The Gulf Coast is a melange of cultures, each bringing its proverbial pots of traditions and merging over centuries. Along with generations of fishers, shrimpers and oyster farmers, the region created one of the country’s most unique and admired culinary canons. The Gulf has one certainty even when times are low: As sure as the sea and sky roil, the gumbo will boil.
Creole cooking's cornerstone. Metaphorical stew mirrors Gulf’s mixed cultures. Best versions have chocolate-colored roux as the base, okra or filé powder for thickener, and plenty of oysters, crab and shrimp.
Come spring, pots spill spicy combo of crawfish, potatoes, corn and sausage onto newspaper-covered tables. Cajun tradition using crustacean long consumed by Native tribes. Vietnamese revolutionized formula with tear-jerking heat, garlic butter.
West Indies Salad
Credited to Mobile Bay-area restaurant owner Bill Bayley, who as a merchant mariner in the Caribbean picked up idea for chilled salad of crabmeat with oil, vinegar and sliced onion.
Oysters cooked over a fire (sometimes broiled or baked) in shell with some combo of butter, cheese, breadcrumbs and herbs. Go by the names of Bienville, Rockefeller, etc.
An Italian-American innovation easily adapted to wherever immigrants and their progeny settled. On the Gulf, shrimp are swaddled in lemon-garlic sauce over nest of spaghetti.
Unctuous bottom-feeder filets smoked and whipped up with mayo (sometimes cream cheese too), pickle relish, celery, green onions, lemon and hot sauce. Served with saltines.
Not to be confused with deviled crab. These croquettes come from Cuban community Ybor City, Florida. Blue crab meat simmered with spicy sofrito sauce, shaped into footballs and deep-fried.
Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme’s watershed creation so popular in ’70s it caused closing of Gulf’s fishery for species to recover. Butter-dipped filets coated in dried herbs and spices form almost-burnt crust in ripping-hot skillet.
Oft-seen in Florida’s Greek restaurants. Tentacles grilled till suction cups are charred and meat tender. Served with olive oil with oregano, garlic and squeeze of lemon.
A Spanish classic. Short-grain bomba rice simmers in a wide, shallow paella-specific pan with olive oil, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, spices and white wine. Clams, shrimp, mussels and scallops work best.