I was recently asked where “home is.” My answer is not complicated, but neither is it simple. My father was in the petrochemical industry all of my youth, so we traveled — a lot. New Jersey, St. Louis, Baton Rouge and Switzerland, to name some of our “homes.” Then I chose to live in Lafayette and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, again for college and career. The best part of these travels is that I learned a sense of adventure. And, I learned a sense of local cuisine. We all have our indigenous and inherited local recipes and favorites. In my first few visits to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I realized that smoked tuna dip is one of the local favorites! I am not sure how it came to be, but when I asked David Bull with Bernie’s if he smoked his tuna in-house, he told me the recipe was such a secret that, if he told me, he’d have to kill me. Now that’s serious tuna dip!
My first visit with my son Nick to visit schools and potential homes brought us to On the Half Shell in Gulfport. We ordered the smoked tuna dip. To this day, it is his favorite. Highly smoky, silky smooth and served with captain’s wafers. They will bring French bread, though, if you ask! We vowed to order the house smoked tuna dip at every stop, so we could determine the best on the Coast.
A few months later, I stopped in at Bernie’s for lunch. Amazingly, they offered Smoked Tuna Dip. (But don’t ask for the recipe!) I tried it, and it is one of my favorites to this day. Not quite as smoky as the dip at On the Half Shell, but very silky and is served with Melba toast. This is truly my favorite combo, and I stop in frequently to get some to go! I got an extra order to go, and brought it home to Nick. His favorite is still On the Half Shell. Could it be because it was his first “tuna dip love?”
One Sunday, after church, we stopped in for brunch at Bull’s in Long Beach. Not one to let anything slip by me, I asked if the owners were related to David Bull with Bernie’s. Not surprisingly, David’s brother and sister-in-law, John and Lisa, own and manage Bull’s. (I contend that Kevin Bacon’s 6 degrees of separation theory does not apply to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. There is typically only one degree of separation here!) Thus, we ordered the smoked tuna dip, and not surprisingly, it was very similar to Bernie’s, all the way down to the Melba toast. So, I had to ask the question, and asked if it was a family recipe. I was told that the recipe was their father’s, and if he told me, he’d have to kill me. It must run in the family!
Our final stop on today’s trail — although, I could go on forever — is The Reef. One of Rob Stinson’s new additions to Biloxi Beach with fabulous views, offered a very different smoked tuna dip. This one is chunky and spicy. A very different texture than any of the others we had tried. And, this dip was great with tortilla chips!
My favorite shopping experience is the Pass Christian Harbor fish markets. I typically stop in to Kimball’s and get whatever Darlene tells me came in today. On such a lucky day, she had some this-morning-fresh mahi-mahi. In addition to several other prime choices, I brought it home and grilled it for some visiting relatives. What was left became a smoked mahi-mahi dip the next day.
Did I make you hungry for some tuna dip? No worries, I’ll share my recipe (and I won’t have to kill you)! Enjoy.
Pass Harbor smoked tuna dip
2 pounds fresh and locally-caught tuna or mahi-mahi trimmed of all skin and bones
Applewood smoked salt and freshly ground black pepper to coat
½ small onion, grated
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 cup Mayonnaise
½ cup Dijon mustard
Rice vinegar add dashes until you reach the texture you prefer. I like mine silky, but not watery.
Melba toast, tortilla chips and or French bread slices for serving.
Coat clean grill grates with peanut or coconut oil. Preheat grill to 400o
Coat mahi-mahi with salt and pepper on both sides. Place on grill and leave untouched until browned evenly. Flip and do the same on the second side. The fish is nicely done at 135o much warmer and it will be dry.
Once cooled, shred the fish with two forks, and the remaining ingredients and mix well. Adjust flavor with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve immediately with a light craft beer from the Coast or Pinot Grigio. Cheers!
Renée Areng joined Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast as the Executive Director in August 2014. She resides in Pass Christian with her husband, Jason, and son, Nicholas. When she’s not cooking coastal recipes, she enjoys being out on the water enjoying the beautiful Mississippi Gulf Coast!