So What Exactly is “Florida Keys Cuisine?”
It’s spicy conch chowder, savory Cuban pork, succulent pink shrimp dipped in tangy mustard sauce, or coated in coconut. And it’s all as unique and appealing as the 125-mile island chain itself.
The Keys have a rich seafaring history (even today, fishing remains the second largest industry here), so you’ll find lots of it on local menus including yellowtail, grouper, mutton snapper, and Mahi-mahi which are generally sautéed, broiled or blackened.
Ever hear of Key West pink shrimp? Considered one of the Keys’ most popular “natural resources,” it’s a bit sweeter than other types of shrimp and can be sautéed, battered and fried, used on salad and pasta, or steamed and served with savory sauces.
If you happen to come down during “Stone Crab Season” (October 15 - May 15), you’re really in luck. Stone crab claws, renowned for their sweet and succulent meat, are a popular delicacy here. They can be served warm with drawn butter or chilled with mustard sauce.
Just be careful because either way, they are totally addictive.
We have lobster down here, too, but unlike its northern cousin, our spiny lobster is clawless. The meat, however, is still sweet and tender, and just like a “Maine” lobster, it’s often served steamed or broiled with drawn butter.
Conch (pronounced “konk”) is another delicacy for your foodie bucket list. Even though it’s no longer fished in the Keys (most of it comes in from the Bahamas), you’ll still find it on a lot of local menus. This versatile mollusk pops up in spicy tomato-based chowder, deep-fried fritters, ceviche, and even breaded and fried as conch steak. No two restaurants prepare conch precisely the same way, and we’ve included several recipes for you to enjoy on pages 22, 23, 26, and 37.
Of course, it’s no surprise that the most popular ethnic food in the Keys is Cuban, brought to Key West by the cigar makers and their families who fled their homeland in the 1800s. Cuban dishes include Ropa Vieja (a rustic, humble stew with shredded beef in red sauce); Picadillo (a soft, fragrant stew of ground beef and tomatoes); and the biggest crowd-pleaser of all: The Cuban mix sandwich— a blend of slow-roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles served on fresh Cuban bread, flattened in a press that looks like a waffle iron. There are several excellent Cuban restaurants throughout the Keys, and we’ve listed our favorites on pages 93.
Oh, and let’s not forget the Keys’ signature dessert: Key lime pie. Believe it or not, no two Key lime pie recipes are alike. Some are topped with meringue and some with whipped cream. Some are nestled in a graham cracker crust, while others rest in a chocolate crust. We’ve included a recipe for one of our favorite versions that you can try at home on page 79. If you get down to the Keys, we encourage you to make the rounds and taste as many as possible so you can discover your personal favorite. Chow!