Whether going out to the islands with friends and family to enjoy a few cold ones and some fresh conch with key lime; freediving on the patch reefs and wrecks; or going for a wassa (grouper) under the roots in the mangrove islands being out on the water has always been a passion of mine. The air is warm but the ocean is still a little crisp. Many dive year round here in the Keys but for the Conchs (Key West Natives) the majority wait until April to get back in the water.
As kids, my friend Eric and I would go out on his 12’ homemade wooden boat to patch reefs in about 10’ to 15’ of water about 200 yards offshore of South Roosevelt Boulevard. We would fill the deck of the boat with gray snapper, grouper, lobsters, and my favorite – hogfish. In my teen years we would be in the boat every day after school till the sun was down or even later. I bet we checked under almost every rock from Boca Grande to American Shoal. It was pretty amazing free diving thirty feet deep as kids. Eric and many other conch friends of mine dive a lot deeper still to this day. I, being a chef, am a little more buoyant than I used to be! These days I need tanks and weights in order to get to the bottom but still enjoy it as much as I did the first time I went out.
I think the best part of the spring is when you come back from that first dive trip of the year. You’re sunburnt and exhausted but have such delicious fresh fish to enjoy it makes it all worthwhile. One of my favorite ways to prepare hogfish is not a traditional Key West recipe but I’ve managed to Cubanize it just right. I call it Hogfish Key Lime Piccata. It has it’s own identity. It’s nothing like a traditional piccata and not Cuban enough to be Cuban but it’s simply delicious.
Hogfish Key Lime Piccata
• 1 Hogfish filet
• ½ cup flour
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 button mushrooms sliced thinly
• 1 tablespoon capers
• 2 oz key lime juice
• 4 oz white wine
• 1 tablespoon whole butter
• Sea salt to taste
• Fresh ground black pepper
Preheat a medium sized sauce pan. Season fish filet with salt and pepper then dredge in flour. Add the olive oil to the pan then sauté the fish filet. Once you flip your filet add your mushrooms and capers. Turn down to medium high heat and sauté for about a minute. Then add your white wine and key lime juice. Reduce all liquid by ½ then remove fish filet (make sure that it is completely cooked). Turn off heat and add your whole butter and stir until the butter