Food

Experiencing a Jubilee For the First Time in Mobile, Alambama

Gulf Coast
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April 2015
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By
Victoria
Allman

It was four in the morning when the man running down the dock started shouting, "Jubilee! Jubilee!"

It was a sweltering August night along the shoreline of Mobile Bay, Alabama, so we had our portholes open and could hear him perfectly.

"What's that?" Patrick rolled over and crushed a pillow to his head, but I had heard rumors of such a rare phenomenon and wanted to check it out.

I threw on my clothes and hurried down the dock after the man toward the beach. Lights danced along the shoreline, illuminating the figures that had responded to the man's call.

One man, dressed in a white tank top and camouflage shorts, with the word "BAMA" stretched across the back of his ballcap, held a bucket in one hand and a flashlight on a long stick in the other. He bent down and scooped the bucket through the shallow water, using the light pole as an underwater lamp.

"What's he doing?" I asked Tom, whom I'd met the day before, as he stood in the still-warm sand watching the show.

"It's a jubilee. He's catching shrimp." Tom nodded toward the water. Standing ten feet from the shrimper, a man in the ubiquitous crimson and white colors of the region was bent at the waist picking blue crab from the shallows and tossing them into a steel wash basin. "There's a load of crabs to be had, too."

We wandered closer to the water. The shallows boiled with sea life flopping around, seemingly trying to beach themselves. In a quick scan of the area I counted a dozen flounder.

"Happens each year here on the eastern shore," Tom said, passing me his lantern and wading into the warm water. "Just before sunrise, once or twice a summer, the fish are driven to shore by a pocket of unoxygenated water. A dead zone, if you will."

"Do they die?" I asked, unsure if this was the same thing as a red tide.

Tom shook his head. "Only the ones that are caught."

He held out a four-foot stick with tines like a pitchfork on its end. "Shine the light over here, would you?" He pointed to the left where three flat, bottom-hugging flounder slithered on top of each other.

"They become real slow and sloppy because of the lack of oxygen and are easy to catch." He thrust the gig into one of the flounder and stabbed him right behind the eyes. "There's been jubilees where guys claim to have caught a hundred flounder in just an hour." He strung the flounder on a long length of wire and looped it through his belt, the fish hanging from his side like a set of keys. He speared and strung four more fish as he spoke. "Thing is, it only lasts an hour or so. As soon as the wind blows or the tide changes, mixing oxygenated water back in, the fish can breathe again and scatter back to the depths."

I looked down at the warm water lapping at my bare feet. The wild scramble of flounder, shrimp, crabs and even an eel or two was the densest concentration of sea life I'd ever seen. They were slow and staggering, almost drunk-like, through the shallows. They put up little fight at being caught.

A bell rang farther down the beach. Slowly, as the call of "Jubilee!" went out, the beach filled with people. Some arrived with casting nets, some with flounder gigs like Tom's, some with buckets. "I seen one woman out here with a laundry basket one year," Tom told me. His loop was now stretched tight, and the feathery tails of the flounder trailed though the water.

He unbuckled the wire from his belt and handed it to me. "Here, this is for you."

"Are you sure?" I asked, reminded of how much I loved the Southern spirit of generosity and hospitality.

"Sure thing, sweetie." Tom winked at me in the predawn light. "I'll get more than me and the missus can eat before the tide changes."

And sure enough, he did. Within twenty minutes, Tom's second line was full.

A slight breeze blew wisps of my hair across my face.Tom looked up and studied the sky. "That'll be the end of it."

I looked down at the water at his feet. What once was alive with squirming, squiggling fish was now noticeably stiller and less crowded.

Tom swung the forked end of his stick into the air and held it like Poseidon's trident. He patted the again-heavy string of flounder on his hip. "Good thing we got here early."

We turned and walked back up the dock as the last of the flounder retreated to deeper water.

I held up the string he had given me. "I'm glad someone called out. Thank you."

"My pleasure." The lines beside his eyes crinkled deeper. "Won't be another until next year now. Just make sure you listen for the cry of 'Jubilee!'"

Pecan-crusted Flounder with Cheesy Grits and Satsuma Salsa

This dish is great with steamed green beans, asparagus, sautéed spinach, or kale.

For the satsuma salsa:

  • 4 satsuma oranges, peeled and juiced
  • ½ shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2-4 drops hot sauce, depending on tolerance

For the flounder:

  • 6 fillets flounder, 6 ounces each
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 cups pecans, finely ground
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

For the cheesy grits:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups grits
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 cups white cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper

1. Place all ingredients for the salsa in a medium-sized bowl and stir. Taste for seasoning and set aside.

2. Season the buttermilk with salt and pepper and set in a bowl. Place the ground pecans in a bowl beside the buttermilk. Dip the top side of each flounder fillet in the buttermilk, then press that side into the pecans to coat the top of the fish. Set fillets aside.

3. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil for the grits, the garlic and shallots, and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent.

4. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add grits and stir constantly until chicken stock is evaporated. Add cream and cheese and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

5. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

6. Heat large pan over medium heat. Add the flounder fillets, pecan-crusted sides down. Season the exposed sides of the fish with salt and pepper and cook for about two minutes until nuts start to roast.

7. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 10 minutes until the fish is opaque.

8. Place a dollop of the cheesy grits in the center of each plate and lay the flounder on top, pecan-side up. Spoon salsa and its juices over the fish.

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Here's our go-to recipe for an easy batch of tortillas. Some of our favorite ingredients for stuffing inside are pantry staples black beans and rice or roasted sweet potatoes with a charred scallion crema (Greek yogurt, mayo and scallions charred on a hot skillet).

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 cup room temperature butter (Can also replace with shortening, lard or vegetable oil)
  • 7/8 to 1 cup of hot water

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Add the butter (if you're using vegetable oil, add it in step 3). Use your fingers to work the fat into the flour until it disappears.
  3. Pour in the lesser amount of hot water (plus the oil, if you're using it), and stir briskly with a fork or whisk to bring the dough together into a shaggy mass. Stir in additional water as needed to bring the dough together.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly, just until the dough forms a ball. If the dough is very sticky, gradually add abit more flour.
  5. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Round the pieces into balls, flatten slightly and allow them to rest, covered, for about 30 minutes.If you wish, coat each ball lightly in oil before covering to ensure the dough doesn't dry out.
  6. While the dough rests, preheat an ungreased cast iron griddle or skillet over medium high heat, about 400°F.
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West to East on the Connecticut Shore

MAMARONECK, NY

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Sunset Grille

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Dolphin's Cove

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Captain's Cove Seaport Restaurant, Bar & Marina

Nested in the waterfront on Black Rock Harbor, it serves battered and fried seafood and shellfish, and has a decent kids' menu. Check out lots of attractions in the area. (captainscoveseaport.com)

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Outriggers

Located at Brewer's Stratford Marina, this restaurant presents fine dining in a casual atmosphere. Sample fresh fish and other seafood delights prepared to order. (outriggersrestaurant.com)

The Chowder Spot This food truck at the boat launch ramp in Stratford Harbor dishes up the ultimate in casual grub with a fantastic waterfront view.

HOUSATONIC RIVER

(between Stratford and Milford on the Connecticut coast)

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Clam Chowder | Wikimedia Commons

Joey C's Boathouse Cantina & Grill

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Riverview Bistro

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Knapp's Landing

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Archie Moore's

Serving craft beer in a rustic atmosphere since 1898, the pub's regular patrons come for the casual vibe and nibble on the famous buffalo wings. (archiemoores.com)

7 Seas

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Stonebridge Restaurant

American fare, fresh seafood and great appetizers. Take your pick of seating in a formal dining room, lively pub or outside on the deck. (stonebridgerestaurant.com)

SBC Restaurant & Beer Hall

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Dockside Seafood & Grill

Located at Safe Harbor Marina at Bruce & Johnson's. Casual nautical atmosphere with extensive menu of seafood, pasta, and lots more. (docksidebranford.com)

Stony Creek Brewery

Head all the way up river and dock at the brewery for craft brews with a view, cocktails and hot pizza. (stonycreekbeer.com)

Nellie's

Experience casual waterfront dining on a large patio on the Branford River with a good grilled seafood menu mixed with SoCal and classic New England cuisine, topped off with craft cocktails. (nelliesbranford.com)

CLINTON

Lobster Landing

Located right on the water in Clinton Harbor, it's rumored by Yankee Magazine to have the best lobster roll in New England. (facebook.com/LobsterLandingLLC)

Rocky's Aqua

Known for its classic New England seafood and steak dishes, plus a nice waterfront view. (rockysaqua.com)

WESTBROOK

Liv's Shack

Located at the site of the former BOOM restaurant at Pilot's Point Marina and specializes in hot buttered lobster rolls, fish tacos, hamburgers and more. (livsshack.com)

Bill's Seafood

A short walk or dinghy ride brings you to Bill's at the Singing Bridge. The seafood shack serves fried fish, lobster rolls and chowder on an outdoor deck. Kids love to throw French fries to the gulls and ducks. (billsseafood.com)

OLD SAYBROOK

Fresh Salt

Enjoy fine dining of locally sourced produce, seafood and meats at the Saybrook Point Resort & Marina for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (saybrook.com/eat-drink/fresh-salt)

Note: Head up the Connecticut River to discover other interesting restaurants such as The Griswold Inn in Essex (griswoldinn.com) and The Blue Oar in Haddam (blueoarct.wixsite.com/ctrestaurants) where you can BYOB, tablecloth and candles.

NEW LONDON

Fred's Shanty

Locals love this classic destination for seafood take out with picnic tables on the water. (freds-shanty.com)

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Fisherman and lobsters | Osvaldo Escobar on Unsplash

On the Waterfront Restaurant & Bar

Relax in casual elegance while dining on Italian-influenced seafood and steaks with stellar views of the Thames River. (onthewaterfrontnl.com)

Muddy Waters Cafe

Come here for coffees, baked goods, and breakfast or lunch options. It's home of the famous Love Salad, a generous Italian antipasto-type salad with garlic bread. Closest access by water is at the dinghy dock by the town moorings. (muddywaterscafenl.com)

Note: Visit the eastern end where Long Island Sound meets Fisher's Island Sound. In Fisher's Island Sound, head up the Mystic River to find Abbott's Lobster in the Rough (abbottslobster.com), Red 36 (red36ct.com) and lots of restaurants in downtown Mystic by the Bascule Bridge. Also explore Stonington's many culinary offerings including Breakwater (breakwaterstonington.com) and Dog Watch Café (dogwatchcafe.com/cafe).

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