I spent last Saturday morning the same way I spend most Saturday mornings: I shopped at Fernandina Beach Market Place, the local farmers market. Sure, you can call me old and predictable if you like but, hey, it’s my job. As many of y’all know, I lead a class through our farmers market every Saturday. As we stroll through the booths and stalls, I frequently pause the group to point out purveyors who, in turn, offer samples and praise the virtues of their products. And believe you me, this little farmers market has amazingly delicious items to sample and purchase, many of which are unique to Northeast Florida. No purveyor is more rare in a farmers market setting, however, than local shrimpers. How cool is this? Only in Fernandina can you see a shrimp boat selling just-out-of-the-net fresh catch at a farmers’ market! I believe it’s among the best spots to get shrimp in the whole region.
On Saturday morning, the Chessers haul coolers full of fresh shrimp from boat to market. They usually sell out by 11 a.m., so most locals order ahead just to be on the safe side. I always stop to chat with Debbie and Eddie (BTW, not a fan of Eddie’s Steelers hat) and show off the giant, head-on, incredibly fresh shellfish to my astonished students. Would you believe most people have never seen whole, head-on, fresh shrimp? Yep, we’re really spoiled here—not only do we have the Jags, but the world’s best shrimp!
Last Saturday, they saw something unexpected: squid. As I was showing off a couple of shrimp to my tour, I saw a fisherman filling a bag with fresh squid for a customer. I had to ask about that squid. Seems they apparently brought some squid with them by mistake and this gentleman was buying them up.
The customer was a Sysco rep and upon seeing my interest, and my chef’s coat, he graciously offered me a pound of the gorgeous cephalopods to mess with, or maybe Chef-Up a bit. What a great guy!
When it comes to squid or calamari, most people have had them only as a fried appetizer. I’ve certainly served and eaten tons of these and, honestly, that’s my favorite way to enjoy the little delicacies of the deep. They’re wonderful when stuffed with chorizo and braised as the Spanish do, or stuffed with vegetables, pinenuts and raisins, and grilled Sicilian-style, or maybe just fried, with a cold beer on the side, American-style. Here’s a soba noodle salad with peanut dressing that served as a little bed for my version of spicy semolina-coated calamari. A few hot cherry peppers on top are a sit-up-and-take-notice finishing touch.
Chef Bill’s Soba Noodle Salad
• 1 lb. soba noodles
• 1 jalapeno, fine julienne
• 1 cup carrots, fine julienne
• 1 cup daikon, regular julienne
• 1 cup napa, regular julienne
• 3/4 cup shiitake mushrooms, regular julienne
1. Cook, drain, oil and cool noodles.
2. Mix vegetables with soba noodles; dress lightly with peanut dressing.
Peanut Dressing Ingredients
• 2 Tbsp. peanut butter
• 1-1/2 limes, zested and juiced
• 3 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
• 2 Tbsp. honey
• 1 Tbsp. garlic, paste
• 1-1/2 Tbsp. ginger, grated
• 1 Tbsp. fish sauce
• 1/2 tsp. red curry paste
• 1 tsp. sesame oil
• 2 tsp. vegetable oil
• 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Peanut Dressing Directions
1. Sweat garlic, ginger and curry paste in the oils.
2. Stir in the rest of the ingredients except the cilantro.
3. Remove from heat, blend with emulsion blender, cool.
4. Add cilantro, adjust seasoning and consistency.
Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina’s Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at email@example.com, for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up!