Seafood has sustained the people of the Florida peninsula since there were humans roaming this muggy, boggy land. Indigenous people were eating clams and mullet long before Ponce de Leon christened us La Florida — the land of flowers — nearly 500 years ago. Imagine if the Spanish explorer had been more taken with the underwater fauna than the colorful flora. The 27th state might be called La Mariscada, a big old stew of seafood.
The bounty from fresh and salt water still delights us today, whether it comes from our state or somewhere else. Yes, we like grouper and pompano from the Gulf of Mexico, but we're not averse to eating cod from the North Atlantic or Alaska's brilliant coral Copper River salmon.
Floridians eat more seafood than most other Americans, which make sense since we're surrounded by water. We catch it for fun and profit, and eat it in all manner of preparations. We like it dipped in mustard sauce and draped in mango salsa, and we especially love it fried and smoked. In the Panhandle, the oysters and blue crab have a Southern accent and at the other end of the state, the seafood dances to a Latin beat. And the interior waterways yield sunfish, catfish and bass, all good eating, especially alongside a salty heap of greens and a slab of cornbread.
We're famous for our seafood elsewhere, too. Tourists come hungry for grouper sandwiches and peel-n-eat pink gulf shrimp, Cedar Key clams and Apalachicola oysters. From Oct. 15 (that's Monday!) to May 15, visitors and residents alike take hammers to the tough shell of the sweet, sustainable stone crab claw.
We don't know what the upcoming stone crab claw season will bring yet, but today in Taste we celebrate the bounty of the water with recipes, buying tips and other suggestions in this special seafood issue. Break out the cocktail — or tartar — sauce!