A Fresh As It Gets
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - 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. 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.”
“When we clean the fish, we drop the fillets in buttermilk,” Harp said. “When we get ready to fry the fish, we take them out of the buttermilk and dust them with the Zatarain’s fish fry. We drop them in the peanut oil at 350 degrees and fry them until they’re golden brown.”
The Conecuh sausage is butterflied and placed on the grill. When the sausage sizzles, it’s ready to go.
“Everybody I’ve talked to has never seen or thought about putting Conecuh sausage in a fish taco,” he said. “My brother and I were frying fish one night, and we had just randomly thrown some Conecuh sausage on the griddle as an appetizer. I looked at Dustin and said, ‘Let’s make fish tacos and let’s just do something different.’ With those Conecuh sausages laying around, I threw one on the bottom of the taco.”
The runner-up trophy went to Consolidated Cookers from Madison County with their Big Pond Bream Taco. Head cook Phillip Hall presented the judges with tacos filled with crispy fried bream fillets with three different toppings – mango salsa, pico de gallo and coleslaw.
“The key is the fresh bream,” Hall said.
A fish dish that wasn’t in a taco took third place. The Spotted Bass and Grits Cakes dish was prepared by Co-Op Cut-Ups, winners at the Selma Cook-Off. The team also won the award for best presentation. Smokin’ Aces from Talladega was runner-up for best presentation.
Curt Green of the Cutups said their preparation started just like Harp’s, “Trust me, it was delicious.”
If you missed the state finals, the AWF Wild Game Cook-Off regionals crank back up this fall. The first event is on September 15 at the Birmingham Zoo. Visit www.alabamawildlife.org/wild-game-cook-off/ for a list of upcoming events.
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