Florida life has many perks: abundant sunshine, velvety soft beaches, and fresh water springs studded with giant sea cows. It’s a laid-back piece of paradise where we wear flip flops year round and throw parties at the hint of a hurricane. Let’s face it: We live where they vacation. But we often get so wrapped up in the visceral awesomeness of the Sunshine State that we forget Florida also has the ideal climate for growing fresh fruits and vegetables year round. Not only that, but we have coastline on three sides, lending itself to some of the country’s freshest seafood, literally at the ends of our fishing lines.
With 84% of America’s fresh grouper, pompano, mullet, stone crab, pink shrimp, spiny lobsters and Spanish mackerel supplied solely by Florida fishermen, the state ranks #12 in the country for seafood production, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. In January, seasonal finds include alligator, clams, king mackerel, mullet, oysters (aside from the current moratorium), pompano, snapper, Spanish mackerel, stone crab, tilapia, and tilefish. Most of Florida’s shrimp – brown, white, pink, and red – get harvested from the Gulf of Mexico; rock shrimp get harvested along the state’s east coast. From South Florida to Sarasota from October to May, boaters navigate around stone crab traps. Tightly regulated, crabbers take only the claws, which the crab can regenerate in 18 months. The key to maintaining a healthy, productive ecosystem relies on fishery management plans to protect marine populations from overharvesting.
With so many varieties of fish available, deciding what to prep for dinner poses a delicious challenge. Although we can’t get Apalachicola oysters again until 2026 because of the moratorium, this recipe remains one of my favorites, I still make it with Gulf oysters. When buying fresh oysters, hit up a reputable seafood store that stores oysters on ice. The animal should have a fresh, salty smell and be heavy for their size (this means they still have their natural liquor). Toss any oysters with open shells – they’re already dead – and give them a good rinse to remove as much sediment as possible before shucking. The crew at Gulf Coast Seafood hooked me up with oysters and fresh stone crab claws that I turned into delectable tapas; Florida purists can swap Cedar Key clams or sea scallops for the oysters – at least, until 2026.
Oysters with Florida Citrus Mignonette
Yield: Enough for one dozen oysters
½ cup Champagne vinegar
Juice from ½ fresh lemon
Juice from 1 key lime
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 tablespoon minced shallot
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 large oysters, shucked
Stir ingredients in a small bowl and serve over shucked oysters.
Regardless of the time of year, there’s something delicious to be caught in the Gulf and Atlantic. It doesn’t get any fresher than Florida seafood.