Where To Find Pink Shrimp & Striped Mullet
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In the wake of WGCU’s sustainable seafood series on “pink gold” and mullet comes a swell of interest in the two local species. Perhaps the most-asked question: “Where can we get it?”
So now that we’ve whetted your appetite, follow us to some favorite sources for fresh and prepared product.
MINING PINK SHRIMP
Local wild pink shrimp, aka “pink gold,” aka Penaeus duorarum, are brought to port at Fort Myers Beach’s San Carlos Island working waterfront, and that’s the best place to find it straight off the boats. Trico Shrimp Company Seafood Market sits right on the docks.
Nearby, Ralph’s Island Seafood on Buttonwood Drive also gets its shrimp right off the boats, through Erickson & Jensen’s fleet, and hand-processes them (removes the heads and grades them by size) for retail. Owner Mark Townley spent 23 years as a shrimper, so he knows his way around the pinks. His wife, Terry, works farmers markets in Sanibel, Fort Myers’ Lakes Park, and Cape Coral and supplies Rooster’s Farm Fresh Market on Route 80 east of Fort Myers. A different pink shrimp vendor sells at the Sunday market at Koreshan State Historic Site.
Summerlin Jake’s in south Fort Myers buys pink shrimp whenever available, mostly through Trico, for Executive Chef Richard Howze’s shrimp and grits and jambalaya. Skip One Seafoods Restaurant in Fort Myers, owned by longtime shrimp broker Dennis Henderson, sells raw local pinks and serves them cooked up steamed or fried. Island Seafood Market in Matlacha sells raw and steamed peel-and-eat style shrimp from Fort Myers Beach.
Amanda Canada’s Capt. Johnny’s Gulf Seafood truck parks in south Fort Myers and sells raw shrimp she buys heads-on from Erickson & Jensen and processes herself. “That means the shrimp have only been frozen once – on the boat,” explains the third-generation mullet fisherman. “I thaw and head them and sell them unfrozen. Some others box and refreeze them after they head them.”
In Naples, Chef Jeff Mitchell at The Local shows his true commitment to his restaurant’s name by using local pinks. His menu terms them “Key West pink shrimp.” Tiffany Ward at Blue Star Seafood, his supplier, explains that most of the local pinks they buy on Fort Myers Beach come from the Dry Tortugas water near Key West. The company also works with a local shrimper who goes out on short trips and so is able to bring in unfrozen shrimp to Pine Island docks. These go to certain restaurants and markets that require unfrozen shrimp only. Blue Star supplies a number of Naples restaurants such as Chez Boet, Kelly’s Fish House, Osteria Tulia, and the D’Amico family of restaurants, plus Kirk Fish Company market in Goodland.
LEAPING FOR STRIPED MULLET
In mid-February, Ward was working with Barnhill Fisheries in Matlacha to procure mullet roe for Chef Mitchell to make his own bottarga, a salt-cured roe sac product that Italian chefs typically grate over pasta to add a subtle salty-fishy flavor. The curing process takes up to two weeks, depending on the thickness of the sacs. Other Naples restaurants may use it for special dinners, but most of them import it from Sardinia or Corsica, where it is made, ironically, from mullet roe sacs they import from Florida.
Chef Mitchell, known for his devotion to using every part of the animal, also prepares striped mullet (Mugil cephalus) itself for specials. “We usually let the fish show its flavor by sautéing it and using a light sauce,” he said. Restaurant-prepared mullet is a rare find in Southwest Florida, although there are those determined to make it the “new grouper” in diners’ perceptions.
Eddie Barnhill, a third-generation mullet fisherman with a wholesale and retail operation, is one. He sells smoked and fresh or frozen vacuum-packed mullet year-round, even in the winter months during the spawning run at Barnhill Fisheries in Matlacha. That’s when the females tend to be leaner, but the males are still viable as a food source that he travels as far afield as New York City to promote.
Jesse Tincher, across the street at Blue Dog Bar & Grill in Matlacha, is another mullet evangelist. His Mullet Madness Mondays demonstrate the fish’s versatility; he has created more than 150 different dishes -- from mullet Reuben to mullet en papillote. Tincher serves mullet essentially every day of the week with a choice of preparation and sauce. Nearby, you can also find fried mullet sandwiches and baskets at Olde Fish House Marina. In North Fort Myers, Three Fishermen Seafood Restaurant offers mullet with a choice of seven different preparations.
Smoked mullet filets or dip are the more common mullet find at local restaurants and markets. Sweet Melissa’s Café on Sanibel Island purchases filets and roe sacs from Ralph’s. Chef Melissa Talmage smokes her own mullet for jarred rillette with Dijon and crème fraiche and house-cures bottarga, which she uses like anchovies in Caesar dressing. Capt. Johnny’s Gulf Seafood sells smoked mullet only outside of spawning season; Rooster’s sells it seasonally as well. You can also find it at the farmers markets that Ralph’s Island Seafood attends.
Wherever they find it, seafood lovers in Southwest Florida quickly become fans of – even snobs for – local sustainable seafood treasures.