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AWF Cook-Off Teams Cook Up Humor, Tasty Fare

By DAVID RAINER

In times of trouble, I’ve always considered it a virtue to maintain a sense of humor – lesson learned from my mother, who always seems to find a reason to laugh at almost any situation.

Take, for instance, as tragic as the Gulf oil spill appears to be, the folks who participated in the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Wild Game Cook-Off recently on Mobile Bay, couldn’t help but cook a little levity into the situation.

While there were several dishes named in BP’s honor, there was one dish that excelled – Team Fowl Mouth’s BP Bottom Dwellers Bang-Up. The dish not only took the top place in the fish category, it also was voted the best dish in the entire competition. As one of the judges, I can assure you that was quite an accomplishment. The overall victory sends Team Fowl Mouth to the State Finals Aug. 7 in Millbrook.

As for the winning dish, Chef Jamie Roussos and his cohorts – Scott Stimpson and Billy Bixler (Jay Beck, a regular team member had a scheduling conflict) – based the dish on pond-raised catfish, a resource that won’t be affected by the oil spill except that demand may increase significantly.

All humor aside, the dish is more practically called Blackened Catfish and Crab Cakes with Cajun Shrimp Cream Sauce.

The crab cake ingredients follow:

One-half cup green onion 
One-quarter cup chopped parsley
Three-quarters cup bread crumbs
One-quarter cup yellow onion 
One-quarter cup mayonnaise 
One-quarter cup celery 
One-quarter cup bell pepper  
2 to 3 eggs 
3 tablespoons Cajun mustard 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
1 tablespoon minced garlic  
Cajun seasoning, to taste 
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound lump or claw crab meat

The preparation of the crab cakes goes like this:

Combine onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic to pot with hot butter about 1/2 stick. Cook until semi tender and add crab meat. Cook another few minutes. Cut the heat and add the remainder of ingredients and thoroughly mix.

Shape equal-sized crab cakes.

Cover the bottom of a sauté pan with oil. Heat oil over medium heat.

Place crab cakes in hot oil and sauté 4 to 5 minutes per side or until golden brown and cooked through.

For the Shrimp Sauce, use the following ingredients:

1.5 pounds of medium shrimp (peeled and deveined)
One-half cup yellow onion
One-half cup mushrooms
One-quarter cup celery
1/2 cup red and green bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup green onion 
1 stick butter
1 quart half and half
4 to 5 tablespoons all purpose flour
Cajun seasoning, to taste 
1 to 2 tablespoons of tomato paste

In large sauce pot on medium high heat add butter and garlic. Cook for a couple minutes and add peppers, celery, mushrooms, and onions cook until tender. Add shrimp and cook halfway. Add seasoning and flour and cook another 2 to 3 minutes to make roux. Whisk in the half and half and tomato paste. Roussos looks for the consistency of a thick and creamy bisque. Stir in green onions, let rest for a few minutes and serve.

The other teams that placed in the fish category were Dirt and Whiskey with a crawfish boudin and black-eyed pea po-boy and Bluegill Blues Brothers with a crab and corn bisque.

In the game category, Dirt and Whiskey served up the winning dish – Venison Juicy Lucy with Tomatillo Sauce.

Roussos said he blackens a six- to seven-ounce catfish filet by coating the fish with melted butter and blackened seasoning (he prefers Paul Pruhomme’s version with a little salt added) and then searing quickly in a skillet set on medium high. It should take no more than two to three minutes per side.

This was a delicious take on the traditional venison burger that was tasty and didn’t suffer from a lack of juices, as the name implies. One of the tricks was to stuff the burgers with pimento and cheese, but not with just any old cheese like cheddar.

Team member Philip Davis said they use Colby and pepper jack cheese with red pimentos, half and half and mayonnaise to make the stuffy. He also suggests forming the venison burgers and then put them in the fridge to get them nice and cold before adding the stuffing.

The burgers are then skillet-fried to retain the juices.

The tomatillo sauce is made by combining the minced tomatillos with minced red onions, minced jalapenos (charred and peeled), a teaspoon of lime juice and a teaspoon of sugar. Combine and spoon over the hot burgers.

The winners put the burger and sauce on pumpernickel bread, which really added a savory sensation to the dish.

In second, a very close second I might add, in the game division was CCA Alabama’s Mama Mia Lasagna, followed by Team Buckshire’s Venison Chim Churri.

The winning dish in the fowl category was Team Buckshire’s Boudin-Stuffed Quail with Mango Sauce. I tried unsuccessfully to get the recipe, but the name of the dish pretty much spells it out.

Second in fowl was Dirt and Whiskey’s Smoke Quail and Fried Green Tomato Panini, followed by Choctaw Bluff’s Wild Turkey Pookytaya.

Of course, there were plenty of serious moments at the cook-off, as well. AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard was busy signing up attendees for a database of potential volunteers to combat the effects of the oil spill.

Gothard said the wild game cook-offs have been a big part of AWF’s outreach effort for the past 15 years. AWF, established in 1935, has 30,000 members and supporters. Gothard said the group’s mission is to be an advocate for the wise use and responsible stewardship of our native wildlife resources.

“Our cook-offs serve three primary purposes,” Gothard said. “It’s an opportunity for our members to interact and our guests to learn more about the Alabama Wildlife Federation. Second – and the one that got this whole thing started – to show as responsible hunters and anglers that we properly utilize the game and fish we take, and that it makes great table fare. The cook-offs also generate funds to support our conservation work in three areas – conservation education, resource stewardship and hunting and angling heritage.”

PHOTO: (By David Rainer) Team Fowl Mouth, from left, Billy Bixler, Jamie Roussos and Scott Stimpson, claimed the overall prize at the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Coast Wild Game Cook-Off held recently on Battleship Parkway.

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