By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Alabama’s abundant freshwater fish took center stage recently at the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) Wild Game Cook-Off State Finals at AWF’s Lanark Pavilion in Millbrook.
Two of the top three recipes used spotted bass as their centerpieces, while a tasty bream dish rounded out the winners.
“AWF’s Wild Game Cook-Offs prominently display that responsible hunters and anglers properly utilize the game and fish that they harvest, and it makes great and healthy table fare,” said AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard. “At the State Finals, the best of the best is on full display.”
Alabama Ag Credit’s Taco Lot team, which created Taco del Lago with spotted bass, was crowned champion among the 10 teams that qualified for the finals by winning their regional events held across the state.
“We used spotted bass caught yesterday (the day before the finals) and cleaned,” said Andrew Harp, head cook on the team from Lake Martin. “They’re fresh. We took a flour tortilla, topped it with shredded cheese and put it on the grill to melt the cheese. We love the grill taste. The base is Conecuh sausage, followed by the fried fish. We use a Zatarain’s fish fry with a little added spice. Then we top that with a custom slaw with green and red cabbage. Then we drizzle Sriracha mayo and cocktail sauce on the top. And we top that off with a lot of love.”
Although the competition was stiff, with a variety of dishes across the wild spectrum – venison, elk, wild hog, catfish and wild turkey – Harp was confident in the team’s dish.
“It was extremely exciting,” Harp said. “It was nice to be validated with a trophy. We didn’t come here to lose.”
Harp’s team had been participating in the Wild Game Cook-Offs for years, preparing dishes made to ensure the spectators didn’t leave the event hungry. The 2022 regional competition was the first time they got serious about the contest.
“At Lake Martin, we decided to enter something fun, and it won,” Harp said. “We entered the same dish in the finals, so that taco is undefeated. Where this recipe starts is the only thing in that taco that really matters – the Lake Martin spotted bass. Let me tell you where you catch them. Right in the mouth.
“The best time to catch spotted bass is in the spring when they’re going to bed. But in August, they’re extremely difficult to catch. But we did catch enough fresh fish the day before the finals. We caught them at night on lights. We use underwater lights, which attract bait fish, and the big fish come down below.”
TACO DEL LAGO
Serving size eight
Two 2-pound spotted bass, filleted (four fillets will make eight pieces of fish)
1 quart buttermilk
Zatarain’s Crispy Cajun Fish Fri
1 gallon peanut oil
8 small flour tortillas
8 ounces Colby Jack cheese
8 pieces Conecuh sausage about 4-5 inches each, butterflied
½ head red cabbage
½ head green cabbage
1 bell pepper, thin-sliced
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
Sriracha mayonnaise to taste
Cocktail sauce to taste