By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Imagine heading down to the shore at Orange Beach and scooping up enough sand fleas (mole crabs) for a fishing excursion to the Perdido Pass jetties, where all you catch are gafftopsail (gafftop) catfish.
Then imagine taking those gafftops, considered a nuisance fish by most anglers, and heading to Zeke’s Landing to create the winning dish at the 8th annual Alabama Seafood Cook-Off.
That’s basically what Brody Olive, executive chef at Perdido Beach Resort, did last week to claim the top prize at the Alabama Gulf Seafood-sponsored event, where four of the top chefs in Alabama were given an hour to create delectable dishes out of fresh Gulf seafood.
Olive and sous chef Luis Silvestre created “Fishing on the Rocks, the Jetties at Perdido Pass” with gafftop catfish smoked over scrub oak coal with flash-fried mole crabs, Gulf shrimp horseradish cream, pickled purslane and smoked paprika coral tuile.
“I’m kind of surprised,” said Olive, who also won the Cook-Off in 2017. “We just went outside the box and had a little fun with it, pushing the envelope a little bit. We decided whatever happens happens, and it came together.
“To all of the fishermen out there, it’s all about fishing and not necessarily catching. We served gafftop catfish, and there’s some stigma about the fish. Some people throw it back. We took the catfish, cut the ribs out of them and smoked them over some scrub oak. We pickled a little purslane (leafy plant that some people consider a weed) that’s common on the Gulf Coast. Our fish were pretty small, so we cooked up our bait too. We made a shrimp horseradish sauce that we pureed into a nice little foam. Then we had mole crabs, pompano candy, which is like a little softshell crab and added a little crunchy texture to the dish. We added a little smoked black garlic sea salt and some chili flakes.”
Olive, who won $2,500 from the Alabama event, advances to the Great American Seafood Cook-Off in New Orleans later this summer.
Cook-Off judges were Jim Smith, founder and executive chef of The Hummingbird Way in Mobile and chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission; Chris Nelson, president of Bon Secour Fisheries; Susan Benton, a food writer and founder of gulfcoastrestaurants.com; and Jeffrey Compton, 2022 ASCO Champion and partner/executive chef of Armour House in Birmingham.
The dishes were judged in five categories:
- Presentation, General Impression and Serving Methods
- Creativity and Practicality
- Composition and Harmony of Ingredients
- Correct Preparation and Craftsmanship
- Flavor, Taste and Texture
Each category was worth up to 20 points for a total of 100 points.