Florida Foods: Why is Fort Lauderdale Hooked on Fish Dip?

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​When I first got here, one of many questions in my loop had been what the hell is smoked fish dip and why do people here eat it?  

I'm not talking about what you might come across in a deli like Lox Haven, though what I'm looking for is certainly a cousin. 

Served with a side of spicy relish and mild Jalapeno Tabasco, the dish in question is the ice cream scoop that's made with smoked kingfish, mahi mahi, or mullet- the really redneck version.

I didn't get it. How does a beautiful fish that's ruined with mayo make its way into so many restaurants?

I started my search on the Florida's Signature Dish thread of the local Chowhound board, 
where one member lovingly described the state's cooking as "cracker cuisine."  Fifth generation Floridian SouthernSteele recalled how her family "makes the best smoked fish spread with horseradish fried snook."  

The Chowhound thread reminded me of the first time I had an oyster roast. Despite that I am an oyster fan, I'd never been to one until I spent a Thanksgiving with a boyfriend's Mississippi family, whose tradition is to buy a bushel from the Gulf. Roasted and covered with wet burlap until they open their shells, oysters are served on a Saltine with horseradish and cocktail sauce. Why no baguette, I wondered aloud. Apparently it's sacrilege. No raw ones. No mignonette. I was learning another's region's traditions.

Just as roasted oysters are an accessible, familial way of eating them, smoked fish dip is a  Floridan comfort food. "It's super local," said Riverside Market owner Julian Siegel, a local and an avid fisherman. "It's something your mom made."

For those who've never had it, here's how I'm told you eat smoked fish dip. Unwrap Saltines. Spread a tablespoon or so on said cracker. Top fish with relish, then add a dash of Tabasco. Shove the whole thing in your mouth. Repeat. It's a fun process that's kind of Dagwoodian. Having to assemble every bite makes me feel like a kid. 

"This isn't something to get fancy with," said Coconuts' owner, Eliot Wolf, Florida native and one of the restaurant's chefs. "You make it the way your family did, because it reminds you of home." 
 
"What's this?" I asked the server as I ate smoked fish dip at Coconuts on Monday. I pointed to a pliant piece of something about an inch long that looked like peach tape.

"It's skin." Initially I was disturbed, but it was kind of funky and delicious, akin to a thin rind from an aged cheese. Coconuts' smoked fish dip is line-caught mahi, Miracle Whip, mustard, and thyme. I was a little sad about the pile of Saltines served with a tall glass for wrappers, since I so wanted to spread it on crusty bread.  

Coconuts' version has sold me on smoked fish dip, though I savored it as much for the back story. I also tend to appreciate bites I have to work for and put together. I liked Wolf's in particular because of his house-made jalapeno and pickled relish. I can't help but wonder how his dip would taste with less mayo, perhaps homemade a la minute. But tradition is tradition.

Which restaurants make the best smoked fish dip? Or is there little variation?


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John L.
John L.

Blue Marlin smokes their own. Located just West of Oleda River Park in Miami. Make a day of it. 

Le Tub is great too. Fits the vibe. 

FLLPam
FLLPam

Big Al at Southport Raw Bar taught me the best way to eat it...saltine, shmear of dip, slice of jalapeno and a few shakes of chipotle Tabasco.  Delicious.

Jeannie
Jeannie

Floridians are such low-lifes. Good grief.

freakerdude
freakerdude

The Blue Marlin Fish House in Miami was featured on D3, so it must be good.

fishdipper
fishdipper

at the Whale's Rib in Deerfield beach

Joe
Joe

Hellman's obviously would be better

DelrayFoodie
DelrayFoodie

My two favorites in South Florida are Calypso in Pompano and Tryst in Delray. I despise mayo so I am VERY picky about what fish dip I will eat. It has to be almost soley chunks of actual smoked fish and very little "dressing". These two fit that bill.

DelrayFoodie
DelrayFoodie

Also - use cream cheese - not mayo. For starters, mayo is too thin. Secondly, it has little actual flavor. Cream Cheese tastes richer and makes for a thicker creamier texture.

So yes, you will find a TON of variation. The crap is loaded with mayo and fish pureed so fine you can't even see it. The good stuff is chunky and thick.

Howie
Howie

I'm learning so much. Do you prefer saltines or tollhouse crackers?

MelissaMcCart
MelissaMcCart

Thanks for this. I'm excited to try more. versions of it.  I wonder if anyone is going Greek and using plain Greek yogurt?

DelrayFoodie
DelrayFoodie

Hmmm Greek yogurt fish dip - that sounds interesting. Next time my pals down in Key Largo load up on Kingfish, I'll have to smoke some up and give that idea a try.

Myvote
Myvote

tarks smoked fish dip is king.

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