Best Bites

South Alabama is, and always has been, an area steeped in tradition. Food plays a big part in that. There is nothing better than sharing local and seasonal flavors with friends and family. Through the years, many tried-and-true local specialties have turned up in the magazine. Twists and trends on everything from seafood standards, such as West Indies salad and gumbo, to Southern comforts like hash brown casserole and banana pudding reap rave reviews. MB has compiled the best of the best Bay Tables dishes into a cookbook set to debut this November. (Note this for your Christmas list!) Here’s a taste of what’s to come.

Buffalo Chicken Dip

This decadent dip makes an ideal appetizer, especially during football season. Leslie Largue’s recipe comes from September 2007’s “Tailgating Tales.” About that same time, this dip, along with numerous similar renditions, started turning up everywhere. It is a surefire crowd-pleaser that quickly became a classic.

1 (3 – 4-pound) chicken, boiled and pulled
1 (6-ounce) bottle Texas Wing Sauce
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese, soft
1 (8-ounce) bottle Hidden Valley Ranch dressing
Fritos Scoops, for dipping
celery sticks, for dipping

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine pulled chicken and wing sauce. Place mixture in an 8-by-8-inch baking dish.
3. In a separate bowl, combine cream cheese and ranch dressing. Spread mixture over chicken. Cook for 20 – 25 minutes until bubbly.
4. Serve with Fritos Scoops and celery sticks. Serves 6 – 8.

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Bay Cooler

This sweet sip is ideal for happy hour on the wharf. It hails from the other “Bay Tables, ” the Junior League of Mobile’s signature cookbook. The cocktail also made an appearance in the August 2004 issue of MB.

1 (12-ounce) can frozen limeade concentrate
1 (12-ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 (12-ounce) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 (10-ounce) jar maraschino cherries, undrained
1 – 2 (12-ounce) cans rum
3/4 (2-liter) bottle ginger ale

1. In a blender, process the concentrates, undrained cherries, rum and ginger ale until well blended.
2. Pour into a freezer container. Cover and freeze until firm. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour prior to serving. Serves 8 – 10.

Clifton’s Fish en Papillote (Fish-in-a-Sack)

Popular local caterer Clifton Morrissette can cook just about anything, anywhere. He prepared this dish, featured in October 2009’s “Easy, Breezy Barnyard Picnic, ” for a gathering at his family’s property, Moose Hill. For a dramatic touch, let guests open their parchment packets just before dining to release the delectable aroma. It’s an impressive presentation and equally as scrumptious.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus extra butter for the papillotes, at room temperature
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon white pepper, preferably freshly ground
4 lemon slices
4 lime slices
kosher salt
Creole seasoning
4 (8-ounce) fish fillets (snapper or grouper)
1/4 cup white wine, divided
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and the shallot slices; season with white pepper. Sauté until softened and fragrant, approximately 2 – 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
2. Cut four 16-by-20-inch sheets of parchment paper. (You may substitute foil for the parchment, but the presentation will not be as pretty.) Fold each piece in half crosswise and trace a large “half-heart” shape onto folded paper, from top to near the bottom of the folded edge. Cut the traced shape and unfold to make a parchment heart.
3. Rub a little butter onto half of each parchment heart (where the fish will be placed) and then place a lemon and a lime slice on the buttered half. Top slices with sautéed shallots.
4. Season both sides of each fish with a little kosher salt and Creole seasoning. Place fish on top of shallots. Dot each fillet with a tablespoon of butter. Pour a tablespoon or so of white wine over each fish.
5. Then, carefully fold the parchment over, so that the edges align, and beginning at the top, securely seal with small overlapping folds about an inch long. (See note.)
6. Place packets on a baking sheet, and put the baking sheet on the hot grill. Close the lid of the grill and cook for 10 minutes.
7. Remove the fish packets from the grill and let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Slit open the parchment and serve. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serves 4.
Note: Be sure to seal pouches securely. If you’re transporting the pouches, you may want to staple the folded edges. The parchment packets may be prepared a few hours ahead and refrigerated until ready to grill; allow fish to return to room temperature before grilling.

Lettuce-Wrapped Sweet Potato Shrimp Fritters

This recipe, from my dear friend and fellow foodie, Henry Morrissette, was featured in May 2004’s “Fruit of the Sea Continued.”

peanut oil for frying
3/4 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 green onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup cornstarch
3 large egg whites
2 tablespoons warm water
1 head of butterhead lettuce, leaves separated, any thick ribs removed
Dipping Sauce (see below)

1. Fill a heavy pot or deep fryer with at least 3 inches of peanut oil, but don’t fill more than halfway. Preheat to 350 degrees.
2. In a mixing bowl, toss sweet potatoes, shrimp, green onions, garlic, ginger and salt together. Sift in cornstarch and toss until evenly combined.
3. Put egg whites in a separate bowl with 2 tablespoons of warm water and whisk until a soft foam — not yet soft peaks, but no liquid whites left.
4. Stir egg whites into batter. Using a large flat spoon, scoop a generous tablespoon of batter and slide it into hot oil. Add a few more, but don’t crowd.
5. Fry the fritters, turning a few times, until browned and crisp, for 3 – 5
minutes. Transfer to racks placed on a baking sheet in the oven to keep warm until all fritters are fried.
6. Serve warm with lettuce leaves and cilantro for wrapping and with Dipping Sauce alongside. Makes about 2 dozen.

Dipping Sauce

1/3 cup fish sauce (nuoc mam)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 small habanero pepper, cut into thin rings (or 2 serrano peppers, minced)

Pour fish sauce and lime juice into a small bowl. Dissolve sugar in 1/4 cup warm water. Add to sauce. Stir in peppers and let sit for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Blackberry Cobbler

Blackberry Farm is famous for its wine cellar, food artisans, chefs and flavorful garden-to-table food. In June 2010’s “Blackberry Farm Sampler, ” Sam Beall, proprietor and author of the inn’s cookbook, shared fresh recipes for a bayside family get-together. Use sweet Alabama berries to cook up this traditional summer treat.

8 cups fresh blackberries
1 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
1/4 cup buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, toss together blackberries, 1 cup sugar and lime zest.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice and cornstarch until smooth. Drizzle lime juice mixture over blackberry mixture and toss to combine. Scrape mixture into a 10-inch cast iron skillet and set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and remaining sugar. Rub butter into flour mixture until it is the texture of coarse meal.
5. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour buttermilk into the well and stir with a fork until the mixture comes together.
6. Crumble the dough evenly atop blackberry mixture.
7. Bake cobbler for 40 minutes or until blackberry filling is bubbling and topping is golden brown. Let cobbler sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 8.

Banana Brown Butter Tart

This sumptuous, sensational tart makes a fabulous, impressive finale. It is a divine, showy sort of twist on our region’s much-beloved banana pudding. The pastry is exceptionally pretty when garnished with candied pansies. Sarah Schmohl adapted this recipe from a dessert she savored at Herbsaint in New Orleans. It was featured in March 2009’s “Cooking Up Fun, ” an article about a local gourmet cooking club.


1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar and salt together. Beat in yolks and vanilla. Add flour and mix until clumps form. 
3. Gather into ball and refrigerate overnight. 
4. Press crust into a pie form and chill 30 minutes.
5. Bake for 23 minutes until golden brown. Let cool.


6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour
2 bananas, peeled and sliced
powdered sugar
candied pansies, available in specialty food stores and online

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a bowl, whisk yolks and sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
3. In a pan, melt butter, scrape in vanilla seeds and add in bean.
4. Add cinnamon and salt and cook for about 8 minutes, until butter browns. 
5. Whisk browned butter into yolk mixture. Stir in flour. Cool. 
6. Arrange banana slices in tart crust and spoon filling on top.
7. Bake for 35 minutes. Cool and dust with powdered sugar. Decorate with candied pansies. Serves 6 – 8.

Sallye Irvine

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