Spice of Life: Fresh fish and a little wisdom from Carawan’s Seafood

Thirty-eight years ago, Christina Brodeur and Bob Eckard’s family purchased Carawan Seafood Company from the original owners, the Carawan family. Knowing nothing about the seafood business, Christina and Bob’s mother, and eventually the rest of the family, set about operating what is now a landmark of our OBX community. Carawan’s is like a friendly next-door neighbor: always there with a smile and some yummy stuff to share. Picking up fresh catches from the docks in Wanchese every other day (sometimes daily in the summer), Carawan’s feeds our seafood cravings year-round.

The rough but charming building, riddled with character, is most folk’s first stop when they land on this side of the bridge and many pass through on their way out, too, happy to bring a bit of the beach back home with them. What is Carawan Seafood offering? Today, cobia, Spanish mackerel, tilefish, and softshell crabs are in season so that’s what they’ve got, among a few other local options as well as cod and salmon that are shipped in to meet our needs. You’ll also find fresh, local, often organic produce, and lots of little North Carolina odds and ends to help you complete your experience: grits, spices, sauces, and wine and beer courtesy of Sanctuary Vineyards, Weeping Radish, and Foothills Brewery.

Just as valuable as the fresh, local goods are the tips you can pick up on a visit to Carawan’s. Don’t be shy with your questions, Christina, Bob, and crew have answers for you. Do I need to clean these mussels before cooking them? No! They’re squeaky clean already, just simmer them until they open.

I’m feeding ten people, how much fish do I need? Half a pound per person! Get 4 to 5 pounds to feed your group well. I want to try cooking whole fish, do you have it here? Yes! Stuff it with lemon and herbs and roast it on the grill till its firm. On one occasion, Bob even sent me home with the fish he was saving for his own dinner that evening, and instructions on how to prepare it. Now, that’s a good neighbor, and that’s Carawan’s Seafood for you.

While chatting about Carawan’s and things we love to eat, Christina introduced me to an uncommon recipe for tuna: slather it with BBQ sauce and bake it. Really…? Hmmm. Well, I have faith in simple things and I was curious. I bought a couple pieces of fresh, pink tuna, grabbed a bag of jalapeño cheddar grits made in Wilmington, N.C., and went home to cook. I took Christina’s suggestion to use a simple honey BBQ sauce, like Sweet Baby Ray’s, tossed the tuna in it, and popped it in a 350-degree F. oven for 20 minutes. With that tucked away, I got to work on the grits; no work here really, just boiling some water and whisking in the grits, simmering until the tuna finishes cooking. Because I like a little caramelization whenever I can get it, I flipped the oven to broil for the last few minutes, to really bubble and sizzle the tops of the tuna.

To plate this private little party for myself, I spooned a big helping of grits in the center of the plate, topped it with a piece of tuna, and that’s it. The flavors here are clean and simple; you can taste the freshness of the tuna, the tang of the sauce, and the bite of the jalapeño in the grits. I admit, sometimes I get too far away from “clean and simple” in my cooking. In an attempt to make things new, creative, and nuanced, sometimes my best efforts result in slightly muddled flavor and nothing particularly special comes through.

Well, friends, when faced with tuna, shellfish, or any seafood from our gorgeous waters, take it easy, reign yourself in a bit, and keep it simple. All you really need is the fresh fish, a sauce or a spice, and some cheesy grits. Then, settle in for a serene moment of enjoying the bounty of our waters and appreciation for the easy beauty of the OBX.

Let’s close with a bit a friendly advice, shall we? On the sign perched high above this Kitty Hawk touchstone, scrawled in blue and white paint, are the words, “Eat fish, live longer.”

In a place like this, with neighbors like Carawan’s, you just can’t argue with that.

Megan Scott is co-owner of The Spice & Tea Exchange of Duck, 1171 Duck Road in the Scarborough Lane Shoppes. Check out her food blog, ServingTonight.com.