The return from Key West is always a hard reentry. At least I wasn’t Mark Wiss, who returned to Newport! Hi, Mark, how’s the snow?!

But it’s cold. And I’m alone in my office and not with the sailors who are all so much fun. Really, it’s kind of like being in college again, all the diligent work during the day and drunken camaraderie at night (ok, maybe just the latter plus sailing), and good food. Spaceman Spiff came in second to My Shirona in the J-111 class, alas, but a good show in all.

I relive the glorious days through the food, so, for posterity, the menu:

The first full day is rough, as we’re all rather, um, exuberant when we reach Key West the night before, and so with woolly brain, I and Russ and Zakiya do the first big shopping run to get the house set up for cooking. A modest $1300 grocery bill and 5 carts’ worth of food, 2 cases of wine, and several cases of beer (see list in previous post).

I began simple, slow-roasting 80 chicken wings (below) in the oven for a few hours then tossing them in store-bought BBQ and jerk sauces, then finishing on the grill. Couldn’t resist throwing some sausages on the grill as well, brats, cooked some Rancho Gordo cassoulet beans finished in bacon fat (it is a kind of deconstructed Key Westy cassoulet-ish meal, now that I think about it). Salad, too.


Next night, rack of lamb, which I undercooked by 5 degrees but which was still good, plus curried rice, grilled asparagus, and salad.

Sunday was fish taco night, always a favorite. Freshly caught grouper from that lovely little seafood shop on Eaton. Cooked by grill masters Doug and Jim, aka Dim, and served with lettuce, avocado, roasted tomato and habanero sauce, a red-onion-lime sour cream, cilantro, and jalapeños, as well as red beans and rice and grilled asparagus.

Monday, first race day, the crew got steaks. Dim sears them, then they go on a sheet tray into a low oven to internal temp of 120°, then rest for 15 minutes while the rest of the dinner comes together: twice-baked potatoes prepared ahead (all root veg can be prepared ahead and kept warm or at room temp, just don’t refrigerate and reheat), green beans finished on the grill, salad.

Below, Doug Moose, left, and Jim Sminchak: thanks, guys—I couldn’t have done it without you.


Tuesday, lobster night. People’s favorite, which I described in a previous post. So good my cousin Ryan even drank his lobster infused butter. How’s the gout, Ryan?! (See below.)


Above, Captain Rob and me, in front of 36 grilled lobster tails. Right, my dining table selfie.


Wednesday: Rib night. Again, as with chix wings, I slow-cooked 3 slabs in a covered roasting pan for many hours, started in the morning while I got writing work done. Dim finished them on the grill (20 minutes or so, enough to get good smoke and char), with the excellent Fighting Cock BBQ sauce Jim found. Some of the best ribs I’ve had, tender but you still had to chew, fatty-succulent. Caesar salad and garlic bread were the sides.


Thursday, Doug requested paella and so with the lobster stock (top photo) and a little of the chicken stock I made from the wing bones, I made a paella over the open grill in Doug’s paella pan, with andouille (couldn’t find chorizo!), shrimp, mussels, and grilled chicken. It was the pan of a dear friend Doug lost not long ago, so the dish was a way for Doug to commune with his old pal. Yes, cooking does that, too, of course.

Friday: Duck night. Nick the tactician loves duck and asks for this. And by the end of the week I’m ready for a no-brainer. D’Artagnan’s duck confit, slow-cooked to heat through, then broiled to crisp the skin. I serve the duck with grits (start your grits by sautéing chopped bacon, cooking a diced onion in the fat, then adding grits and water, plenty of salt and pepper, and finish with a pound of butter), a sous-vide egg that can be cracked and nestled into the grits, sautéed Brussels sprouts, and salad.

So lucky. So lucky. Such good people, such good food to bring us all together at the end of the day. Thank you, Rob and Ab! Thank you, Jason and Eddie and Mark Wiss and cousin Maegan, who cleaned the kitchen so I didn’t have to, and Russ and Kiki (and Donna, too, for putting up with my time away and for putting all these pix together!). Thank you, everyone, for all the help and all the fun.

If you liked this post, then you will enjoy these links:

© 2015 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2015 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.



9 Wonderful responses to “Key West Reflections”

  • Deborah Dobbins

    We had found chorizo at Fausto’s the week before. Sounds like you all had a excellent adventure as usual.

  • Xani

    Love reading your Key West posts! All the meals sound fabulous. This makes me want to plan a big getaway with friends and offer to do all the cooking!

  • Lucia dillon

    This story is so familiar to me. Every Thanksgiving my family rents a house at the beach for a week and my mom and I cook for a crowd for a week. The photos remind me of the challenges and joy of cooking in a rental house with rental house equipment! My mother, of course, insists on presentation and setting the table nightly. And, on top of the Thanksgiving meal, we have an oyster party on Friday, raw roasted and Rockefeller. Great times but I am worn out when they all go home!

  • Mark L

    I always look forward to these posts when my two hobbies of sailing and cooking cross worlds. I feel like any effort I make to race in Key West will pale in comparison.

  • James O.

    Nice to have a team to help — especially pushing 5 carts out the market’s doors.

  • Tags

    I’ve always heard the best food is in the Navy. It’s a good thing you weren’t cooking on the Spiff or there’d be a lot of Cubans trying to get on board. You might get some good cigars, but you probably wouldn’t place second.

  • Allen

    If you could crop the plate out of the picture of the lobster on the fork over butter, it would be worthy of Donnas food porn. Stomach growling goodness. An honest portrayal of many fine meals.

    It may no longer be in fashion here, but I would like to suggest a cocktail.

    Italian themed Manhattan, I’ve just started my Friday with one – I work graveyard shift.

    Very simple:
    2 oz bourbon
    1 oz Campari

    Dash of bitters, orange twist and cherry are optional.
    I just went with the bitters, settles the stomach.

    We were given enough smarts to invent the weekend.

    Pure genius.

    Friday’s are the day to celebrate the end of a work week and honor our smarts.

    Cheers, happy Friday all!


  1.  Friday Cocktail Hour: Key Lime Martini | Michael Ruhlman
  2.  Cooked Marinade | Michael Ruhlman