The search for the best burger, a main staple of the American quest, has long been the talk of many foodies. However, fresh seafood can easily trump the burger craze that so many seek. All seafood is not the same and defining fresh seafood is a quest in itself to find out how fresh, fresh really is. Far too many restaurants seem to define fresh as that frozen slab of fish that eventually makes it onto your plate, rather than a piece of fish that has never been frozen.
The origin of the fish is also important. Gulf grouper could be from Mexico, or it could be some farm raised white fish they call grouper. Whether it is shrimp or fish you are ordering, ask a few questions. If the server does not know, then it’s most likely best to skip the seafood, especially if it is farm-raised in a foreign country. Chances are if it comes out of the sea, you won’t get a dose of antibiotics and other not-so-good stuff found in a farm-raised operation. Also, these foreign, farm-raised industries have human rights issues and destroy critical environments. Buying these products endorses that culture!
The seafood most comparable to the good old American cheeseburger is the blackened grouper sandwich. The requirement is a fresh local grouper, that has never been frozen. Preferably the grouper comes into the restaurant whole, meaning you can see the eyes of the fish, not just a slab of a filet. The cooking method is not the spicy, burn-your-stomach seasoning, either. True "blackened" is a sear from the pan that blackens the fish. However, the blackened grouper found in restaurantso often use a high heat seasoning.
In Manatee County we are fortunate to have some of the best seafood, sourced from local fish houses in the fishing village of Cortez. Just being close to the water does not guarantee fresh fish, however, and the Village of Cortez and the Bell fish house, led by Cortezian Karen Bell, help preserve an important culture and, most of all, fresh seafood.
My ordering process for grouper is typically an interview: How fresh is the fish? When did it come in? Is it whole? Does that mean if I go to the kitchen I can see the eyes of the fish? What part of the gulf did it come from? (Mexican grouper has been known to be served as fresh gulf grouper, so ask the question) Only after satisfying those questions, do I order.
Hurricane Hanks serves a great blackened grouper, seared and made from local caught grouper they filet on premise, always a good piece of fish and seasoned just right on a soft brioche bun with tartar sauce.
The blackened grouper sandwich at Hurricane Hanks
However, Pier 22 inches above for several reasons. Chef/manager Greg Campbell takes the prep station to a whole new level by having the fish prepared in an