Far-flung tourists and South Florida locals mingle in the Sea Salt Fish Market display case like it’s the Miami International departures lounge. The particular guests change regularly, but on one day Faroe Island salmon and crab legs from the Bering Sea might mingle with grouper from Pompano and pompano from Dania. On a shelf nearby, locally made fish dips and sauces share space with interesting condiments. Shop workers – primarily a collection of chefs and keen fishermen – stand ready to explain how you might want to prepare it if it all seems too daunting.
At Sea Salt, they also create custom orders, and chefs in the shop’s kitchen prepare full meals. But if you want to take home something and have a culinary saltwater voyage yourself, they’re there to help. Owner Amy Johnson finds that customers are often curious and willing to try something new – both in terms of what they buy and how they prepare it. During the coronavirus shutdown, she says, that came to the fore in an even greater way – with everybody eating at home, even more people were interested in learning new dishes. It’s a trend that she hopes continues.
For Johnson, that mixture of products and services – far-flung or caught mere miles away, do-it-yourself or fully prepared – is part of the fun of the fish market.
“I’ve lived in a lot of places, and I’ve loved going to the ports, the fish markets,” Johnson says. When she moved to Fort Lauderdale, she found a couple good local places to buy fresh fish. But for a water-centric, seafood-loving city, she didn’t find as many as she thought she would. The former American Express executive had never worked in the seafood industry before, but she felt like the background the global credit giant gave her in customer service would serve her well. And anyway, in Fort Lauderdale it’s always possible to find workers who know about and care about good seafood. Shop staffers, she says, know about fish, talk about fish and sometimes leave work and head straight out to do some fishing.
That’s useful because on a day-to-day basis, there’s a lot of fish to deal with.
“We get inventory in every day,” Johnson says. Because it’s a small shop, they don’t buy massive quantities of any one fish. That adds a flexibility to what they can carry, and it also helps make that daily ordering work better.
“It forces you to be hyper hyper hyper focused on fresh,” she says.
She never wanted the place to be a restaurant, but she did know she wanted a commercial kitchen. Within several months of opening in December 2018, she could see that decision was going to pay off. In addition to coming in for supplies, many customers were stopping by for fully prepared meals. Several months in, she introduced a takeout menu. She hadn’t originally guessed it would be a Taco Tuesday kind of place, but you learn as you go.
She also prides the shop on not only stocking obvious choices, particularly when it comes to local fish. Sure, they sell perennial South Florida favorites like grouper and swordfish. But Johnson makes a point of carrying less popular – but, she says, quite tasty – fish that get caught in the waters off Fort Lauderdale. The golden tilefish is one. And then there’s the humble barrelfish.
“They are not attractive and very slimy looking,” Johnson says. “But they’re delicious.”
The Dish: Sea Salt Fish Market’s Blackened Mahi Tacos
(serves 4; 3 tacos per serving)
For the tacos
- 2 lbs fresh mahi, skin off
- 1/2 cup blackening seasoning (We like The Spice Lab’s Blackened Seasoning. It’s a local company!)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 12 flour tortillas
- 1 cup romaine lettuce, chopped
- 1 cup red cabbage, shredded
- 1/4 cup red onion, chopped
- 3/4 cup Roma tomatoes, chopped
For the chipotle lime sauce
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 small lime, juiced and zested
- 1 small chipotle pepper in adobo
- 1/4 tsp cumin
Combine all sauce ingredients in a food processor and refrigerate. Over medium-high heat, warm olive oil in pan on stovetop. Cut mahi into 12 strips and cover both sides with blackening seasoning.
Cook mahi for about 4 minutes per side or until it reaches an internal temperature of 145° F. Set aside.
Heat tortillas in the same pan until lightly browned. Then it’s time to assemble your tacos! Place cabbage directly onto tortilla. Top with romaine lettuce. Drizzle with chipotle lime sauce. Place mahi on top of sauce and sprinkle with red onion and tomato.
Devour and enjoy!