Local Fish Economics, Fried Grunt

One of the stops on our Saturday morning grocery shopping trip was the Milhopper Northwest Seafood, the best seafood market in town as far as I’m concerned. It’s the only seafood market where you can ask where the fish is from and they actually know. I never understood why we’re in the middle of Florida, surrounded by the ocean, and yet so little of the seafood we eat in restaurants and available in grocery stores is from Florida fisherman. I was eyeing the whole fish in the front counter and asked one of the guys behind the counter about the fish, and it turned out to be the fisherman who had caught the fish just two days before!

I asked a dozen questions, but the most interesting answers were about price. Contrary to what I thought, grouper isn’t expensive because it’s hard to catch. Grouper is relatively easy to catch. Grouper is expensive because it’s desirable. It’s a big fish with white flesh and few bones. Same with mahi and snapper… that’s why they’re more expensive than mullet or catfish. They sell for more money because they can. So I decided to try something new, a smaller fish that’s less “desirable” and therefore less expensive. I bought a whole grunt for $3.99 a pound and had it gutted and scaled.

Nom nom nom nom Fishy!

I decided to cook it for a special Sunday lunch. I love the whole fried tilapia at La Tienda so I thought I’d try it. I simply deep-fried it in peanut oil until the flesh started pulling away from the bones. And wow! It was delicious! The grunt has soft white flesh, flaky and mild. One fish was exactly enough for me and my son, for more people we’d need more fish. We ate it with a simple Creole remoulade.

Here’s the thing, though. One grunt was a little more than $8 and only fed two people because it’s mostly bones. We’d need at least two to feed all five of us. On the other hand, one pound of boneless fish fillet might cost $8-$11 per pound, but one pound will feed all five of us. ( Well, technically 4, since one kid doesn’t like fish). I don’t think I’m going to flinch at those prices for fish any more.

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