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La Minuta sandwich, created from SPLASH
Patty Leon new

I miss being young and scaring my family during summer vacations. Oh and I miss the foods we ate during our outings. Our favorite destination was a place in Marathon Key called the Salty Dog Motel. This place looked like something right out of the 1950s. We used to go there often during the early 1970s. The motel sign was this huge motley looking mutt wearing a sailors’ cap and an eye-patch covering one eye. Every room was an efficiency suite, meaning it had a mini kitchen and living area in addition to the bedrooms and bath. 


The best thing however was the Olympic sized pool, complete with a 33 foot tall diving tower. I loved swimming. My dad used to call me his little frog because I was always in the pool. 

There was one time, I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, when my brother Frank started showing off his diving skills.

He started off at the diving board on the lowest point of the tower. He bounced once, twice, and then flew in the air and splashed perfectly into the pool.

He did this a couple of times then tried the next platform, a bit higher. He kept making it look easy. I stood in the shallow end and watched.  

He made it to the third tier of the tower, about 15 feet high. He didn’t dive this time but bounced up and down on the dive board. Leapt high up in the air landing feet first into the pool.

“Cool,” I thought.

I was a pretty good swimmer. I could hold my breath and swim almost the entire length of the pool underwater. I wasn’t afraid of the deep end, either, which was about 20 feet deep. 

Mom was sitting poolside, drying my brother’s back and applying sun lotion. She looked for me in the pool and panicked when she didn’t see me. She called over to my dad. It was about then that my brother pointed toward the sky and said, “She’s up there.”

I had made my way to the tippy-tippy-top of the 33 foot platform. I looked down at my family and waved.

Dad leapt from his lounge chair, running towards the platform. Mom yelled something to the effect of, “NO DON’T DO IT!” My brother just sat and watched the plot unfold.

There is no dive board at the very top, but I put my arms above my head like we were taught at our YMCA swimming and diving classes. I leaned forward closed my eyes and off I went.

I think I heard my mom scream the entire time…and then suddenly…SWOOSH…SPLASH.


I swam over to the side of the pool where, at this point, my dad was waiting for me with that look of, I’M GOING TO KILL YOU…combined with…DID YOU ALL SEE THAT…THAT’S MY LITTLE GIRL WHO DID THAT.

He plucked me out of the pool with one swoop. “Let’s go fishing while your mother clams down,” he said in Spanish.

The Salty Dog was right on the ocean so it had a boat ramp and fishing dock. My dad would bait the line, cast it out, and let me reel ‘em in.  

We used to catch a bunch of Yellowtail and Red snappers. Dad would clean and dress the fish while I watched and learned. We would take the bounty back to the room for mom to cook.

We used to make a classic Cuban sandwich called “La Minuta.”

It’s a simple dish but with fresh caught fish it was scrumptiously divine. 

First thing is dressing the snapper properly. My dad gut the fish and cut off the head and gills. He trimmed off the fins and spine with garden snippers leaving only the tail intact. With a sharp filet knife he butterfly cut the fish. He cut out the bones and used tweezers to pick out any bones remaining near the spine and rib area. 

While dad prepped the fish, mom diced up white onions and got the deep fryer ready to go. The fish was dunked into an egg wash, dredged with fine light corn meal or all-purpose flour and then tossed into the fryer tail and all.

The fried fish was served between slices of Cuban bread and topped with the white onions. That’s it, plain and simple. Of course you can serve as is, or tailor it to your taste buds. Dad, for example, liked to squeeze lime and sprinkle tabasco on his. I liked mine topped with the onions and ketchup and always asked mom to cook the tail off (FYI: A lot of people like to eat the fried tail). Mom sometimes made a spicy tomato sauce (Sofrito) to top her sandwich. My brother typically ate a hot dog or hamburger instead so I would eat his.

By the end of that vacation my brother and I had conquered that 33 foot tower many times and mom no longer flinched. 

I became a fishing pro, and minutas was my new favorite sandwich on earth.

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