When it comes to food, we all have our own individual likes and dislikes. I can remember being repulsed by the thought of eating sushi. Raw fish? No way, I thought; that’s bait. But eventually I was persuaded to give it a try, and now I am a chopstick-clicking sushi enthusiast.
Even though I have broken through the sushi barrier, I do have my limits when it comes to seafood. I still stay out of the bait tank when I’m hungry, but not everyone is so closed-minded. Years ago, when I was running a lot of guide trips I had a friend, Mike the Greek. He owned a restaurant just around the corner from our docks at Fishermen’s Village. Yes, we called him “Mike the Greek,” and he was quite a character.
Like many guy friends, we spent a lot of time trying to annoy each other. One of the stunts that Mike pulled to irritate me was to come onto the dock in the morning while I was prepping my boat and sneak a peek into the baitwell to see if I had loaded live shrimp for that day’s trip. If there were shrimp in the tank, he’d grab one of the largest, bite it off behind the head, chew up the tail, swallow the meat, and spit out the shell and tail fin. I am not making this up.
Mike the Greek also had other tastes in seafood that seemed unusual to me. One of his favorite treats was sea urchin. If I was fishing down around Cayo Costa and saw some purple sea urchins in the shallow, clear waters, I would net a few of them and drop them in the livewell. (Yes, the same livewell from which Mike would pilfer my live shrimp.)
If I gave a few live sea urchins to Mike, it would make his day. He’d eat them on the spot by turning them over, punching out the center where the jaws were located, and pouring the entire contents into his mouth. He’d chug as many as I brought him, one after another. Hey, triggerfish like them, so maybe he was on to something.
Mike also liked octopus, and I’d bring him those odd eight-legged creatures when we caught them while bottom fishing offshore. But he didn’t eat raw octopus on the spot. They took some preparation.
One day I watched him tenderizing an octopus that I’d given him. He was out back of his restaurant whacking it on top of a concrete seawall. He was holding it by the head and slapping it over and over again on the concrete while whirling his arm like a windmill — whap!-whap!-whap! This went on for quite a while. He had numerous recipes for which he used octopus.
I asked Mike the Greek why he ate such odd stuff. He said that Greeks lived on the Mediterranean, and that they and the residents of neighboring Mediterranean countries had harvested so much seafood for so many thousands of years that the Mediterranean Sea was so overfished that they had become accustomed to eating just about anything they could catch.
That would probably explain why he liked to eat whitebait. Yep, the scaled sardines that we catch in castnets. If I had leftover scaled sardines at the end of a fishing trip, Mike might bring a bucket to the boat and scoop out a bunch of flipping, flopping fish.
He would take them back to the restaurant, drain the water off them, and pour them live into a bubbling deep fryer. They’d bob around in the hot oil for a while until they got crispy, then Mike would dip them out and eat them whole. I always wondered if the next restaurant patrons who ordered French fries got any fish scales with their fries.
By the way, if you work for the Health Department there is no reason to rush over for an inspection since Mike’s restaurant has been closed for many years.
Mike was never able to convince me to try sea urchins or deep-fried shiners, but he did convince me to try eating bonita. Like many anglers I thought that the bloody, dark meat of bonita (little tunny) looked gross and I could not believe that it could taste good. Mike bragged that he could make anything taste great, even bonita, so one day I gave him some fresh-caught bonita steaks.
He soaked them overnight in something, then griddle-fried them and sprinkled seasoning on them at the turns. I know that this will sound unbelievable, but I swear that those bonita steaks tasted exactly like pork chops. Sadly, he never told me what he used for the marinade or for the seasoning.
Let’s go fishing!
Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.