by The Editors | August 25, 2016

The Spread: Old-Florida Seafood Soirée

Host an autumnal gathering inspired by a deep reverence for salt-air–surviving traditions along the Panhandle.

In the pages of their book, Saints of Old Florida, coauthors Melissa Farrell, Christina McDermott and Emily Raffield pay homage to small towns with saintly prefixes along the Gulf Coast by recounting stories and sharing recipes for the food that flavors the seaside way of life, from Port St. Joe to St. Marks. Here we celebrate some of our favorite tales and tastes beloved by the three friends.

BEHIND THE BLUE SHELL CRAB

For centuries, blue crabs have played a vital role in Florida’s economy. Some say deviled blue crab recipes originated in Tampa, where they were served deep-fried as mini-football-shaped croquettes with a Spanish or Cuban twist. But the Panhandle’s riff is just as storied: A seafarer’s 1945 journal reveals that Gulf crabbing yielded an abundance (and still does today), and deviled crab was a “treat for the palate of the most critical gourmet.” In his words, “the fresh crab meat, whose delicate flavor of the sea whetted our appetites” was part of a “perfect meal.” A little more recipe background, before you get cooking: Rock Landing is a marina in Panacea, and this appetizer is indeed medicine to prevent a dull get-together.

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Reshell your crabs with crystal-clear containers. Photography by Lean Timms

Rock Landing Deviled Crab

Serves 81 pint fresh blue lump crabmeat
  • 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • ½ yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 3 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • ½ cup saltine crackers, crushed
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Preparation: Pick through lump crabmeat to remove shells, using a colander in the sink to hold the crabmeat during inspection. Transfer crabmeat to a bowl and mix in all the other ingredients. Fill serving-size oven-safe glass dishes or ramekins with crab mixture. (Editors’ note: We love the look of the glass crustaceans on the previous page. You can find similar containers in a pinch at a variety of online retailers.) Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Serve immediately.


ONE-PAN WONDER

Serve up a restorative meal, Spanish style, with Gulf Coast gems like shrimp, calamari, Alligator Point clams and venison sausage. With ties to Valencia, Spain, paella is cooked via several different methods in its country of origin. Although the Old Saints’ scribes prepare their paella in a custom-made iron pan over an open outdoor fire, a hearty Dutch oven on the stovetop should suffice. Just don’t scrimp on the seasonings, and “use as much saffron as you can afford,” the trio advises. If you can’t find Alligator Point clams (known for the lingering richness of its waters and its salty, buttery and sweet taste), or Gulf shrimp, ask your local fishmonger for substitutes. Regardless of your ingredient blend, these happy hostesses recommend “making special effort to catch a bit of the caramelized rice layer at the bottom.”

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A hardy pan-full of sea goodies; Photography by Lean Timms

Panacea Paella del Mar

Serves 10-12
  • 1 pound smoked venison sausage, sliced
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup white wine (preferably Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes
  • 9 cups chicken stock
  • 1 pinch of saffron, or more if desired
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Handful of flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 3 cups Valencia rice (the liquid-to-rice ratio is 3-to-1)
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 dozen Alligator Point clams, washed
  • 1 pound Gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 pound calamari, prepped and chopped

Preparation: Heat oil in a large paella pan or Dutch oven. Add sausage, brown over medium heat. Add onions, bell pepper and celery, sauté until soft. Deglaze with a little Cava. Stir in tomatoes. In a separate pot, heat chicken stock over medium heat with saffron and mix. Gradually pour warm broth into paella pan and stir. Add bay leaves, parsley, cumin, lemon zest, sea salt and pepper. Stir in rice. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add clams, cook for 5 minutes. Add shrimp and calamari; cook for 5 minutes. Sprinkle peas on top and cover with foil. Turn off the heat and let stand for 15 minutes before serving.