Heat. Sweat. Fire. Passion. Salt. The components that make up a cook-off-winning recipe far surpass the items on the ingredient list. Contestants ranging from amateur cook to professional chef bring everything they have to competitions that benefit charities, companies or the communities around them. Their recipes are top-secret, sometimes passed down through generations before landing in the hands of the winning team. However, some secrets are good enough to share, and the teams that found victory with these recipes were happy to let Mobilians in to create these winning dishes on their own.
1. Cajun Kebabs
Recipe by chef Ron Stone, Wolf Bay Restaurant and Catering
4 quarts canola oil
8 ounces butter, divided
3 tablespoons garlic, minced, divided
1 pound Gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon black pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup water
1 cup whole milk
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 pound large crawfish tails
1/2 tablespoon white pepper
1 pound large Gulf oysters
4 cups cracker meal
1 pound tasso ham, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 French baguette
Salt and pepper, to taste
20 6-inch bamboo skewers
Cajun Monica Sauce (recipe below)
1. Fill a 6-quart pot with canola oil. Preheat over medium heat until oil reaches 350 degrees. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt 4 ounces butter. Add 1 tablespoon garlic and stir until fragrant. Add shrimp and saute for 2 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste, until shrimp is pink and fully cooked throughout. Set aside.
3. Combine eggs, water and milk in a bowl. Mix well to form an egg wash. In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper, paprika, thyme, oregano, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Combine to form a Cajun flour.
4. Coat the crawfish tails in the egg wash, followed by the Cajun flour. Set remaining egg wash aside. Fry crawfish tails until golden brown and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
5. In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon salt and white pepper. Mix well to form a seasoned flour.
6. Coat oysters in seasoned flour. Shake off the excess and coat them in the remaining egg wash. Roll them in cracker meal and fry until golden brown. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate.
7. Remove any excess seasoning from the surface of the tasso ham. Arrange evenly on a baking sheet and roast until hot and crispy, about 10 minutes.
8. Melt 4 ounces butter in a small saucepan. Cut the baguette into thick bias cuts. Place on a baking sheet and brush with butter. Bake 10 – 15 minutes until toasted.
9. Skewer a fried oyster, followed by a sauteed shrimp, followed by a fried crawfish tail, followed by a square of tasso ham. Serve over toasted crostini with a side of warm Cajun Monica sauce. Makes 20 skewers.
Cajun Monica Sauce
4 ounces butter
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chicken base
1 tablespoon Greek seasoning
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
2 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 quart heavy cream
1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Turn flame off and add chicken base, Greek seasoning, thyme, oregano, paprika, onion powder, salt and black pepper. Stir well.
2. Add flour to create a roux and mix well. Add 1 cup of heavy cream, stirring to make sure there are no clumps of flour.
3. Repeat, adding 1 cup at a time, until the all the cream is in the saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring every few minutes. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve warm.
2. Gumbo Thibodaux
Recipe by chef Steve Zucker, Dauphin’s
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups onions, diced
2 cups celery, diced
1 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup garlic, minced
1 pound Conecuh sausage, sliced
1 pound gumbo crabs, cut in half
8 cups water
8 cups oyster liquor
4 bay leaves
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined, divided
1 pound okra, divided
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup hot sauce
1/4 cup Maggi Seasoning Sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Tony Chachere’s
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 teaspoons white pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper
1/4 cup lime juice
1 pound alligator meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 pounds rabbit meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 pounds catfish, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound claw crabmeat
1 pound crawfish tails
2 cups oysters
1. Heat oil until it sizzles.
2. Add flour and stir constantly until you have a dark roux.
3. Add onions, celery, bell pepper, garlic, sausage and gumbo crabs to the oil. Saute together until celery and onion have turned translucent.
4. Whisk in water and oyster liquor.
5. Add bay leaves, 1 pound of the shrimp, 1/2 pound of the okra and tomatoes and heat mixture to 195 degrees.
6. After temperature rises back up, incorporate all other ingredients except the meats and remaining shrimp.
7. Simmer for 60 minutes, skimming oil and froth from perimeter of the pot.
8. Add the alligator and rabbit meat and cook for 20 minutes.
9. Add the rest of the shrimp, cubed catfish, crabmeat, crawfish and oysters.
10. Cook for 15 minutes until shrimp are cooked through. Serve warm. Makes 2 gallons.
3. Trinity Gumbo
Recipe by chef Darren Harbison, May’s Cafe at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab
2 cups bacon grease or vegetable oil
6 cups flour, divided
1 1/2 gallons seafood stock or water
2 pounds okra, divided
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
3 pounds onions, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced thin
1 tablespoon liquid crab boil
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
2 bunches fresh parsley, finely chopped
3 tablespoons minced garlic
2 bunches green onion, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound lump crabmeat
3 pounds shrimp, peeled
1 pound crawfish tail meat
1. Heat bacon grease or oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add flour, reserving 1 cup, and stir until you reach a color between dark and milk chocolate. Slowly stir in final cup of flour once browned. Remove roux from heat. Seal and store any leftover mixture in refrigerator until needed.
2. Put stock or water into a large pot and bring to a boil. Add 1 1/2 pounds of okra and return to boil. Boil for 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine peppers, onions and celery. Remove 1/3 of mixture and reserve with remaining 1/2 pound okra.
4. Once okra is boiled, add prepared vegetables to the pot. Return to boil. Add crab boil, Old Bay, parsley, garlic, green onion, bay leaves, salt and pepper and boil for 15 minutes.
5. Add crabmeat and boil 10 more minutes. Add reserved vegetables to pot and return to boil.
6. Stir in as much roux as you like to reach the consistency you prefer, ensuring that it dissolves into the liquid. Add shrimp and crawfish, then salt and pepper to taste.
7. Serve warm over rice with potato salad on the side. Serves 20.
4. Percy Sledge’s Buck Balls
Recipe by Tom Leatherbury, Sonny Kearley, Wes Williams and Patrick Kell, Mobile County Wildlife and Conservation Association
1 pound smoked link deer sausage
2 cups regular grits
2 sticks butter
2 blocks cream cheese
1 cup green onions, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Louisiana Shrimp Fry
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut sausage into small cubes. Place on cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.
2. While sausage is cooking, prepare grits. Bring 10 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil. Stir in grits and let water return to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Once grits are cooked, turn off heat and stir in deer sausage, butter, cream cheese and green onions. Mix well until cream cheese and butter are dissolved. Salt and pepper to taste. Let mixture cool and place in refrigerator overnight in order for grits to become hardened.
4. Preheat a deep fryer to 375 degrees. Once mixture is hardened and workable, spoon out large meatball-sized balls. Batter venison balls in Louisiana Shrimp Fry mix and fry until golden brown, about 4 – 5 minutes. Serve warm. Serves 6.
5. Herb Cream Cheese Spread
Steak Cook-off contestants compete with ribeye steaks, but this spread is delicious on any cut of beef or other meat! Recipe by Dahlia Davis and Monteigne Brown, Chive Talk’n
8 ounces cream cheese
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon dill
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Garlic salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1. Soften the cream cheese and butter to room temperature. Blend them together until well combined.
2. Add seasonings and mix until well blended. Store in refrigerator. Best served on steak, but also great on chicken or pork. Makes 1 1/2 cups.