Taste of Boca – Part III

January 25, 2019
By Marcy Shortuse

This week we bring you these delightful dishes
To explain how the “Taste” fulfills all palatable wishes.
Jambalaya and pinks, fried donuts and pie
You’ll fill up your belly in the blink of an eye.
Shrimp and dumplings, chocolate peanut butter mousse,
If you have questions do not feel obtuse.
We’ll find you the answers by combing the galley
Like why is relish intrusive? And who is Aunt Sally?
Ticket sales are increasing, there’s no time to waste
If you want to come to “Taste,” you’d better make haste!
This week’s six featured restaurants have been quite interesting to write about. I learned things about pinks and royal reds that I never knew before. I learned how to make rum and why on earth you would serve food on a salt block. Before we get into the specifics of the menu items, though, we would like to recognize the Harry Chapin Food Bank for doing something pretty significant for some members of our community.
A mobile food pantry to help federal employees during the federal government shutdown was held on Friday, Jan. 18 at the Southwest Florida International Airport.
The Harry Chapin Food Bank, the United Way of Lee, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee Counties, Lee County Human & Veteran Services and the Southwest Florida Community Foundation partnered to hold the pantry, focusing on TSA and air traffic controllers.
Local TSA officials say 393 employees are being affected by the federal government shutdown. Those attending the pantry received nonperishable food along with bread and produce.
Isn’t it nice to hear about an organization that actually steps up to the plate in a timely manner? Every day makes a difference when your last paycheck was gone weeks ago, and there’s no time in sight when you’ll get another one.
So many thanks to them, from all of us.
As I mentioned above in that stunning piece of poetry, you need to think about purchasing your tickets for “Taste of Boca” now. I know we all procrastinate, but you don’t want to miss it this year if these menus give any indication. We have them here in the Beacon office (above Gasparilla Outfitters on Park Avenue), and you can also get them at the Boca Bay Pass Club, the Boca Grande Club, The BRC Group, Michael Saunders and Group and Prime Time Steak and Spirits. Tickets are also available on line at hcfb.yapsody.com.
Now, on to our menus for the week.
The Pink Elephant Restaurant and The Gasparilla Inn & Club
491 Bayou Ave., Boca Grande
Executive Chef Rob Plesch
Shrimp & Dumplings: Key West shrimp, Parmesan potato
dumplings, Benton Virginia ham, sweet corn cream; lobster meatball sub: homemade lobster meatballs,
garlic roll, all-day roasted tomato basil sauce, Parmesan-Reggiano cheese;
fried donut filled with chocolate peanut butter mousse, maple-smoked bacon crunch.
Have you ever wondered what the origin of a small person being called a “shrimp” is? You may have just assumed it’s because shrimp are one of the smaller living things in the ocean, but there’s more to it.
Well, not really. Apparently, poet  Geoffrey Chaucer used the word in that frame of reference first, and in fact he was referring to something that was “small and shriveled.” In another interesting twist in etymology, the word “scrumptious” is believed to have derived from the word “shrimp.” It was originally “scrimptious,” which goes back to the root word “scrimp.” You might have never imagined it, but that word goes back to the mid-18th century in Scotland, where it means to keep someone “short of food.” It was interchangeable with the Scottish word “meagre” which related to … you guessed it … shrimp in the puny sense.
Key West shrimp are some of the most prized crustaceans in Florida waters and are often called “Key West pinks.” Shrimping has been big business in Key West for a very long time and has been a local specialty since the 1940s. The shrimpers drag huge nets with their boats, which look a bit like a traveling trapeze circus. Believe it or not, there are nowhere near as many shrimp boats today as there once were. There used to be hundreds of shrimp boats that came and went out of Key West, but now none do. They do shrimp around Stock Island, so you’ll still see shrimp boats in and around Key West Harbor.
One single shrimp boat can move 45,000 pounds of shrimp in one trip, and depending on whether the vessel is an “ice” or “freezer” boat, the crew might stay out for more than a month. The average trip, though, is about 10 weeks. Shrimping season for pinks runs from November through June. Peak season for reds is late summer through fall, but they can be found all year long.
There are also “royal reds” to be found in the Keys. With a scientific name of Pleoticus robustus, they are often described as tasting more like lobster than shrimp and are red when they are raw. They’re found deep in the ocean, cook much more quickly than other shrimp, and are perhaps the softest and most delicate of all our native shrimp species.
As a side note, if someone sends you a shrimp emoji or uses one to describe you – and you’re not eating shrimp at the time or talking about – it might be a slam. Apparently in the world of computers and the urban dictionary, a “shrimp” is a person who looks great from the neck down … but the head is no good.
Chef Plesch’s shrimp will be paired with dumplings made of Parmesan potatoes, which is an amazing combination in itself. Dumplings are an ancient food, and many civilizations have their own versions of them. The Romans used meat. The Chinese created their version of stuffed dumplings more than 1,800 years ago.
According to food history authority Alan Davidson, the origin of the word “dumpling” probably came from Germany where they were called “dampfnudeln.” The word was first found in print in the 17th century and referred to a “globular mass of boiled or steamed dough.” In the 1600s in the Norfolk area of the United Kingdom, dumplings became a common dish and were likened to Yorkshire pudding because they could fill a hungry belly cheaply.
Of course, back then they weren’t eating Parmesan potato dumplings. We are the lucky ones.
The other meat included in these dumplings is Benton Virginia ham. According to their website, the late Albert Hicks, a dairy farmer, started the business in 1947. He began curing and selling hams as well, and eventually he perfected a way of dry-curing hams into a culinary art.
For his third savory entry, Chef Plesch has created a lobster meatball sub on a garlic roll with all-day roasted sauce and Parmesan-Reggiano cheese. If you’re like me you’re wondering how to keep those little lobster balls together, and of course the grounded lobster meat is combined with bread and seasonings. Some people use risotto instead of bread.
These lobstery sandwiches will be topped with Parmesan-Reggiano. This cheese was addressed in European courts in 2008, when they decided it is the only hard cheese that can legally be called Parmesan. In so doing, they acknowledged the historical fact that the word can be traced to Parma in the Parma-Reggio region of Italy. Monks there made the cheese for the first time in the 1400s, so it’s been around for quite a while.
As his sweet offering, Chef Plesch does us all a good turn in presenting a donut filled with chocolate peanut butter goodness mixed with … bacon?
While it sounds like a dish made specifically for Elvis, maple bacon donuts are actually quite a thing. Chefs have been mixing these sweet and savory delights for at least 3,000 years, since the Mayans and Aztecs found chocolate (cacao) seeds from the tree could be ground into a fine powder and used in a drink that put pep in their step and a zest in their morning routine. Of course, their “chocolate” was very bitter, as there were no sugar or milk products back then to mix it with.
In more recent times their descendants created dishes such as mole (mole-ay) sauce that utilize chocolate and are served on chicken or in enchiladas.
Thrown into the mix are dark or bitter chocolate, herbs, peppers, chilies and vegetables. Asado de boda is similar in its makeup and is often served at wedding feasts over pork.
Chef Plesch, we are more than looking forward to seeing you and your table at this year’s “Taste.” We are impressed.
Howard’s Restaurant
70 N. Indiana Ave., Englewood
Owners/Proprietors Ken White and Bryan Domian
Mojo Rum Shrimp: Golden-seared jumbo shrimp well cooked in a flavored rum mint sauce with spices (served cold); Apple wood-smoked swordfish cooked medium, topped with a fruit-blend chutney and fig glaze.
So, there are five sizes of shrimp – small, medium, large, jumbo and colossal. Howard’s would have brought the colossal, but they wouldn’t fit in the tent. Those strange numbers you see on the little cards at the seafood counter that say 16/20 mean that there will be 16 to 20 shrimp per pound. Larger shrimp amounts are shown as, for                instance, U/10, which means there are under 10 of these shrimp in a pound. Cold-water shrimp are smaller and can range from 150 to 200 per pound, while their cooked and peeled counterparts might be 250 or 300 shrimp per pound.
Not to go off on a tangent (never … we’d never do that), but what does the word “jumbo” mean? In the early 1800s the term started to be used to define things that were big or clumsy and unwieldy, and it was thought that it came from the word for “elephant” in a West African language. In the 1800s P.T. Barnum named one of his circus elephants “Jumbo.” The word really took off then. Howard’s rum mint sauce has a Cuban history, which you might have recognized if you’re a fan of mojitos. That gives you a hint as to what you will taste when you sample their seared jumbo shrimp.
To take this recipe a step further, did you know one of rum’s best-kept secrets is that sugar plantation slaves in Barbados found that molasses, a by-product of the sugar-refining process, turned into alcohol after it sat out for a while? If it was distilled, it turned into a palatable drink. According to foodandwine.com, the Arabs and Persians perfected the method of distilling sugar cane, and in the 11th century they brought the method to Europe. In the 15th century the Portuguese came to the coast of Africa and settled the Madeira Islands, Cape Verde and the Canary Islands and discovered that growing sugar cane was possible there. When they realized they could produce sugar without dealing with Arabs, a very unfortunate legacy was created. By 1500 Madeira was the biggest sugar exporter in the world, and thousands of people were enslaved in sugar fields.
In the 1700s the average American colonist consumed 3.7 gallons of rum a year. In 1765 Americans distilled approximately 4.8 million gallons of rum on the East Coast alone. That may make you feel better or worse, depending on how much rum you drink.
And yes, pirates really did like it.
As far as Howard’s offering of applewood-smoked swordfish, this is delicious stuff. The wood of the apple tree is used to infuse the meat with a subtle, sweet, fruity flavor that is unique. Smoking meat preserves it from bacteria and pests and is believed to be a method first used by cavemen. Apple wood has little resin in it when it burns, which leads to less soot leaching into the meat. It also contains a higher amount of sugar, which caramelizes the outside of the meat in a lovely way.
Swordfish is a nice, firm meat that contains good cholesterol and omega-3 fatty acids, a nice amount of selenium and, of course, protein. It is listed as a fish that one should eat infrequently, as it contains higher amounts of mercury. It usually isn’t a problem unless you are pregnant or nursing, or if you are a small child.
Another interesting fact about swordfish is that it is purported to help people sleep better because it contains magnesium, a mineral associated with sleep-enhancing properties and calmness.
Now let’s talk about chutney. It’s a strange word, and if you didn’t know better, it could mean anything from a new type of dance to a type of walnut. Instead it is a cold sauce made from fruit, vinegar, sugar and spices that is often used as a topping for meats. The word derives from India, and in its original Hindi it is “catni.” Leave it to the Brits to change it into something a little less romantic and a lot more German-sounding.
In one cooking exchange, a culinarian asks what the difference is between chutney and relish, as it was brought up at a dinner party and caused uncomfortable silence. One wizened response was, “Chutney is wonderful, lively, smooth and soothing. Relish is pretenseful, soggy, dead and intrusive.”
Ouch. Strike one for the relish.
This led to a pretty serious argument in the forum, particularly between a Chicagoan who was used to a sweet and savory, “jammy” relish on his hot dogs, and someone named Sobachatina who said Chicago boy should take his jacket and leave … posthaste. This post goes on and on, and on: Some differences will never be settled, I suppose.
For the record, European chutney is a lot “jammier” than its Indian counterpart, which is much thinner in consistency. One is more of a puree; the other is more water-based.
One rarely dwells too much upon figs, and it’s a damn shame. They are fascinating little fruits that are some of the oldest fruits consumed by humans, featured in both testaments of the Bible. Remember Adam and Eve and the fig leaves, after all. (We can assure you that the figs used in this fig glaze have been nowhere near anyone’s nether regions, particularly those of the first man and woman.)
Sumerians wrote about figs on their stone tablets in 2500 B.C. and the remains of fig trees have been dated back to 5000 B.C. It may have been one of the first domesticated crops that humans grew. Figs have been touted as everything from being the origin of elixirs to give people superhuman strength to being the key to immortality. What we know is they’ll keep you regular, and they taste amazing on swordfish.
Kappy’s Market
5800 Gasparilla Rd.
Kappy’s Downtown
480 E. Railroad Ave.
Owners Jill and Steve Kaplan
Homemade Key Lime Pie
Jill and Steve are keeping it simple, yet significant. Kappy’s key lime pie is one of the finest in the land; many think it’s the finest. That would be hard to prove, but with one taste you will realize it has to be in the top five.
This is a somewhat homegrown dish. While key limes are also known as Mexican limes or West Indies limes and they have been grown in those regions for thousands of years, Key West really made them popular. These little limes are juicy and have smaller – yet more – seeds than their common Persian lime counterparts.
These are well-traveled citrus, I must tell you. They made it from their homeland to North Africa and the Near East when Arabian traders packed them in their valises, and from there they made it to Palestine and Mediterranean Europe. Columbus is reported to have brought limes with him from Italy to Haiti, and from there limes made it to Florida. These limes loved living in the Keys, for sure … but who doesn’t? While there are still some there, there are nowhere near the amount there used to be. Hurricanes have wiped out the groves over the years, and most of them were never restored. In fact, most of the limes in Key West now are Persian limes, and many make pies with them instead.
It is the juice of the key lime that goes into the pie, as well as sweetened, condensed milk and egg yolks with a base of graham cracker crust. Whipped cream must go on top in most cases … at least that’s what Aunt Sally says.
Who is Aunt Sally? Why, she’s only the creator of the key lime pie! According to most Floridian legends, in the 1800s a millionaire named William Curry was a ship salvager who lived in the Keys with his family. Curry was a key lime pie fanatic, though no one ever found out exactly who Aunt Sally was. Whoever she was, Aunt Sally used the condensed milk instead of fresh milk due to the fact there was no refrigeration back then in the Keys until the Overseas Highway was constructed and utilities were able to be employed.
There is a controversy that has been brewing for many years about this pie, and it’s a feud between New Yorkers and Floridians. Not long ago a woman named Stella Parks sat down to write a book about iconic American desserts, and she consulted with a Key West historian who couldn’t find a key lime pie recipe that was dated earlier than 1949. This confused Parks, who had already found a recipe for the same pie dated 1931, only it used lemons instead of limes. The Borden Company, purveyors of fine condensed milk, had produced this recipe and called it Magic Lemon Cream Pie.
Many say that recipe traveled from New York to Florida between 1930 and the 1940s, but it’s such a simple recipe it’s easy to dispute either way. Key West chefs swear that Aunt Sally’s recipe dates back to circa 1890. We will never know, unless we summon her spirit in a key lime pie séance. Her presence will be felt at “Taste,” to be sure, if the pie is appreciated, as it should be.
Loose Caboose Restaurant
433 4th St., Boca Grande
Chef Jacques Boudreau
Southern comfort food by The Loose Caboose: Southern-style seafood jambalaya: A medley of shrimp, grouper and scallops,The “Holy Trinity” (bell peppers, onions, and celery), fresh herbs and Cajun spices; bread pudding: Jacques’ famous recipe. Rich buttery-brown sugar custard with cinnamon-brandy glaze
Chef Jacques is bringing back old- school at “Taste” this year with two great offerings of Southern comfort food. Before we dive into what those offerings are, let’s take a look at the commonly used phrase “comfort food.” The saying generally connotes a food that gives emotional comfort, particularly food that reminds one of happy memories. The term was first found in a Palm Beach Post article from 1966, and in fact there are scientific studies galore that indicate strongly that certain foods can give the human brain a big hug. Those studies also found that men prefer savory foods as their “comfort,” while females prefer more snack-related food. Scientists believe that is because men like to feel spoiled or pampered with rich foods, while women simply don’t want to clean up the mess from cooking.
No joke.
Chef Jacques’ seafood jambalaya would be worth cleaning a kitchen many times over for. With a combination of shrimp, grouper, scallops, the “Holy Trinity” of bell peppers, onions and celery and fresh herbs and Cajun spices, one might say they would build the kitchen from scratch if it meant getting a few bites of this.
Many think that jambalaya is just a version of the Spanish paella. The Spanish claimed the state for four decades in the late 18th century, and some believe the dish was originally popular in areas settled by Hispanic immigrants. According to nola.com, the jambalaya capital of Louisiana is in Galveztown, settled originally by people from the Canary Islands. Many think the dish is from the Caribbean.
The word itself was coined in the early 1800s when it was found in a poetry book from Provence as “jam bolaya.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the name comes from the Provencal word “jambalaia,” which means “mix up.”
As is common in Louisiana, there are a lot of stories regarding jambalaya and how it came to be. In John Mariani’s “The Dictionary of American Food and Drink,” another suggestion is given.
“Late one evening a traveling gentleman stopped by a New Orleans inn which had little food remaining from the evening meal. The traveler instructed the cook, “Jean, balayez!” or “Jean, sweep something together!” in the local dialect. The guest pronounced the resulting hodge-podge dish as “Jean balayez.”
This dish varies a lot from region to region. Rural folk believe that jambalaya should be brown, while city dwellers’ jambalaya is often red because of the use of a lot of tomatoes. Either way, Jambalaya is traditionally cooked in a cast iron pot because it  can withstand very high heat for a long time. This allows more caramelization of the natural meat and vegetable sugars, and the rice in turn absorbs that.
Jambalaya, crawfish pie and fillet gumbo
For tonight, I’m-a gonna see my ma cher a mi-o
Pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou…
Chef Jacques has a very special way with his bread pudding as well. This dish has been a favorite at many “Tastes,” and the line is often long at his table. The cinnamon brandy glaze he uses is like no other, even if you think you’ve been there and done that with bread pudding.
While many would scoff at having to give a definition of bread pudding, those who would may scoff away. For many Americans who are unfamiliar with this dish, a bowl full of bread cubes and glop comes to mind. While it is bread-based, it is a bit like a marriage between French toast and custard.
The origin of bread pudding came from people being poor (as is the same with so many dishes). Now it can be found in some of the finest restaurants all over the world. In the 11th century, cooks began making it as a way to use up stale bread (waste not, want not) while mixing in common kitchen ingredients. There’s a lot you can do with a base like bread, as its flavor is mild and goes well with so many things. And really, how many recipes call specifically for the bread to be stale? Unless it’s a recipe for croutons, there’s not many.
The origin of infusing the bread pudding with alcohol is hazy (as many alcohol-related stories are), but it is believed the first use of it came with a handful of golden raisins and good single-malt Scotch. Bread pudding from Louisiana, incidentally, often incorporates bourbon. Chef Jacques’ cinnamon brandy glaze is definitely one of the finest ways of utilizing unwanted bread on the planet.
Tune in next week for the last segment of “Taste” menus … and remember to pick up those tickets!