Today’s post is in collaboration with Florida Keys and the Key West. Those of you who have followed Bright-Eyed Baker for some time probably know that I love to share about my food travels as well as regular recipes. Because of that, I’d thought it’d be fun to share more about a place I’d love to visit – the Florida Keys!
Chef Michael Ledwith was born and raised in New York and began his culinary training in some of the best restaurants of the Big Apple. As his career progressed, he moved to the Caribbean and learned the art of cooking seafood. Upon returning to the States, he created a name for himself in Central Florida, but what he really longed for was the island life, full of fresh fish (and who wouldn’t?!)
Today, Chef Michael runs a restaurant, aptly named Chef Michael’s, in Islamorada. Situated between the saltwater wilderness of Everglades National Park and the deep blue waters of the Florida Strait is Islamorada, made up of six islands: Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper Matecumbe Key, Lower Matecumbe Key and the offshore islands of Indian Key and Lignumvitae Key.
As a chef who knows his way around the restaurants and activities of the islands, Chef Michael gave us the lowdown on what to see, eat, and do in Islamorada. Seeing as Islamorada is hailed as the fishing capital of the world – the place where saltwater fly fishing and sport fishing were pioneered – it’s no wonder Michael Ledwith chose to settle in this district of the Florida Keys. Whether you’re looking for hardcore fishing or just a relaxing vacation, Islamorada is pretty much the place for every kind of tourist to enjoy the water.
“It’s ALL about the water here!”, Michael says about his perfect day in Islamorada. On one side, visitors can experience the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Bay and The Everglades. On the other side, there’s the Atlantic and the beautiful coral reef. Spend a day paddleboarding or learning how to spearfish, and then find a comfy seat at one of the many waterfront spots in the area and enjoy a sunset. According to Michael, the best sunset spots have live music nightly and great drinks to sip on while you take it all in. Islamorada will remind you of an approachable small town, but with so much to do and see. “It’s so small that we don’t even have a stop light.”
Islamorada’s cuisine is known for its fresh-from-the-dock seafood mixed with ethnic flavors, fun tiki bars, dockside fish houses, and gourmet beachfront cafes. At Chef Michael’s, there’s a fresh seafood catch that changes daily.
While it may be the fishing capital, Michael admits that serving locally caught seafood can be difficult on a large scale. But for tourists looking for the best local catches and chefs with a passion for fine seafood, relationships are key. “Our supply cannot come close to the demand, so creating relationships with local fish houses, captains and others helps us to provide local, fresh seafood,” says Chef Michael. On a visit to Islamorada, head to restaurants where the locals go and where the chefs have relationships with the charter boat captains.
If it’s your first time to the islands, Chef Michael recommends heading out on a local charter boat for the day and catching your own dinner. It doesn’t get more fresh than that! Many restaurants offer “Hook and Cook” and will gladly prepare the fish brought in to your liking.
Besides casually elegant dining at Chef Michael’s, our fish-loving guide recommends a meal at OO-Tray for a more modern twist on Islamorada cuisine. Wahoo fish wontons, lobster tempura, and mussels in a coconut curry sauce are just some of the sea-caught items that dot the menu. Besides the daily catch, visitors can also have a bite of the “Land” featuring bone marrow, Filipino pork belly, or Cornish game hen with pineapple chimichurri.
One of the things you should absolutely try to do if you visit Islamorada is taste one of their harder-to-find delicacies. For Chef Michael, that is the locally spear-caught hogfish. Over the years, he and his team have prepared the fish hundreds of different ways, but when it comes down to it, cooking it simply is always his favorite. An easy preparation, like this Adriatic hogfish recipe, lets the fish’s fresh, clean flavors shine.Print
A simple way to prepare hogfish, grilled and served with adriatic sauce to let the fish’s fresh, clean flavors shine.
- Yield: four six-ounce portions 1x
- ½ cup fresh cilantro
- ½ cup fresh flat leaf parsley
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaf
- 2 cloves garlic
- ½ cup good-quality olive oil
- 2 tablespoons “Fire Cider”
- 1 lemon, juiced
- salt and pepper
- four six-ounce portions of fresh hogfish
- salt and pepper, to taste
- canola oil or pan spray
- In a food processor, add all of the ingredients for the sauce and puree until velvety.
- Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. If the sauce is too thick, slowly add more olive oil.
- Serve the sauce at room temperature. The sauce stays well in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Have your grill hot and clean.
- Lightly season fish with salt and pepper and coat with canola oil (or spray with pan spray).
- Grill fish. When done, transfer to serving plate, and lightly nap with Adriatic sauce.
- Serve with a lemon wedge, steamed seasoned quinoa and grilled asparagus.
*Fish can be grilled or pan-seared
The Adriatic sauce also makes an excellent dip for crusty bread!
Recipe from Chef Michael Ledwith