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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

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Shrimp Créole–It’s Not Just For Christmas

by on Dec.27, 2013, under Recipes and Food

Christmas dinner at Chez Thompson isn’t always traditional.  We like to cook, and roasting turkeys or rib roasts just doesn’t present much of a challenge any more.  So, you’re likely to find more complex recipes featured on our holiday table.  Paellas are good, as is bouillabaisse, but one of our favorites is Shrimp à la Créole.

A good Shrimp Créole, as it’s translated into Inglés, depends on the quality of the ingredients.  Of course, Florida shrimp are the best and you can find them almost year-round, so that’s not a problem.  But don’t cut corners with the single most-important ingredient–the tomatoes.  Fresh ripe heirloom Créole tomatoes make the very best Creole, but they’re not available canned and can even be hard to find outside Louisiana.  In warm months, fresh tomatoes from Ruskin, south of Tampa, work well, but when it’s cold you’ll have to rely on canned product.  Don’t be fooled by the propaganda you hear on the television from large factory canners.  Accept only canned tomatoes that come directly from San Marzano, Italy or are labeled “San Marzano style”.  These flavorful plum tomatoes are simply the best, and luckily there are now some American farmers growing them.

Shrimp sauce piquanté was the original name for shrimp créole and my version is spicy, with just a hint of cloves and allspice, as the name implies.  None of that bland tomato-soup-like stuff that’s served in second-rate eateries for me.  This version will warm you from the inside out!

Shrimp Créole

2/3-cup canola oil

1/2-cup flour

1-3/4 cup thinly sliced scallions

1/3 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup copped green pepper

4 tsp. minced garlic

3 tsp. minced parsley

1 28-ounce can/box crushed San Marzano tomatoes

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1 tbs. minced chives

4 tbs. dry red wine

4 whole bay leaves, crushed*

6 whole allspice*

2 whole cloves*

2 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. chili powder

1/4 tsp. dried basil

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

4 tsp. lemon juice

2 cups water

2-pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
There’s an old expression made by Cajun cooks:  “First, make a roux”.   Based on a misconception that a roux is difficult, that very statement turns many folks away from making this recipe at home.  In fact, in Louisiana you can actually buy a jar of ready-made roux.  But really, folks–it ain’t rocket science.  Just keep stirring and be sure not to burn the flour.

In a heavy 6 to 8-quart pot, heat the oil and gradually add the flour, stirring constantly.  Cook the mixture over medium heat and stir until the medium brown roux is formed.  It should be the color of peanut butter.  Remove the roux from the heat and add the fresh vegetables and parsley.  Mix well, and then return to low heat and cook, stirring constantly until the vegetables begin to brown.  Mix in the canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, and then add the chives, wine, seasonings, and lemon juice.

*Wrap the bay leaves, cloves and allspice together in a packet of cheesecloth before adding to the sauce.  This eliminates crunchy surprises at the dinner table.

Raise the heat and bring the mixture to a low boil.  Stir in the water and bring back to a boil.  Then, reduce heat to a simmer for 45 minutes.  About 10 minutes before dinner, bring the sauce back to a boil, add the shrimp and simmer until ready to serve.  Serve over parboiled/converted rice.  (Feeds 4)

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In The Mood For “Mexican”? Try This Fish Taco Recipe

by on Sep.27, 2013, under Recipes and Food

From my Florida Sportsman Sportsman’s Kitchen column, May 2012

I had an awful dream the other night.  I was at a classy seaside Mexican joint and was served fish tacos.  What made the dream a nightmare was that they were made with frozen fish sticks and dressed with ketchup!

Making fish tacos isn’t rocket science.  The most difficult part of the process is deciding what sort of fish to feature—and what to use for garnishes.  For me, the fish decision is easy, especially when my friends at Gainesville’s Northwest Seafood call and say they’ve just unloaded a boatload of grouper.  Whole grouper mean lots of things to lots of people, but to me it’s ‘cheeks’.  Grouper cheeks are the most delicate part of the fish and are often discarded by anglers at the cleaning table.  That’s not so for fish houses and retailers who handle whole fish.  Often, though, the easily harvested cheeks rarely make it to customers’ tables.  Unless you ask.

It takes a certain size fish to get significant cheek meat.  ‘Keeper’ grouper will provide two small medallions, each weighing only an ounce or two—twenty pounders will provide enough for a sandwich.  Excising the meat is easy.  Using a very sharp, flexible blade, fillet knife, simply cut the cheek away from the head.  If you leave the cheek attached by a slight tab of skin, you can then remove the entire skin in just one additional move of the knife.   For fish tacos, allow three or four small cheeks each.    And don’t forget, while you’re working on the fish’s head, that there’s also some good meat to be found in the throat.  Like cheeks, throats are sometimes overlooked or ignored, but they also provide a nice piece of tender meat that’s also good for tacos.

I’m a firm believer that tacos should “crunch”.  That means hard-shell corn tacos, crisp veggies and fried fish.  For breading, I prefer using equal amounts of crushed Saltines and all-purpose flour, seasoned with a bit of Cajun spice and some salt and black pepper.  If you heat your oil (canola or peanut) to about 375-degrees and don’t crowd the pan, you’ll get perfectly fried fish in just a few minutes.  As soon as the cheeks are golden-brown and drained on paper towels, it’s time to assemble your tacos.  Start with a layer of spicy salsa—my favorite is made with avocadoes, tomatillos, onions and cilantro.  Then, add some slaw and the fried fish.  A topping of sour cream is optional and something I usually leave up to my guests.  I’ve also found that while my Avocado and Tomatillo Salsa works well as the base layer for these fish cheek tacos (We call them “Cheek-Os”!), that it’s also a popular stand-alone appetizer, served with salty tortilla chips.

As is the case with many recipes, mine for fish cheek tacos should serve as a basis for creating your own version of this tasty entrée.  Try soft tacos, grilled fish, and vary the toppings, depending on what’s available locally or seasonally.  But no matter what your do, prepare just a few more than what you think your guests might eat.  I’ll bet they eat them all!

Cilantro Slaw

1 package (or 1.5 cups) shredded cabbage

1/2 –cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

3/4 -cup sour cream

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

juice of one lime (Key lime if available)

Salt and black pepper to taste

Avocado and Tomatillo Salsa

6 tomatillos

1 medium white onion

4 ripe Roma (plum) tomatoes

1-cup cilantro leaves

2 ripe Florida avocados

1/4-cup olive oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt and black pepper to taste

Remove husks from tomatillos and chop, with the onion, in a food processor.  Remove to mixing bowl.  Repeat with tomatoes and cilantro.  Then chop avocado in food processor, taking care not to puree.  Add to contents of mixing bowl, adding the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper as you fold ingredients together with a spatula.

Cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to meld.  Serve with tortilla chips as an appetizer or as a dressing for fish tacos.

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Tender Is The Trout!–Florida Sportsman “Sportsman’s Kitchen” Article

by on Sep.21, 2013, under Recipes and Food

Seatrout lend themselves to several methods of preparation, but the southern tradition of deep-frying is likely a favorite.   And there’s no reason that fried foods need be greasy.  The use of light cooking oil, like peanut or canola, a simple breading and a hot fire will guarantee results that are crisp, flavorful, and surprisingly healthy.

You’ll have to make the decision whether or not you want to serve your fish as fillets or fingers, known as tenderloins in many areas.  I’d recommend cutting out the bones from smaller fish and then fingering the thick part of the fillet.  If you have big seatrout, picking out the sweet meat under the rib cage is worth the extra effort, so fry the fillets whole. Fillets are probably more appropriate as an entrée; fingers work well as appetizers or in po-boy style sandwiches.

While there are likely as many different types of breading and batters as there are fish in the sea, I prefer a simple coating made from cracker crumbs, plain flour and a dash of Cajun spices.  It’s easy to make and apply–simply dredge your fish in it just as you’re getting ready to fry.

No matter how large the pieces of fish you cook, it’s important that they are put into oil that cooks them quickly.  350 to 375-degrees is the optimum temperature.  If you don’t have a thermometer, simply touch the tip of a ready-to-cook piece of fish into the oil.  If it sizzles, go ahead and start cooking.  As you add additional fillets or fingers, you’ll cool the oil slightly, so it’s important not to cook too many pieces of fish at a time.  When golden brown, your fish is ready to drain on absorbent paper and serve.

If you’re serving your trout in a ‘formal’ setting, consider hushpuppies, Cole slaw and oven-fried potatoes as accompaniments.  This combination will likely earn you accolades comparing you to the best seafood restaurants in your hometown.  A more casual presentation (That means you don’t have to use knives and forks!) is a simple sandwich made with fried fingers, and dressed with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce.

Finally, remember that whether you serve your fish simple or fancy, the ‘secret’s in the sauce’.  Making your own sauces is a simple alternative to store-bought.  Try jazzing up your cocktail sauce with some hot peppers and remember that tartar sauce ain’t nothin’ but mayonnaise, chopped dill pickles and onion.

Foolproof Seafood Breading

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 boxed stack Saltine crackers (about 70 crackers)
  • 1 tbsp. Cajun spice

Pulverize the crackers in a food processor; mix in flour and Cajun spice.  Makes enough breading to coat about 2 pounds of trout fillets or fingers.

Tangy Seafood Sauce

  • 1 12-ounce bottle Chili Sauce
  • 1 7-ounce bottle Dat’l Do-it Datil Pepper Hot Sauce
  • 2 tbsp. ground horseradish
  • Juice of a large lemon

Oven-Fried Potato Strips

  • 1/2-pound Russet potatoes (per person)
  • Peanut or canola oil
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Peel and cut potatoes into strips.  Dry thoroughly with paper towels.  Coat a cookie sheet with a light coating of oil.  Arrange potato strips in a single layer.  Bake about 45-minutes, turning strips at least once to ensure browning.  Salt to taste after baking.

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How To Avoid Fish Grilling Disasters, Florida Sportsman Article

by on Aug.27, 2013, under Recipes and Food

I was once afraid to put fish on the grill.  Not that I was a stranger to grilling all sorts of meats and fowl, but I could almost always count on whatever fish I put on the grill turning to small torn pieces long before it reached the dinner table.  But that was before I received a short fish-grilling lesson from my friend, Chef Jim Hunt, proprietor of Fiddler’s Restaurant in Steinhatchee.

Whether he’s ‘fancy grilling’ with Cajun spices or ‘simple grillin’ for folks who don’t want any extra calories, Jim has a knack for delivering perfectly cooked fish to his customers.  The grill marks are well defined, yet the interior of the fish is never over or undercooked.  According to the chef, his success has a lot to do with the fish species he chooses to grill—and to his patience at the grill.

So not to overcook your fish, be sure to select cuts that are not too thin.  Thin fillets from small flounder and snapper may not work with this technique, but thick grouper fillets or steaks from cobia, amberjack, mahi-mahi, wahoo and swordfish perform well.  A very hot grill is essential to successful fish grilling, as is leaving the fish over the fire long enough to caramelize the surface that contacts the grill’s grate.  If you pull the fish away from the grate too soon, it will certainly stick.   If you pull it too late, it will be burned.  Coating the fish with a thin coating of olive oil helps the process and almost guarantees that your fish will be served in picture-perfect condition.   Just as you’ve learned to judge the doneness of a grilled beef steak, you’ll learn to recognize when it’s time to turn your fish and whether it’s done or not.  An easy way to tell if your fish is ready to turn is to watch its edges.  You’ll be able to see the edges cook and when they’re fully cooked, it’s time to turn.  You can also test by gently lifting the fish fillet or steak with a spatula.  If it comes loose, it’s time to turn.  If it’s still stuck, let it be.  Final doneness is usually determined by the touch of a finger.  Don’t let your fish cook so long on the second side that it’s hard to the touch.  A slight bit of spring-back is usually right.

Perfectly grilled fish deserves a nice presentation. Consider plating your fish in a pool of tasty sauce.  One of Jim’s favorites for grilled fish is his own version of Argentine Chimichurri.  Its fresh spicy flavor adds to that of the fresh fish, but doesn’t cover it up. Add a cool cucumber salad to round out your meal and you’ll soon have all your friends and family begging you to continue in your role as champion of the grill.

Grilled Swordfish with Chimichurri!

Fiddler’s Chimichurri

1 cup (loosely packed) Italian Parsley leaves

1 cup (loosely packed) cilantro leaves

6 cloves fresh garlic

1/2  tsp. powdered cumin

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. Tabasco sauce

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil

Chop the dry ingredients coarsely in a food processor.  Then, with the processor still running, add the Tabasco sauce, red wine vinegar and enough olive oil to attain thee desired consistency.  A half-cup of oil is a good start.  The thicker the sauce, the more intense the flavor will be.  This simple recipe makes enough sauce to serve with 4 8-ounce pieces of fish.  And it can be made a day or two in advance of your cookout, and refrigerated.

Cucumber Salad

I’ve never understood why anyone would want to put sugar into a cucumber salad.  That said; thinly slice some small Kirby cucumbers and a bit of red onion and then toss them with olive oil and red wine vinegar.  Season to taste with salt, black pepper, dried oregano and crushed red pepper.  And NO sugar!

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“Saltwater Angler’s Guide to Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida” Wins Book Award from Florida Outdoor Writers Association, August 24, 2013

by on Aug.25, 2013, under CAPT. TOMMY'S BOOK SIGNINGS, TALKS, TRAVELS, TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

Capt. Tommy Thompson’s book, The Saltwater Angler’s Guide to Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida, has won first place in the Outdoor Book category at the 2013 Florida Outdoor Writers Association (FOWA) Excellence-in-Craft Competition.  The award was presented at the 2013 FOWA Conference on August 23 at Westgate River Ranch Resort in Polk County. The Outdoor Book category was sponsored by Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism.

The guide, published by The University Press of Florida in 2012, provides information about fishing opportunities from Chassahowitzka to Chokoloskee, and is the companion to Thompson’s 2009 book, The Saltwater Angler’s Guide to Florida’s Big Bend and Emerald Coast. Both books offer insights into lodging, dining, and travel at Gulf ports, as well as detailed discussions of tackle and fishing techniques.  GPS numbers for well-known fishing spots, reefs and wrecks are also included.

In addition to the books, Thompson writes the monthly Big Bend Action Spotter and Sportsman’s Kitchen columns for Florida Sportsman magazine.  He is also the Fishing and Boating blogger for Visit Natural North Florida and directs the companion website to his books, saltwateranglersguide.com

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Scalloping and Fishing Report, Steinhatchee, FL, July 8, 2013

by on Jul.08, 2013, under Horseshoe Beach, Steinhatchee

Anglers and scallopers hoping to be on the water at Steinhatchee during the 2013 July 4 holiday weekend were met by rain squalls on both Thursday and Friday.  However, by Saturday the humidity fell,  the skies (and the water) cleared, and limits of bay scallops, sea trout and redfish were seen at the cleaning table at the Sea Hag Marina as early as 11AM.

Don't want to clean your catch? See the "scallop cleaning crew" at the Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee.

As is usually the case during the early days of the recreational bay scallop season, snorkelers find that they often have to move around to find concentrations of the tasty bivalves.  Several areas within easy reach from the mouth of the river are considered “trustworthy” and those were the sites of huge gatherings of boats flying dive flags.

To the north, the grass flats near the Big Grass Island bird rack were busy.  This area is about 9 miles northwest of the Steinhatchee #1 marker.  Here, reports for the past weekend  were of better catches in the deeper cuts, with the scallops on the small size, with smaller muscles.  Water clarity was good, depending on the tidal flow.  The weekend’s pre-new moon tides were strong, and did affect water clarity.  The upcoming weekend’s neap tides will be slower, making sighting your prey easier.

To the south of Steinhatchee, there were three areas that attracted scallopers this past weekend.  Most popular was the area of grassy flats north of the Pepperfish Keys.  The run to Pepperfish is about 9 miles from either Steinhatchee or Horseshoe Beach.  This past weekend, snorkelers reported “hundreds” of boats in this area.  Other options for Steinhatchee scallopers are the areas off Rocky Creek or Hardy Point, just south of the river mouth.  At the southern spots, scallops seemed to be larger and more mature, with a higher yield of meat. The waters to the south were more clear and than those to the north.

For a detailed story on scalloping, please see:  Bay Scallops–The Gulf of Mexico’s Tastiest Treat.

Scallopers don’t usually get very close to shore, so anglers targeting reds and seatrout have lots of shoreline all to themselves.  Capt. Rick Davidson and I fished the weekend, and found the fish hungry and eager to eat topwater lures.  Floating grass was an issue in some areas, but the best bite seemed to be in  shallow water (1 to 2- feet), right along the grass, at the bottom of the tide, after the grass had washed away from shore.

Capt. Rick Davidson with a nice mid-summer redfish.

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Miller’s Boating Center, Ocala, 22nd Annual Boat Show & Expo, March 1,2 and 3, 2013

by on Feb.14, 2013, under CAPT. TOMMY'S BOOK SIGNINGS, TALKS, TRAVELS

I’ll be there, along with Terry Scroggins, Shaw Grigsby, Rick Murphy and Geoffrey Page.  Humminbird and Minn Kota reps will be on hand to demonstrate their products.  Also, expect some great prices on boats and accessories. Miller’s will have a good supply of my books on hand, and I’ll be happy to sign them for you.

Millers Boating Center

1661 NW 57the Street

Ocala, FL

(877) 898-1471

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Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida Guide Reviewed in Tampa Bay Times, 12/7/12

by on Dec.07, 2012, under TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

Thanks to Terry Tomalin,  Outdoors Editor at the Tampa Bay Times, for the great review of the Saltwater Angler’s Guide to Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida.  It’s online at:

http://www.tampabay.com/sports/outdoors/writers-pages-put-your-lures-in-front-of-fish/1264999#

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Capt. Tommy Talks About New Book on 770ESPN Radio, SW Florida, 10/13/12, 7:30AM

by on Oct.10, 2012, under CAPT. TOMMY'S BOOK SIGNINGS, TALKS, TRAVELS, Ft. Myers, Sanibel and Captiva

I’ll be discussing the new book, The Saltwater Angler’s Guide to Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida, on Saturday, October 14 at 7:30AM on Capt. Rob Modys’ Reel Fishing radio show.  Tune into the show by clicking www.770espn.com and the “Listen Live” button.  Or, if you’re in the Fort Myers area, tune in to AM770 radio!

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Points West, Day Three, Clarksdale to Bentonville

by on Jun.12, 2012, under POINTS WEST--Two Old Farts and A Dog!

Points West

Day Three, Clarksdale, MS to Bentonville, AR

First Class Lodging--at The Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, MS

Nuttin’, Honey.  For the most part, that’s what we saw on the trip from Clarkdale, MS to Brinkley, AR.  The drive down Delta Road from Clarksdale to Route 1 was nice, but the rain was falling sideways and it had been thundering since midnight, so we didn’t stop for photos of the huge mansions on the “other side of the tracks” in Clarksdale.  That’s where the folks who didn’t get the “blues” lived.

Welcome to Arkansas...the "mighty Mississippi River"

Once across the Mississippi River in Helena, AR, we headed west on Route 49.  The Arkansas D.O.T. ‘s idea of a scenic highway isn’t what we expected.  Flat—and flatter!

Flatter than a pancake...eastern Arkansas!

After a quick coffee stop in Brinkley we decided to head west on the Interstate to Little Rock and then to Conway, where we’d pick up a more interesting route to the northwest.  Bad move—I-40 construction pinned us down in a 12 mile stretch with no exits or escape route.  We were glad to see some infrastructure repairs underway here, as this stretch of road looks like it was built by President Dwight Eisenhower personally.  Luckily the delay didn’t last long and we arrived in L.R. about lunchtime.  From there, it was up into the Ozarks and on to Bentonville, the home of “Wally Mart” and the Crystal Bridges Museum.  Rumors are that the museum has a good collection and has irked many “serious” museum-types.  Like it’s easy for the average American to get to N.Y., L.A. or Paris to see good art?  Tomorrow will tell if it’s worth a visit.  Post Script:  Looks like we’ll miss the Crystal Bridges…closed today and not open ‘til 11AM tomorrow–and we need to be on our way to Dodge City.

From Little Rock we headed north about 100 miles, encountering some classic hillbilly views.  The skies cleared and we finally saw something other than rain and grey.

A hilly drive through the Ozark "mountains"

Mixed in with the curvy roads and rock walls were all sorts of “antique” and “collectible” shops, as well as several “Official Branson Ticket Outlets”.  Luckily we turned west at Harrison and headed away from that hillbilly haven.  I guess I really shouldn’t complain, as I’m a 9th-generation Floridian and well worth the nickname, “cracker”.  Down our way we just sell different things to our tourists—seashells from the Pacific islands, tilapia disguised as grouper, and dry lots in the Everglades.

Bentonville is a bustling city, and I suspect lots of that success has to do with the Walton family and the Wal-Mart empire.  We’re again staying at the La Quinta and this one looked brand new.  I hadn’t stayed in one in a long time and they’re greatly improved (and updated and clean).  And to our surprise, free wine and snacks in the lobby.  All of this and Kirby is welcome!

After an uneventful dinner at a local Italian restaurant we concluded that we are pretty good cooks and that we’ll concentrate on eating things we don’t make at home.  Last night’s tamales, at Abe’s BBQ in Clarksdale, for example.

Not really pretty, but unbelievably tasty--tamales from Abe's BBQ in Clarksdale, MS

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