The holidays are in full swing at Florida's Gaylord Palms Resort, where most of the destination has been transformed into an indoor Christmas theme park through events like "I Love Christmas Movies," a walk-through interactive experience highlighting classic films and the Snow Factory, an indoor ice-tubing and snowball-throwing center.
But for those who want to incorporate fine dining into their holiday celebrations, MOOR, a restaurant within the resort that focuses on fresh and local ingredients, is serving up some fresh holiday flavors that can also be re-created from home.
At MOOR, which stands for Mindful of our Resources, guests can dine on a sailboat overlooking the Gaylord Palms' holiday lights and decorations, and the menu, which includes fresh local seafood, makes for an indulgent treat.
At a recent visit to MOOR, I tried the smoked fish dip, a staple where I live in Florida, that was taken up a notch by the restaurant, both in flavor and plating: The dip is served alongside freshly made crackers and honeycombs from the Gaylord's own beehives and vegetables pickled in-house.
The dish seemed like a perfect dish for those who celebrate the Italian-American Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, or even a nice holiday appetizer for those who don't.
So, I chatted with John Janucik, executive chef at the Gaylord Palms, about fish dip, why it's a Florida thing and how to make it.
Janucik says smoked fish dip originated in the southern parts of Florida: regions like the Florida Keys and the city of Miami.
"I'm from up north, and there are different species of fish there like black cod, salmon, striped bass and flounder," said Janucik. "Those types of species don't necessarily make a great fish dip. But down here, we have grouper and mahi-mahi, more flaky fish that have a consistency that's better for a dip."
Janucik says at Florida fishing wharfs, pieces of fish left from butchering fresh catches were often thrown together to make a cold dip, something that was more palatable than hot dishes in the Florida heat.
"It's a refreshing type of appetizer that you can share and it's good with pretty much anything," said Janucik. "You can go out with your friends for beers and order smoked fish dip or you can elevate it like we're trying to do at MOOR. It's almost like the antipasti of Florida."
"Up north, you've got cheese plates and farm-to-table dining," Janucik added, "but fish dip is kind of our Florida go-to antipasti where you can put it with charcuterie or you can do it with a seafood platter."
Janucik's in-laws are Italian, so the chef often creates seafood dishes for his own family's Feast of the Seven Fishes.
"I always do a smoked fish dip," he said. "We'll do a little seafood antipasti as one of our dishes."
But the chef has a clear favorite when it comes to ways he suggests serving fish dip.
"I like to serve it with something a little spicy," said Janucik. "You've got the creaminess of the dip, maybe some capers for saltiness, the smokiness of the fish and then you put some Fresno peppers on there so you've got a little heat — it's the umami of all the different flavors going on."