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Florida Seafood Salads

Machismo and the salad thing.

Salads never used to be “guy things.” When I was growing up and cutting my teeth on fishing, I never said, “Hey! I hope we catch enough fish to make a big fish salad!” Back then a tuna salad sandwich was okay, but leftover fried fish was the lunch of the realm.

Fish salad? No way!

However, today the rules have all changed. Just look at Arnold SchwartzenMuscle. (May the Schwartz be with you).

Does Arnold eat salad?

You bet your wrasse he does. And you can bet your last whitebait and finger mullet, too.

Does he eat canned tuna?

That’s probably not his first, second or third choice. He would be in Dutch with my mother, who could eat tuna salad for lunch every day.

Fish and seafood arrive in many varieties and are packaged in many ways, most of which can be incorporated into some type of salad. Check out these Florida seafood salads.

For example, in the Orient they love to dry fish. Right now, I have several small packages of Japanese-dried bonito for soups, rice and salads. Can you believe it, dried “footballs” (bonito) pulverized and packaged?

Actually you might find them very tasty if you haven’t tried them before. Chances are if you’ve eaten in sushi bars and Japanese restaurants, you have had these flakes incorporated into some of your dishes. There’s bound to be some bonito mixed in with all that higher-grade tuna. Dried bonito flakes are excellent, if you’ve educated your palate for them. (There’s nothing worse than taking a “dumb” tongue to lunch. Trust me, I used to do it all the time.)

Of course, salads aren’t just for lunch anymore. A salad dinner can be fine, especially if it incorporates seafood for protein and bulk, not to mention the healthy qualities of seafood. And, of course, fresh-caught seafood in these salads is even better.

An old friend used to make a dinner salad that was just plain simple, yet spectacular. Basically it was just mayonnaise, a bit of water, lettuce and salt. The salt leeches some of the “juice” from the lettuce and the flavor melds wonderfully.

I think this is where I first educated my tongue toward salad. Later I notched it up a level by adding seafood, namely shrimp. At least at first: Then came a fixation on adding other types of seafood. After that came the sampling of other seafood salads, such as Crab Louis, who—despite persistent rumor—was never King of France. Somewhere in there was Tuna Nicoise (pronouced “knee-swah.”) That salad originally was made from canned tuna, but I have never had or made it with canned tuna. Fresh is always best, whether with tuna or whatever.

Since I began getting into seafood salads, there have been countless different recipes I’ve tried or made up. I suggest you experiment with fish and shellfish you happen to favor, mixing them with greens, pasta and so on to invent your own personalized recipe repertoire. Until then, here is a recipe I made up. I am sure it exists elsewhere—it is too simple and delicious not to. Regardless, try it. It’s simple and good and can be presented with eloquence.


SHRIMP, LETTUCE AND PINEAPPLE SALAD  (Serves 4 to 6)

1 lb. peeled, de-veined shrimp

1 ⁄2 head of lettuce, coarsely chopped

1 cup pineapple, peeled, sliced and cut into coreless, bite-size wedges

1 ⁄8 to 1⁄4 tsp. salt (I like a bit more salt with iceberg)

1 ⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup mayonnaise

Water to round out the mayo (You can add more mayonnaise or a bit of water to get the “dressing effect.” Your call. I like to add a bit of water.)

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and gently toss or stir.

In the bottom of salad bowls, place some shredded lettuce. Place heaping scoops of the salad atop the shredded lettuce. For a variation, try grilling your pineapple slices before cutting them into wedges. This salad could be a first course, or a meal. Good either way.

You have probably heard of Waldorf salad, which is sometimes called Waldorf-Astoria salad owing to the New York City hotel where it was created.

I was tempted to tinker with the basics of the Waldorf salad because not many apples grow in Florida. But some apple trees flourish in Florida and apples are always plentiful anyway. Besides, the Waldorf is a classic and deservedly so. All you need do different for the following salad is add some fresh Florida shrimp. Best to dip or castnet your own shrimp, which you can do year around in much of Florida.


SHRIMPLY WALDORF SALAD (Serves 4 as a meal)

1 cup boiled shrimp, shelled and chopped (save a few whole for garnish)

3 ⁄4 cup apples, peeled, pared and cut into small bite-size pieces (I like to use Granny Smith and Macintosh or Roma. Nice to use two varieties, but use what you like.)

2 ⁄3 cups seedless grapes, halved

1 ⁄2 cup celery, diced

1 ⁄2 cup pecan pieces

3 ⁄4 to 1 cup mayo

Water to thin the mayo

Combine all ingredients and chill for at least an hour. Note: Cut apples tend to darken if not used quickly. You can avoid this with a sprinkling of lemon juice mixed with water. If you like, serve on a bed of lettuce. Or mixed greens.

Note: Lettuce cut with a metal knife will “rust.” You can avoid this browning of your lettuce by either pulling it apart or using a lettuce knife which is made of plastic and serrated. I have found them for as little as 50 cents in discount stores.

Since we’ve already covered Tuna Nicoise and Crab Louis recipes in these columns over the years, we thought something new, yet vaguely familiar might be in order. I don’t think this recipe exists elsewhere. Unlike the Waldorf, which does not include lettuce by necessity, this next salad recipe does.

But the prime ingredient in this salad is clam. You can sometimes find the big quahog clams atop the bottom around spoil islands, but most folks—myself included—like the larger ones for chowder, not salad. The large “hog” clams are a bit tough and very strong in flavor, making them ideal not only for chowder and gumbo, but also for bait for pompano and other delectable water denizens. Smaller clams such as cherrystones, littlenecks and middlenecks are what you want for this salad, the latter two preferred.

The clams need to be scrubbed well and I like to let mine soak in salt water with some cornmeal for a few hours. Make sure the water is cool.

You can use a clam knife to open the mollusks, or place them in a microwave-proof bowl and “nuke” them until they just start to open. Drain and reserve the liquor. Cut the clams from the shell and chop into pea-size pieces, larger if you like.

Next, you finish cooking the clams by baking or sautéing. It won’t take much cooking, so be careful not to overcook. And, if the microwave already did the cooking job, great. Let the clams cool.

Strain the reserved clam broth through a strainer, or a strainer lined with a paper towel.

Let’s say you wind up with one pound of finished clam meat—here’s what you do. Of course, if you have more or less, adjust the ratios accordingly to make:

SOUTH OF THE BORDER CLAM CHIP SALAD

1 lb. clam meat prepared as above

2 scallions, chopped, use both green and white ends

1 ⁄4 cup celery, diced

(Mix the above ingredients together with a pinch of salt and a dash or two of hot sauce, if you like a little heat.)

1 ⁄3 cup sour cream, mixed into the above

Shredded lettuce to cover the bottom of an appropriately sized bowl

Grated colby, cheddar or what-you-like cheese over the lettuce

Put the clam mix atop the lettuce and cheese and top with coarsely broken tortilla chips. When it comes to creating seafood salads, the possibilities are as limitless as the ocean.

Incorporating various fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, sauces and such into the concept results in an exciting dish, when properly put together. But, like the old saying about beauty: “spectacular” salad is in the eye (and palate) of the beholder. One man’s fish is another man’s poisson. Poisson, of course, being “the French” for fish.

FS Classic from Florida Sportsman magazine.

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