October 20, 2011
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
When Tim Gothard, Executive Director of the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF), stood in front of the crowd at the Gulf Coast Wild Game Cook-Off at the Bluegill on the Mobile Causeway and proudly announced the statewide cook-off concept was approaching 20 years, it reminded me of just how fortunate we are in Alabama.

Our rich natural resources and abundant wildlife make it possible for us to enjoy the bounty of the outdoors in numerous ways. One, obviously, is through friendly (albeit fierce) competition like the AWF Cook-Offs, where outdoors-oriented groups put on the chef’s aprons and demonstrate just how tasty wild game, fowl and fish can be. And people who turn their noses up at such fare are letting their brains completely override their taste buds.

For the AWF, the cook-offs offer a venue for its members to join in the competition and interact, while those who aren’t members get to sample the camaraderie the cooking teams’ exhibit during the night. Foremost, though, this is a showcase for responsible hunters and anglers to display how they turn what they take from the wild into delicious table fare.

Fortunately for me, I was again asked to judge the competition and I didn’t hesitate. The creative recipes these guys and girls come up with are just mind-boggling. Some of the food preparation is extensive and worthy of a culinary institute. Some dishes are as simple as can be with the emphasis on care of the fare, proper preparation and the right seasoning.

The teams compete in three categories: game, fish and fowl. The top three teams are picked in each category and then an overall winner is announced. That overall winner advances to the State Finals next August.

Drum roll, please. And the overall winner for the 2011 Gulf Coast competition is the Mobile Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association with the dish it called Gill Net Delight, continuing a precedent set last year during the oil spill to inject humor into naming the dishes.

The overall winning dish, with bobwhite quail as its main ingredient, claimed the fowl category, while Delta Waterfowl’s Mobile Chapter finished a close, close second with its Wood Duck Wontons. Choctaw Bluff’s Wood Duck Supreme finished third.

Choctaw Bluff scored a first in the fish category with Redfish Onionaise, followed by the Hen Hunters’ Delta Shrimp Blast and Mobile Gas Service’s Shrimp Kabobs.

In the game category, Fat Boys Catering’s Hog Wings came in a finger-lickin’ good first, followed by Delta Waterfowl’s Down the Bay Doughnuts and Southern Draw’s Venison Backstrap with Root Beer BBQ sauce.

But back to the overall winner. The recipe is obviously for a large crowd. The ingredients follow:

Gill Net Delight
25 bobwhite quail
Unbleached all-purpose flour for dusting
Buttermilk (optional)
1.5 pounds of Conecuh sausage (The winners combined several varieties)
Oil for pan-frying
1 gallon of shucked oysters and the liquor
6 cups of heavy cream
Hot sauce to taste
Preparation: Dust with flour and fry the quail in the skillet. You can dip the quail in buttermilk before dusting if you want a thicker crust. After finishing the quail, place the birds on a rack over a sheet pan in oven on lowest settings to keep warm. Take Conecuh sausage and discard casings. Fry the sausage until the fat is rendered and sausage is brown. Drain sausage, discard grease and then deglaze the pan with the liquid from the oysters to incorporate the fond (those tasty little bits that stick to the bottom of the pan) into the dish. Simmer to reduce by about one quarter. Return sausage to the pan and add the heavy cream to the sausage and reduce further. Then fold in the oysters and cook until done. Take each quail and split in half. Scoop oyster-sausage sauce over the top and enjoy.
The winning dish in the fish competition combines the tastes of fried fish with fried onions in an innovative way.
Redfish Onionaise
6 whole onions, peeled
1 pound mushrooms
2 green peppers
6 cloves garlic
Frying oil
All-Purpose Flour
4 eggs
6 redfish fillets
4 Tomatoes
Basil, chopped
Goat cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Preparation: Slice onions in half and take out center portions to make cups. Take middle of onions, green peppers, mushrooms and garlic and sauté in oil of preference. Beat together buttermilk and eggs and add flour to make batter to thickness desired. Take onion cups and double batter and deep fry. When golden brown, take out and stuff with the sauté mixture. Cut redfish fillets into onion-sized pieces, batter and fry. Take onion cup filled with sauté mixture, top with slice of tomato, chopped basil and a sprinkle of goat cheese. Place redfish fillet on top and serve with a squeeze of lemon.
The last winning recipe of the night is also the most simple. Fat Boys Catering definitely had stiff competition in the game category with the numerous delicious venison dishes, but this tender concoction came out on top and deservedly so. In fact, serving as a judge means you have to sample some 30 or so dishes during the evening, which means you have to pace yourself or you get so stuffed that it’s hard to continue. When the AWF came to clear the judges’ table, I told them I was going to save the extra Hog Wing on my plate for later. By the way, some of the ingredients in the special BBQ sauce may not be readily available, so be prepared to go online or find a specialty shop.
Hog Wings
12 skinned pork shanks (about a pound each, cooking time can be adjusted for larger shanks)
Pecan wood for grilling
Special BBQ sauce
1 diced onion
¼ cup Hog Wine sauce
¼ cup Panama Red sauce
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup oyster sauce
1 stick butter
1 cup hot ketchup
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup Jim Beam Red Stag
1 cup Baby Ray’s Hot ‘n Sweet
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
1 cup Paula Deen’s Sweet Bourbon Glaze
Combine all BBQ sauce ingredients and simmer for an hour-and-a-half.
For the pork shank, grill slowly over the pecan wood coals for six hours or until tender. Baste with the special BBQ sauce 15-30 minutes before you pull them off the fire.
Again, it was another impressive display of what wild game, fish and fowl can become with a little care and preparation. Bon appétit! Or as we say down South, ‘Dig in.’
PHOTO: (By David Rainer) The overall winning team from the recent Gulf Coast Wild Game Cook-Off was the Mobile Chapter of the CCA, which served up a tasty fried quail/oyster dish called Gill Net Delight. Members of the team are: (second from left to second from right) Justin Bullen, Zack Williams, Carter Drane and Travis Taylor. Also pictured are Alabama Wildlife Federation representatives Michael Delaney, left, and Ben Stimpson Jr. The winning team advances to next year’s State Finals.