Cooking Basics

What is surf and turf

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classic surf and turf
Filet mignon and lobster is classic surf and turf
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Gourmets know the answer to what is surf and turf and expect beef and seafood

Have you ever been out to eat and couldn't decide whether to order steak or seafood? This apparently has happened often enough that eventually chefs and restaurant owners decided to offer the combination as a featured entre.

Many ideas for a name must have been tried - beef and reef, pier and steer - but culinary legend has it that Sky City, the restaurant at the top of the Seattle Space Needle, coined the term "surf and turf" for a fillet mignon and lobster dish served during the 1962 World's Fair.

As with all culinary legends, this one is disputed by those who cite a 1966 ad in the Lowell (Massachusetts) Sun for the Continental Restaurant which gave the name surf and turf to a feast consisting of a filet mignon, baked stuffed Alaskan crab legs and an escalope of halibut.

Fill restaurant reviewers and food critics with enough wine and they'll share other stories tracing the origin of the name "surf and turf" or "surf 'n turf" to restaurants on both U.S. coasts where seafood is abundant.

There probably are more disputes about the ingredients for surf and turf than there are about the origin of the name. The most popular combination seems to be a filet mignon steak paired with a whole lobster or a lobster tail.

This seems to have started in the day when filet mignon and lobster were the most expensive items on a restaurant menu, so ordering surf and turf was a symbol of wealth, a treat for a special occasion and a belly-busting dinner all wrapped into one.

In coastal areas with access to different types of seafood, the lobster may be replaced by crab legs, shrimp, prawns, scallops or other shellfish, or salmon, sea bass or another premium fish.  Depending on regional tastes and availability, the turf portion may be a strip steak, prime rib, sirloin or some other expensive beef dish. Some restaurants will stretch the meaning of "turf" and serve roast pork, lamb or other meats.

Because of the volume of food, many restaurants offer a "ladies" surf and turf with a petite filet and a lobster tail. And because of the price, bargain restaurants sometimes give the moniker to a burger and batter-fried cod. There are even rumors of vegetarian restaurants serving vegan surf and turf using soy-based beef and fish substitutes. Forms of surf and turf even pop up in other countries - it's called beef and reef in Australia and it's a popular pub food in Ireland.

Whether you prefer the classic filet-and-lobster or a local variation, the best day to eat surf and turf is on National Surf and Turf Day, which is celebrated every four years on Leap Day, February 29. There's no information on why that day was chosen, but most surf and turf lovers agree that waiting four years between servings is not a good idea. So head to your favorite steakhouse or restaurant any day of the year and enjoy a truly American feast - surf and turf.

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