once I did that, I sought out liquid crab boil and, surprise of surprises, Giant had none, just powdered crab and shrimp boil, “Chesapeake style”. I later found Zatarain’s Liquid Crab Boil at Harris Teeter for the same price, about $2.50. The description of what you could do with it made it sound like liquid Old Bay. Man, wouldn’t that be somethin’...)
* prepared (yellow, in this case) mustard and Tabasco sauce (had them)
This recipe has a lot of components, but is ridiculously simple to make, as our author’s sister hints at. Melt the butter in a pot - in this case, my Dutch oven-like pot - and then throw in everything else but the shrimp for 10 minutes.
There, wasn’t that easy?
I cannot tell you just how messy and how wonderful this shrimp is. That $17 was well spent, because it kept me from spending more money doing takeout all week. Though my shrimp did not absorb the sauce as much as Mr. B’s Bistro’s shrimp did, a simple swirl in the rich sauce solved that problem. I dare say that the sauce itself is almost as much of a highlight of this recipe as the shrimp. The authors recommend croutons made from Italian or French bread to sop up the sauce. Buy a soft baguette, slice it into slices of about ½ inch, drizzle olive oil, garlic powder, kosher salt and parsley flakes, and throw them in your toaster oven until toasted to your liking.
These barbecued shrimp go very well with iced tea. You know the kind.
Voltz, Jeanne, and Caroline Stuart. The Florida Cookbook: From Gulf Coast Gumbo to Key Lime Pie. Random House: New York, 1993.
Some information about the diversity of Floridian cuisine comes from the following websites, in addition to the Voltz and Stuart book:
Essman, Elliot. “Florida Cuisine”. Life in the USA, 2010. Copyright Elliot Essman 2010.
Rattray, Diana. “Florida Cuisine - The many flavors of Florida”. Southernfood.About.com, publication date unknown. Copyright 2011 About.com
Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Florida" page and other pages, and theFood Timeline State Foods link to "Florida".