I love fish spread. And I want you to love it, too.
Now that my motives are clear, I hope you’ll read on for “Splashy Ventures’ guide to Fish Spread” – my extensively researched (and taste-tested) manifesto for fully enjoying this Florida favorite.
Below you’ll find a dash of history, a restaurant and retail “hit list” for the best places to get fish spread and recipes for making your own. (If you’ve crafted a winner, there’s even a list of contests to show off your masterpiece – or sample everyone else’s.)
Let’s dive in!
Where & When Did Fish Spread Start?
The popular history of smoke fish spread starts with Ted Peters. While it’s unclear whether Ted Peters was the first local to turn smoked fish into a spread/dip, he’s certainly one of its earliest (and most important) aficionados.
Ted was a bit of a visionary. After WWII. he took the fish-smoking process from out of sight in the backwoods and backyard to “out in front,” where he bet the smoking process would catch both the eyes and noses of passersby. He was right – and smoked fish fast became a thing.
Ted’s original fish smoking location opened in the late 1940’s. By 1951, the current Ted Peter’s Famous Smoked Fish restaurant was up and running, and neither smoked fish nor Ted Peters ever looked back.
The Peters family business really was a true family affair. “Mom” created the German potato salad recipe and baked pies. Ellen Peters created the fish spread recipe. And five generations later, and the same family is synonymous with fish spread. It’s an endeavor that is near and dear to all involved – and you can definitely taste their dedication.
Visit their website for a more complete history, media mentions (like Diners Drive-ins and Dives!) and short videos on the fish smoking process.
The Smoked Fish Spread of Today
Today, smoked fish spread (or dip) can be found on many a Florida restaurant menu, and is made from fish types ranging from mullet to amberjack to mahi-mahi to kingfish. Generally, the oilier the fish, the better. This is because the oil in the fish helps it withstand the lengthy smoking process without drying out.
Fish spread often features celery, scallions and mayonnaise and is always accompanied by crackers (Saltines, Club, or both). Favorite toppings—if any—include jalapeños, bell pepper, capers, or relish.
One of the many pleasures of fish spread is sampling your way through the many different versions our restaurants have on offer. Most commonly, fish spread is served as an appetizer—the perfect introduction to authentic Floridian dining.
Toppings—if any—include jalapeños, bell pepper, capers, or relish. One of the many pleasures of fish spread is sampling your way through the many different versions our restaurants have on offer.
For a more detailed dive into the smoked fish experience, check out this awesome post from Authentic Florida and Visit Sarasota.
If I’ve kept your attention this long, your next question is bound to be:
Where Can I Eat Smoked Fish Spread?
The fish spread at all the restaurants below is worth sampling! We’ve grouped the restaurants by town so you’ll have a handy list when you’re out and about.
Quite a few of these spots are in our 3 Day Dining Guide to Gulfport, so check out that post too.
St Petersburg / South Pasadena
Where Can I Buy Smoked Fish Spread?
Once you’ve tried fish spread in a restaurant, you’re likely to want to have some on hand at home for lunch or late-night snacks.
Of course, you can always order fish spread to-go from the above restaurants. But sometimes you want to really load up. If that’s the case, try these suppliers:
Fish spread is important enough to this family-owned business that it has dedicated a webpage to it. Created in 2012, the Offshore Seafood take on the spread is wild caught mahi-mahi smoked over real hickory wood logs, blended with top-of-the-line ingredients and sold to local restaurants, distributors, and directly to consumers.
And not to worry – if you get hooked, they can ship to you overnight!
The fish is smoked on the premises and there are three varieties to choose from! Amberjack plain, Amberjack with jalapeno and Salmon.
If you’re hitting the local supermarket, pick up Smilin’ Bob’s Original Smoked Fish Dip or Smilin’ Bob’s All-Natural Smoked Fish Dip (both from the Key West Smoked Fish Co.) A family owned business with fish spread made right in the Keys. Read their story here and find out why Bob is smilin’.
It used to be that this well-respected business sold only to restaurants, stores, and resorts—not directly to consumers. But luckily, there’s now a storefront at 4921 9th Ave S in Gulfport where you can stock up. As Gulf Coast Seafood likes to say, you can’t get any closer to fresh unless you pull it out of the water yourself!
Buy smoked fish spread by the half pint, pint or quart from the guy who made it famous. (Good to know: the business is cash only.)
How to Make Your Own Fish Spread
The logical next step in your “fish spread evolution” is to make it at home. For that, you’ll need some fresh smoked fish (see Ted Peters, Gulf Coast Seafood or Mid Peninsula Seafood above) and a great recipe.
Here are some of our at-home favorites. We’ve tasted them all, and we stand by ‘em!
Smoked Mullet Dip from Authentic Florida and Caroline Chambliss
Smoked Fish Dip from Allrecipes
Smoked Fish Dip from Food Network
Last but not least, here’s a lengthy mouth-watering collection of recipes from Salt Strong. (Warning: don’t view it on an empty stomach!)
Where Can I Compete with My Fish Spread (or Taste Local Recipes)?
And finally, if after all this you love fish spread as much as I do, there’s only one thing left to do. Enter a fish spread contest! Or at least attend one and taste test your way through local favorites.
Old Salt Foundation Fish Spread Contest
It would be well worth 5 minutes of your time to read about the Old Salt Fishing Foundation and learn about the foundation’s mission as well as where the name “Old Salt” comes from. Hint: it is not a reference to salty old fisherman.
The Old Salt Fish Spread Contest will be in its 9th year in November 2018. Registration is $10 per entry and qualifies you for both Judges and Peoples Choice Awards. Additional rules can be found on the contest website.
I can’t think of a better way to get your fish spread game on. And to those who decide to enter the contest, may the fish spread force be with you.