Top Chef Recipes from the Alabama Seafood Cook-Off

Four chefs bring the heat to Gulf Shores to compete for a spot as state seafood representative—and bring their prized recipes right to your kitchen.

As the sun fades into the distant horizon and the salty waves crash onto the white sand nearby, the Lodge at Gulf State Park is awash with foodies. Chef Pete Blohme’s energized voice booms over a loudspeaker. Four acclaimed chefs and their sous chef counterparts from across the state are positioned at fully equipped cooking stations on the terrace, while enthusiastic onlookers gather in the adjacent ballroom to observe the action. The superstar of the main event? Premium, local Alabama seafood.

The Alabama Seafood Cook-Off celebrates the bounty of the Gulf, promoting the mission of the Alabama Gulf Seafood brand presented by the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission. For the seventh year, this competition attracted chefs from around the state to pay homage to one of the most prized and indigenous specialties on the Coast.  

“I have always preferred fresh seafood as my inspiration over other proteins,” says chef Scott Simpson, executive chef of The Depot in Auburn and winner of the 2021 cook-off. “Well-prepared, ultra-fresh seafood is a delicious treat and it is so beneficially healthy.” 

Flavor, technique, creativity and thoughtful composition are the criteria that determine the winner of the cook-off. The top chefs advance to the Great American Seafood Cook-Off, a national competition with representatives from all 50 states. 

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Additionally, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Alabama Gulf Seafood brand, a $2,500 cash prize was awarded to first-place winner Jeffrey Compton. 

“I have a very modest and elegant approach to seafood recipes,” says the cooking champ. “Fresh fish and fresh produce are what’s on the menu.”

Jim Smith, another state legend, executive chef of The Hummingbird Way and 2011 winner of both the Alabama Seafood Cook-Off and the nationwide Great American Seafood Cook-Off, adds that the competition, though keen, takes second stage to “the collaborative experience and the goal of success in the seafood and restaurant industries.”

Each Alabama restaurant chef brings professional-quality recipes to the competitive stage, but the beauty of Gulf seafood is that it shines just as impressively with at-home preparations that highlight natural flavor, transforming fish or shellfish into the best version of itself. Prepare these competition-worthy dishes in your own kitchen to discover that cooking Alabama seafood is approachable for cooks of all calibers. 

Jeffrey Compton 2022 Winner

Executive Chef, The Battery, Birmingham

First-place winning chef Jeffrey Compton is committed to developing dishes featuring local produce sourced directly from farmers near his Homewood-based restaurant, The Battery. The freshest selection of seasonal ingredients is just as important to him as the origin story behind each one, which directly translates to the Gulf seafood that he grew up catching and eating. Redfish, the primary ingredient for his prized recipe, is a catch that was near to his heart from a young age growing up on the Florida coast and remains a favorite to this day. His cherished connection yields a dish bursting with flavor and passion, using simple techniques. 

Butter Poached Redfish with New Potato and Blue Crab Salad 

Adapted from chef Jeffrey Compton

4 – 6 (6-ounce) redfish fillets
salt, to taste
neutral oil for searing
12 ounces butter
2 tablespoons roasted garlic
2 lemons, zested and juiced
2 pinches red chili flakes
3 fresh bay leaves
fresh mint, to taste
fresh dill, to taste
fresh parsley, to taste
fresh basil, to taste
olive oil
New Potato and Blue Crab Salad (recipe below)
Lemon Bay Aioli (recipe below)

1. Season both sides of fish fillets with salt.
2. Heat oil in a saute pan over medium heat until shimmering.
3. Sear fish fillets until golden brown on both sides.
4. Add butter, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, chili flakes and bay leaves to pan. Allow butter to melt and poach the fish until cooked, about 10 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. 
5. Garnish with chopped mint, dill, parsley and basil. Drizzle with olive oil.
6. To serve, place a bed of New Potato and Blue Crab Salad on a serving dish. Top with a poached redfish fillet and drizzle with Lemon Bay Aioli. Serve warm. Serves 4 – 6

New Potato and Blue Crab Salad

2 pounds baby red potatoes, blanched
1/2 pound jumbo lump blue crab
1 cup French-style green beans, blanched and thinly sliced
5 radishes, thinly sliced
5 asparagus stalks, thinly sliced
1/4 cup spring peas
1/4 cup green onion, sliced
2 tablespoons capers
freshly chopped parsley, to taste
freshly chopped mint, to taste
freshly chopped dill, to taste
freshly chopped cilantro, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine potatoes, crab, green beans, radishes, asparagus, peas, green onion, capers and chopped herbs. 
2. Fold in olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss everything to combine.

Lemon Bay Aioli

3 lemons, zested and juiced
2 fresh bay leaves
2 tablespoons roasted garlic
2 cups Duke’s mayonnaise
salt and white pepper, to taste

1. In a blender jar, combine lemon zest, lemon juice, bay leaves and roasted garlic. Puree until smooth.
2. Place mayonnaise in a separate bowl. Whisk in lemon mixture and season with salt and white pepper to taste.

Morgan McWaters 2022 Runner-up

Chef de Partie, The Depot, Auburn

No stranger to the contest, McWaters also competed last year and was on the first place team for the 6th Annual Alabama Seafood Cook-Off alongside Chef Scott Simpson. A Phenix City, Alabama native, McWaters has been cooking since she was 21 years old. Whatever kitchen she finds herself in, she always applies her interest in learning about new cultures and world cuisines while focusing on regional foodways. She officially tied on her chef’s apron and started her culinary career at a local Southern-fried comfort food restaurant in Auburn called the Mason Jar Kitchen. Finding her passion, McWaters joined the historic Depot restaurant to sharpen her skills and work with sustainable seafood. She has also whipped up her mouthwatering dishes at famous cultural and culinary festivals, including Gather ‘Round in Atlanta (a Southern Food & Arts Celebration) and the Charleston Wine + Food Festival.

Fried Green Tomato Wrapped Snapper with Spicy Creamed Corn and Jumbo Crab Slaw

Adapted from chef Morgan McWaters

4 (6-ounce) Gulf red snapper fillets
salt and pepper, to taste
neutral oil for searing
8 large green tomatoes
2 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste 
1 cup buttermilk
Spicy Creamed Corn (recipe below)
Granny Smith Apple and Gulf Crab Slaw (recipe below)

1. Cut snapper fillets evenly in half. Season each side with salt and pepper to taste. 
2. Heat oil in a hot skillet until shimmering. Sear snapper until golden brown on each side. 
3. Using a mandolin, cut green tomatoes into 1/8-inch slices.
4. Carefully wrap tomato slices around each piece of seared snapper. Set aside.
5. In a large bowl, combine flour and cornmeal with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Pour buttermilk into a separate dish. Dip each tomato-wrapped snapper fillet into buttermilk, then dredge in seasoned flour mixture.
6. Fry fish in a deep fryer for 3 – 4 minutes until crispy and golden brown.
7. To serve, place a heap of spicy creamed corn onto a serving dish. Top with a warm piece of fish, then finish with a pile of crunchy slaw. Serves 4 – 6

Spicy Creamed Corn

6 large ears of corn
1/2 cup butter
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup cream cheese
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Shave the corn kernels off the cobs and set aside.
2. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the corn and stir to coat with butter. Stir in the cream and reduce until slightly thickened.
4. Transfer half of the corn to the jar of a blender and blend until creamy. Return to saucepan with whole corn kernels.
5. Add cream cheese and heat until melted and fully incorporated. 
6. Season with cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste.

Granny Smith Apple and Gulf Crab Slaw

2 honeycrisp apples, julienned
1/2 head red cabbage, shaved
1/2 pound jumbo lump Gulf crab
1/2 cup Alabama White Sauce (recipe below)
salt, to taste

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine apples and shaved red cabbage. 
2. Add crab and toss gently, taking care not to break down crab.
3. Fold Alabama White Sauce into the slaw, then season with salt to taste.

Alabama White Sauce

2 cups mayonnaise
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 dash Tabasco
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Add all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
2. Whisk ingredients together until smooth and creamy. 

Sam Adams

Chef and Founder, (small batch)

Following culinary school in Birmingham to study pastry arts, Sam Adams showed her chops in a few Kansas City kitchens before returning to her roots. In 2018, Sam moved back to the Iron City where she accepted a position at Hot & Hot Fish Club and eventually migrated to Highlands Bar & Grill. There she learned an abundance of technique. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Sam and her partner, Brian Dyer, were both furloughed. With their free time, the duo began a passion project, developing innovative menus to cook for friends. That evolved into (small batch), a pop-up restaurant which features a different six-course menu each month. The two have been wowing Birmingham locals ever since with their flavorful creations that spotlight fresh, local and seasonal ingredients.

Seafood Tamal

Adapted from chef Sam Adams

2 tomatillos, chopped
1 jalapeño, diced
2 cups vinegar
1/2 pound jumbo lump crab
2 tablespoons black garlic
1 small onion, diced
3/4 cup Shrimp Stock (recipe below)
1 cup masa harina
salt and pepper, to taste
4 – 6 corn husks, soaked
Fermented Corn Puree (recipe below)
Oyster Emulsion (recipe below)
Shrimp Pico de Gallo (recipe below)
Candied Habanero (recipe below)
2 radishes, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1. In a large stock pot, simmer tomatillos, jalapeño and vinegar until the vegetables are softened and the vinegar has infused them with flavor. Allow to cool slightly.
2. Add crab to vinegar mixture. Toss to combine and set aside to marinate. 
3. In a large skillet, saute black garlic and onion until tender and fragrant. Add shrimp stock, then blend with an immersion blender or in a standard blender until smooth.
4. Mix black garlic puree with masa harina to form a paste, adding more shrimp stock as necessary to achieve the desired texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Spread masa onto each corn husk, then top with marinated crab. Fold to seal and place tamales in a steamer basket.
6. Steam until fully cooked and tender, approximately 30 – 40 minutes.
7. To serve, swipe Fermented Corn Puree and Oyster Emulsion onto the bottom of a serving dish. Open a steamed tamal and place it on top of the purees. Finish with Shrimp Pico de Gallo and garnish with Candied Habanero, radishes and parsley. Serves 4 – 6

Shrimp Stock

1 pound shrimp
1 1/2 cups water
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder

1. Peel shrimp. Set aside, reserving the meat.
2. Place shrimp shells in a large stockpot with water, onion, celery, garlic, cilantro, black pepper and chili powder. 
3. Simmer until stock is fragrant.

Fermented Corn Puree

3 cups fresh corn
1 tablespoon salt
room temperature water
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper, to taste

1. To ferment the corn, place kernels in a sealable mason jar. Sprinkle with salt and lightly press with a wooden spoon to release juices. Pour in water to completely cover the corn. Seal lid and ferment at room temperature for 5 – 7 days until desired flavor is achieved.
2. In a large skillet, saute fermented corn, onion and garlic until translucent and tender.
3. Top with heavy cream and simmer until slightly thickened.
4. Using an immersion blender or standard blender, blend corn mixture with butter until smooth. Strain and season to taste.

Oyster Emulsion

1/2 pound fresh oysters
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 cup neutral oil
salt and pepper, to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Blend fresh oysters with minced garlic until smooth.
2. Pour into a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water. Be careful not to let the water touch the base of the bowl. 
3. Using a whisk, slowly pour oil into the oysters, whisking constantly to emulsify into an aioli. 
4. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Shrimp Pico de Gallo

2 tablespoons neutral oil
reserved shrimp meat from Shrimp Stock, approximately 1 pound
4 tomatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
1 jalapeño, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 lime, zested and juiced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat oil in a skillet until shimmering. Add shrimp and saute until curled and pink. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
2. Add tomato, onion, jalapeño and garlic, stirring to combine. 
3. Toss in lime zest and juice, cilantro, chives and olive oil to coat. 
4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Candied Habanero

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
2 habaneros, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon salt

1. Bring 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil to create a simple syrup.
2. Add habaneros to syrup and simmer until tender.
3. Mix 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 tablespoon salt in a small mixing bowl.
4. Strain habaneros and toss in sugar / salt mixture. 
5. Set habaneros aside to dry.

Robbie Nicolaisen

Executive Chef, The Hound, Auburn

Nationally recognized in and around the Southeast for his distinctive approach to Southern-style cuisine, Chef Nicolaisen began his culinary journey during his childhood, working on his family’s farm just outside of Asheboro, North Carolina. Chasing his passions, he attended the highly acclaimed Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, South Carolina, graduating with honors. In 2013, Chef Nicolaisen relocated to Auburn, and in 2017, he accepted an opportunity to lead culinary operations at The Hound. Serving as the executive chef of the famous and locally loved restaurant and bourbon bar, the chef focuses on high-quality Southern products thoughtfully sourced from local or regional growers. He recently launched his own new pop-up concept, The Chubby Belly Noodle Shop.

Grilled Cobia with Chubby Belly XO Glaze, Crab Fat Rice Middlins, and Collard Green Furikake 

Adapted from chef Robbie Nicolaisen

4 cobia fillets, 6 ounces each
salt and pepper, to taste
Chubby Belly XO Glaze (recipe below)
Crab Fat Rice Middlins (recipe below)
Collard Green Furikake (recipe below)

1. Fire up the charcoal grill.
2. Season both sides of cobia fillets with salt and pepper. 
3. Place cobia on grill and cook for 6 – 7 minutes on each side until fully cooked. Brush with Chubby Belly XO glaze.
4. To serve, place a scoop of Crab Fat Rice Middlins on serving dish. Top with cobia and finish with Collard Green Furikake. Serves 4 – 6

Chubby Belly XO Glaze 

5 1/2 ounces dried shrimp 
5 1/2 ounces dried scallops
1/4 cup Shaoxing (Chinese) wine or sherry wine, divided
3 1/2 ounces country ham (like Benton’s)
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 1/2 cups vegetable oil
5 Thai bird chilis, seeded and finely diced
7 large shallots, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup red pepper flakes

1. Divide dried shrimp and dried scallops into separate bowls. Add 1/2 tablespoon wine to each bowl, then enough boiling water to each to submerge proteins.
2. Soak shrimp for 1 hour to rehydrate, and scallops for between 2 and 6 hours.
3. Strain proteins and place into heatproof bowls. Place in steamer and steam over high heat for 15 minutes, reserving any liquid. Remove from steamer and set aside to cool.
4. Shred scallops with your fingers, then place in food processor. Working in batches, pulse scallops 6 – 7 times to yield short, fine threads.
5. Repeat with shrimp, pulsing 7 – 8 times until they resemble coarse crumbs.
6. Mince ham by hand until fine.
7. In a large mixing bowl, combine reserved steaming liquid with chicken stock and brown sugar. Set aside.
8. In a large wok, heat oil to 225 degrees. Add scallops and fry for 5 minutes. Then, add shrimp and fry proteins together for 15 additional minutes. Add ham and cook 3 minutes. Add chilis and cook 3 more minutes.
9. Drain seafood in a strainer and transfer to another large wok. Set aside.
10. Heat oil back to 225 degrees. Add shallots and fry for 10 minutes until golden but not crispy. Add garlic and cook 10 more minutes until golden and slightly crisp.
11. Reheat seafood over medium-high heat. Add remaining wine, soy sauce and reserved chicken stock mixture. Stir and simmer until fully reduced.
12. Once liquid has cooked off and garlic is golden, carefully pour seafood mixture back into oil. Lower heat to medium. Stir to combine. Add fish sauce and red pepper flakes. Stir to combine. Remove from heat. Let cool.

Crab Fat Rice Middlins 

2 tablespoons crab fat* or butter
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup white onion, chopped
1 cup rice grits, cooked
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon shiro miso butter (butter mixed with shiro in 2 to 1 ratio)
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 scallion, sliced
1 teaspoon crunchy garlic
1 teaspoon chili powder

1. In a large skillet, heat the crab fat until shimmering. Add garlic and onion and saute until tender.
2. Add cooked rice grits, sesame oil, fish sauce, shiro miso butter, soy sauce and cilantro. Toss and fry until fragrant.
3. Remove from heat and top with scallions, crunchy garlic and chili powder.

Collard Green Furikake

8 collard green leaves, stems removed and leaves cut into 1-inch squares
1 1/2 teaspoons light sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup avocado oil
1 large shallot, finely diced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1/2 cup benne seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a sheet pan with parchment paper or cooking spray and set aside.
2. Rinse collard greens until clean and dry. In a large mixing bowl, toss greens with sesame oil and salt. Arrange in a single layer on the sheet pan and bake for 15 – 18 minutes until crisp and lightly golden. Cool completely.
3. In a small skillet, heat avocado oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add shallot and ginger and cook for 3 – 5 minutes, until tender and beginning to brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
4. Add benne seeds to a dry skillet and toast over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until fragrant. Remove from heat and cool completely.
5. Combine toasted benne seeds, red pepper flakes, fried shallots and fried ginger in a mixing bowl. Gently add crispy collard greens and toss to combine.

*Crab roe blended with schmaltz, bacon fat or butter

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