Boy did I pick the wrong time to try to shed a few pounds. When Michael Delaney called to ask if I was willing to judge the Gulf Coast Wild Game Cook-Off again, I knew that any diet plan I was on would have to take a one-meal hiatus.
I mean, I’m not about to miss the chance to sample these tasty, wild-game creations prepared by some of the best chefs and backyard cooks in Lower Alabama. I just decided to save as many points as I could before duty called.
It was a good thing I saved all those points, too. There are those who prefer their wild game simply prepared to savor the wild nature of the dish. Then again, there are those who pull out all the culinary tricks available to make the wild game, fowl or fish the centerpiece in an elaborate presentation.
In the Alabama Wildlife Federation/Alabama Army National Guard Wild Game Cook-Offs, the teams’ dishes are judged for taste and presentation. Scores are heavily weighted toward taste with a maximum score of 15. The maximum score for presentation is 5. The judging is blind with the teams assigned a number.
Even with that wide range of scoring, it took two tiebreakers to finally determine an overall winner.
That eventual overall winner came from the game category, although it also could have been entered in the fowl category.
Choctaw Bluff was crowned overall champion with its “Tom on a Limb,” which also happened to be one of the simpler recipes.
Tom on a Limb
- 1 wild turkey breast
- 3 cups buttermilk
- 1 cup Crystal hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon Tony Chachere’s seasoning
- All-purpose flour
- Peanut oil
- 1/8 cup lemon juice
- 1 stick butter
- ¼ cup honey
- 1/8 cup Crystal hot sauce
- 1 cup bleu cheese crumbles
Preparation: Cut turkey breast across the grain into 1-inch chunks. Soak overnight in buttermilk, hot sauce and seasoning mix. Bread with a mixture of all-purpose flour and cornmeal and deep fry in peanut oil. For a dipping sauce, combine lemon juice, butter, honey and Crystal hot sauce to taste over low heat. Sprinkle bleu cheese crumbles over the finished dish.
The winner in the fowl division also involved wild turkey.
The Mobile chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation reigns with its “Bacon Tom Poppers” dish, which starts with a special rub for the turkey breast.
Bacon Tom Poppers
- 1 wild turkey breast
- 12-15 jalapenos, halved and cored
- 2 packs (8-ounce) cream cheese
- 2 pounds Conecuh Hickory Smoked Bacon
The rub consists of brown sugar, white pepper, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, salt, garlic powder and onion powder. After the turkey has absorbed the rub, slice into strips that will fit inside the jalapeno halves. Place cream cheese in bottom of jalapeno, add turkey strip and wrap in half-piece of bacon, securing with toothpicks to accommodate turning. When the bacon is done, so is the turkey. In a smoker at about 300-350 degrees, the poppers will take 30-40 minutes to finish. If you use a grill, keep the temperature no higher than 400, which will mean a 15-minute cooking time.
In the fish category, the host Blue Gill Restaurant team, the Cooper Wild Thangs, combined a few of its dishes to come up with something special for the cook-off.
Headed by Chef Michael Prince and Chef George Panayiotou, the team put together a dish with Alabama wild shrimp in a creamy garlic-basil sauce, served over johnny cakes. The name of the dish belies its deliciousness. The recipe comes in two parts.
Redneck Shrimp Tacos
Jalapeno Johnny Cakes:
- ½ cup corn meal
- ½ cup self-rising flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Dash of cayenne pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup corn kernels
- ½ cup chopped green onions
- 2 tablespoons pickled jalapenos, chopped
- 1 tablespoon jalapeno juice
- Vegetable spray or bacon drippings
Whisk corn meal, flour, salt, sugar, cayenne and black pepper in large bowl. Stir in grated Parmesan cheese. Whisk buttermilk and eggs in separate bowl; then stir in corn kernels, chopped green onions, jalapenos and juice. Combine two mixtures and whisk until just blended. Cook in non-stick skillet with vegetable spray or bacon drippings over medium heat. Use ¼-cup batches to make the cakes.
Shrimp and Mushrooms in Creamy Garlic-Basil Sauce:
- ½ pound sliced mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 pound cooked, peeled and deveined small to medium shrimp
- 1/3 cup butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 ounces softened cream cheese with chives
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves or 1½ teaspoons of dried basil
- ¼ cup white wine
- ½ to ¾ cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Sauté mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter until tender. Add cooked shrimp during the last minute of cooking and move to plate. Using same pan, melt butter with minced garlic. Stir in cream cheese, followed by parsley, basil and white wine. Use wire whisk to combine over low heat for 3-5 minutes. Add milk and bring back to simmer. Add milk if too thick. Add shrimp and mushrooms to sauce; add Parmesan and bring back to simmer. Spoon shrimp dish over johnny cakes and enjoy.
One dish of special note was Team Fowl Mouth’s Venison Moussaka, which was involved in the tiebreakers, finally finishing second in the game category to the overall winner. Chef Jamie Roussos’ dish was a favorite of Chef Panayiotou.
- 3-4 eggplants
- 1 pound potatoes
- 8 egg whites, lightly beaten (reserve yolks for sauce)
- 2 cups plain breadcrumbs
- 1½ pounds ground venison
- 2 large onions, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup red wine
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup grated Kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese
Partially peel the eggplants, leaving strips of peel about 1 inch wide around the eggplant. Slice the eggplant into ½-inch slices. Liberally salt eggplant and place in colander for at least 15-20 minutes to draw out moisture. Peel the potatoes and boil them whole until they are just done. Drain, cool and slice them into ¼-inch slices. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse the eggplant and dry with paper towels. Dip the eggplant slices in the beaten egg whites and then dredge them in the breadcrumbs, coating both sides. Reserve remainder of breadcrumbs. Place breaded eggplant slices on baking sheets and bake at 400 degrees for 1/2 an hour, turning them over once during cooking. When eggplant is finished cooking, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
In a large sauté pan, brown the ground venison. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine to pan and allow it to simmer and reduce a bit before adding cinnamon, allspice, parsley, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and sugar. Allow the sauce to simmer uncovered for approximately 15 minutes so that excess liquid can evaporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- 2 sticks salted butter
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk, warmed
- 8 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- Pinch ground nutmeg
Melt butter over low heat. Add flour to melted butter, whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Allow the flour to cook for a minute but do not allow it to brown. Add warmed milk to mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Simmer over low heat until it thickens a bit but does not boil. Remove from heat, and stir in beaten egg yolks and pinch of nutmeg. Return to heat and stir until sauce thickens.
To assemble the moussaka, lightly grease a large, deep baking pan (lasagna pan). Sprinkle the bottom of pan with remaining breadcrumbs. Leaving a ¼-inch space around the edges of the pan, place a layer of potatoes on the bottom. Top with a layer of eggplant slices. Add meat sauce on top of eggplant layer and sprinkle with 1/4 of the grated cheese. Top with another layer of eggplant slices and sprinkle once again with 1/4 of the grated cheese.
Pour the béchamel sauce over the eggplant, and be sure to allow sauce to fill the sides and corners of the pan. Smooth the béchamel on top with a spatula and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes or until béchamel sauce is golden brown. Allow to cool for 15–20 minutes before slicing and serving.
Image courtesy David Rainer