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Wild game cook-offs are seriously delicious events

From the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

-- It’s tough enough to judge one of the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Wild Game Cook-Offs. But when you consider that I’m trying to pare down my massive frame through the Weight Watchers program, it makes it significantly more difficult.

These dedicated wild game chefs have probably never heard of the point system, except when it concerns how they fared in the competition. And I can promise you there were points galore in the way the dishes were prepared. The most luscious, mouth-watering ingredients were applied, often one on top of the other. It’s not that wild game needs much fancy preparation, in my opinion, but these cooks are serious competitors when bragging rights about their favorite wild game dish are concerned.

These cooks/chefs get serious when it comes to wild game. The winning team even baked its own bread, which is some serious dedication. Others decided to ensure it was as much fun preparing for it as much as the actual competition in the Gulf Coast District.

Take the Team Choctaw Bluff, which won the best fish dish, for instance.

“Before getting started – have a crawfish party,” said team member Davis McPhillips. “Drink plenty of (adult beverages) and have someone else pick the crawfish for this dish while you enjoy the party. When the party has died down put on an apron and dive in.”

The list of winners:  Best overall and winner of the game division – Texal with its Elk Cuban Sandwiches; winner of the fowl division – Fowl Mouth with its Crab Creek Duck Etouffee; and winner of the fish division – Team Choctaw Bluff with its Fried Green Tomatoes with Blackened Catfish and Crawfish Gravy. Mobile Gas won the potluck division with its seafood gumbo. Best presentation went to Oysterella’s, while the Deerslayers were winners of the Alabama Army National Guard People’s Choice Award.

For the overall winning team, which will represent the district in the state competition Aug. 8 at AWF headquarters in Millbrook, Jace Aran baked a lot of bread to garner support of the judges for its sandwiches. By the way, Jace said whitetail is an easy substitute for elk. 

Elk Cuban Sandwiches

Cuban Bread
Starter: Three-quarter teaspoon of yeast
One-third cup of warm (90-100 deg) water
One-third cup of all purpose flour
Dissolve yeast in water till foamy - 5 minutes, then add flour and store in the fridge for 1 day (or up to 3 days)

Bread: Four and a half teaspoons yeast (2 packets)
One and a half cups of warm water (90-100 deg)
Four tablespoons of lard - cut up (he used Crisco sticks for the cook off)
One tablespoon sugar
One tablespoon sea salt
One-half batch of the Starter
Four to five cups of all purpose flour 

Elk or Venison
 
Take hind quarter roast and add dry rub of your preference and marinate overnight. Over hot fire, grill until medium rare or medium at the most. Slice thinly with a deli slicer if available.

Aran’s instructions for the bread follow: Dissolve the yeast  in four table spoons of the water and leave for 5 minutes, then add sugar and salt.  Add the cut lard, rest of the water and then the half batch of starter.

In his Kitchen Aid mixing bowl, he put on the dough hook attachment and started adding flour 1 cup at a time.  On a setting of 4, mix for 9 minutes.  Add the flour until the dough firms up and is more clingy to the dough hook. The sides of the bowl should be clean.  It usually takes almost 5 cups of flour.  

Dump the dough out, clean the bowl and spray it with Pam. Then return the dough to the bowl, cover it and let it rise for 45 minutes.  Lightly dust the clean counter with flour and lay the dough out.

“For the cook-off I made 200 small rolls,” Aran said. “Each batch made 30 rolls. I made a long log (2 foot) and cut 30 rolls out of it.  Place 15 rolls on parchment paper, cover with parchment paper and a towel. Let it rise for an hour and fifteen minutes. Heat your oven to 350 degrees and cook for 18 minutes.

“For my family I make Cuban loaves, which you do the same way but divide the same dough into two equal loafs and let it rise for the same time. Before you bake it, soak two pieces of twine in water, lay one lengthwise on each loaf (end to end).  After baking remove the twine and you will have a loaf worthy enough to sell on Calle Ocho in Miami.”

If you opt for the larger Cuban loaves, increase the oven time to 25 minutes at 350 degrees.
 
The elk was taken in Chama, N.M., and processed by friend and avid hunter Tim Lawrence.
 
“We cut the rolls in half, added meat, two small slices of baby Swiss, two pickles and yellow mustard,” Aran said. “Butter the bread on the outside and put it into a press until it is flat, hot and gooey. We used Breville panini presses on a 380-degree setting.” 

Crab Creek Duck Etouffee

Five or six large whole ducks (mallards are preferred)
Three to four links Andouille sausage chopped
One large onion, chopped
Two bell peppers, chopped
Six large celery stalks, chopped
Two large garlic cloves, diced
One tablespoon crushed red pepper
One and a half teaspoons thyme
Three bay leaves
One tablespoon oregano
One and a half teaspoons sage
One-half cup chopped fresh green onions
One-third cup chopped fresh parsley
Two cups all-purpose flour
One and a half cups oil

First, smoke the whole ducks until fully cooked a day ahead. After they smoke and cool, slice out the breasts and slice length wise then in half (place these pieces in a bowl for later). Take the carcasses and place in pot. Cover with water and boil until you have a smoky broth and the rest of the meat has come off the bones. Strain the broth and meat. Discard carcasses. Try to end up with about 8 to 9 cups of stock.

For the etouffee – add oil in skillet and heat, add flour and make your roux (dark golden brown with nut like smell). Add onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic to roux and cook 3 minutes or until onions are transparent. Add sausage, red pepper, thyme, sage, oregano and bay leafs. Cook for another couple of minutes and add broth a little at a time until it becomes a thick sauce. Whisk while you add to keep it smooth. Add duck slices and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring to keep from sticking or burning. Add green onions and parsley and let sit covered for about 15 to 20 minutes before serving over dirty rice or white rice.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Blackened Catfish and Crawfish Gravy

Team Choctaw Bluff wasn’t real specific on the portions of ingredients, so you may have to experiment a bit.

Crawfish mix:
Sautee red, yellow, green peppers and yellow onion in butter/oil w/ Italian seasoning.
Add Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper, garlic, cayenne pepper, and a few Tabasco shakes.
Add flour to thicken.

Add cream (half and half and/or heavy cream) and reduce.
After mixture has thickened, add crawfish tails, stir and simmer.
Add Parmesan Cheese to mixture to thicken.
Continue to simmer to desired consistency. 

Fried Green Tomatoes

Slice quarter-inch thick.
Mix flour, Creole seasoning, pepper, milk and eggs all together to form thick batter.
Roll tomatoes in mixture (double batter if necessary).
Fry to golden brown.

Blackened catfish:

Heat cast iron skillet until white hot.
Dip catfish in butter.
Rub down with black pepper, lemon pepper, garlic powder, paprika.
Place in skillet 2 minutes per side or until charred. (Add pat of butter to top of fillet).

Squeeze a fresh lemon on the catfish, place it on the crispy fried green tomato and drizzle crawfish gravy on top.

Obviously, after tasting all those delicious dishes, it became pointless to worry about what the scales were going to grunt come Monday. Oh, by the way, David Holloway (Mobile Press-Register food editor) and I have already volunteered to lose another belt notch for the State Finals. Sometimes, sacrifices must be made for the cause. 

– By DAVID RAINER

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