|Sea pork, Aplidium stellatum, seen at Bald Point State Park, Florida, on January 8, 2011|
We Sea Pork
Sea creatures on the beach
Are messing up the sand
They squish beneath our feet in shoes
Where SAM and I will stand
We find one called sea pork
In colors that astound
And would not be surprised at all
If dinner may be found
WAIT! (They say)...
We're tunicates, you see,
And filtering's our thing!
If bathtubs were where we lived
There would not be a ring!
Okay, so we passed on the sea pork and stopped on the way back to Tallahassee at a seafood market. The grouper and some large gulf shrimp looked way more appetizing than those blobs of cellulose we found washed up on the beach. According to my beach guide, Florida's Living Beaches (A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber), written by Blair and Dawn Witherington, tunicates and humans share some early development characteristics: gill slits, a rigid notochord, and a hollow nerve cord. In fact, sea pork is in the phylum Chordata along with birds, fish, and humans. We're all just one big, happy phylum!
The larval tunicates look like tadpoles and swim freely before they settle down with each other to form colonies of zooids and attach themselves to something in the sea. Then they secrete that tough cellulose--tunic--that wraps them up together and protects them as adults. All warm and snuggly now, they go to work filtering water that ebbs and flows past them with the tide, eating nearly all of the bacteria (95% or so) in the water. Too bad that secret information didn't get passed on to their big, hairy relatives--humans. We're pretty good at creating a septic problem but not so efficient at cleaning it up. You'd think we'd know better by now.
Here's how I fixed those grouper filets:
Dip fish filets (rinsed and dried with paper towel) in flour mixed with salt and herbs. Turn to coat both sides. Then dip in egg beaten together with about 1/2 cup half-and-half. Coat thoroughly with egg mixture. Finally, place filets in finely chopped pecans and turn over to cover both sides with the nuts. Pan fry in several tablespoons of olive oil heated to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit--177 C-- (if the oil is too hot the nuts might burn). Turn as each side browns. Fish is done when it flakes easily.