A wide-angle shot of a seafood market counter
Photo courtesy of Gulf Coast Seafood.

No one wants to miss out on Florida’s delicious grouper, tuna, snapper or shrimp. Now that COVID-19 prevents me from dining in restaurants, I’m learning to cook some of my favorite seafood dishes at home. At times it’s been successful, like when I made Food Network Kitchen’s Shrimp and Scallop Scampi with Linguine or when I applied Coastal Living’s Ultimate Fish Fry recipe to four gorgeous filets of red grouper. 

At other times, things didn’t go so well – like when I attempted to sear sesame tuna. I was so afraid of it being too rare, those tuna steaks were medium-well by the time I was done with them. It was clear that I still had a few things to learn about cooking seafood. Lucky for me, my job lets me interview people in the food industry, like Gulf Coast Seafood owners Carol and John Merkle. 

Gulf Coast Seafood has been in business since 1978. As wholesalers, they supply several Tampa Bay area restaurants with fresh seafood, including Trophy Fish and Teak in St. Pete, and Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and Meat Market in Tampa. As retailers, they also help folks prepare fresh seafood in their homes.

“We have many recipe cards at the shop from the state,” John told me. “We have a whole rack that goes around, and people can pick up anything they’d like.”

He’s talking about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Fresh From Florida program. Fresh From Florida’s website and recipe cards are a great resource for anyone wanting to learn how to cook Florida seafood

Carol is particularly fond of Fresh From Florida’s snapper recipes, two of which she shared with us – one for Pan Grilled Florida Red Snapper with Strawberry and Avocado Salsa and the other for Fried Florida Snapper with Watermelon and Sweet Chili.

Like me, Carol loves a good internet recipe. When I asked her about her favorite cookbooks, she told me, “I tend to be a Google cookbooker.” Good news for us – that means you can find all the recipes mentioned in this article online.

A display of raw pink shrimp with tails on, no heads.
Photo courtesy of Gulf Coast Seafood.

One of Carol’s favorite seafoods is shrimp.

“I’m a huge shrimp lover,” she says. “I’ve always been a shrimp lover.”

For shrimp scampi, Carol recommends Taste of Home’s recipe. She also shared Rasa Malaysia’s recipe for Garlic Honey Lime Shrimp with us, and it looks amazing.

For grouper, Carol highly recommends grilling.

“You can put the oil on the filet itself. Season it mostly using whatever seasonings people prefer,” she tells us. “A lot of people like their own specialty seasonings. [There’s] the basic salt, pepper, and garlic, and we have [Chef Paul Prudhomme’s] Seafood Magic – that’s a wonderful seasoning for all kinds of fish.” 

Carol sent two internet recipes for grilled grouper. Grits and Pinecones recommends seasoning grouper with kosher salt, lemon pepper seasoning, Old Bay Seasoning and garlic powder in Grilled Grouper topped with Sweet and Spicy Mango Salsa. Another option is to drizzle the grouper with olive oil and fresh lemon juice, add Italian herbs, and grill in foil for about 10 minutes as Home & Plate recommends in Grilled Grouper with Lemon & Herbs.

A raw fillet of grouper on a wooden cutting board with three small tomatoes, pieces of garlic and asparagus.
Florida grouper. Photo courtesy of Gulf Coast Seafood.

Pro Tip: If you’re not cooking in foil, Gulf Coast Seafood sells a grill pan so you don’t have to worry about your soft, flaky fish falling through – or sticking to – the grates of your grill while you’re cooking it.

If you’d rather fry your grouper or cod, Carol recommends trying a panko breading like in Life’s Ambrosia’s Perfect Fried Cod Recipe.

When I told Carol about my embarrassing “seared” tuna debacle and asked for her advice, she said, “You have to put it on a very hot pan with oil and cook it until you see a white band go across the bottom. As soon as you see that white band, you flip it over, because now you’ve got the sear. When you see another white band on the other side it’s ready. You want to make sure it’s rare on the inside. That’s the trick.” She recommends Inspired Eats’ Sesame Seared Tuna recipe.

Large chunks of tuna cut on a white cutting board with knife.
Tuna steaks ready to sear. Photo courtesy of Gulf Coast Seafood.

Carol gave us a lot of great advice for cooking seafood, and she says that some of the women working in the market know even more about cooking seafood than she does.

“They can tell everybody how to cook everything. It’s really nice,” says Carol.

“They have a tremendous amount of knowledge,” echoes John.

For more seafood recipes, follow Gulf Coast Seafood on Facebook and Fresh from Florida at FloridaAgriculture

Don’t feel like cooking? I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that John and Carol Merkle are originally from Maryland and now that I know this, I can’t wait to try some of their Maryland-style crab cakes with Johnny’s Sensational Seafood Sauce. 

Crab cakes on a white plate with lime garnish.
Gulf Coast Seafood’s Maryland-style crab cakes. Photo courtesy of Gulf Coast Seafood.

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