By David Rainer
Most fundraisers and similar activities that require significant public participation may enjoy several years of success and great turnouts. Most, however, tend to fade significantly after a decade or so.
The Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) Wild Game Cook-Off series is the exception to the rule.
Now in their 20th year, the AWF Cook-Offs not only continue to thrive, they also are breaking records for attendance again this year.
Earlier this fall, the record for attendance at a single event was set in Birmingham. Only a few weeks later, that record was broken at the cook-off on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
“AWF’s Wild Game Cook-Offs started in 1996 in Mobile,” said AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard. “The success of that event led to a major expansion of the events in 1997-98. Today, we have 15 Wild Game Cook-Offs in Mobile, Andalusia, Thomasville, Selma, Auburn, Montgomery, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Talladega, Guntersville, Huntsville, Tuscumbia, Decatur, and Athens and the State Finals at AWF Headquarters in Millbrook.”
Gothard said records for single-event attendance and gross revenues were set in 2015, and both of those records were broken multiple times this year.
“The latest records for single-event attendance (1,200+ people) and single-event gross revenues ($70,000+) were set this year by our Gulf Coast (Mobile) Cook-Off, where it all started 20 years ago,” he said. “The success of the Cook-Off is directly tied to the AWF people involved and their passion for what our organization is all about. It is a combined passion of our Cook-Off Committee members and our local AWF membership that leads to these great events. The events themselves are just plain fun, and the cook teams really enjoy sharing their culinary skills with everyone and hearing the kudos that accompany a great wild-game dish.”
For most of those 20 years the Cook-Off has been held in the Mobile area, I’ve been lucky to be one of the judges. As a hunter and angler, there’s nothing I’d rather have on my plate than wild game and fresh seafood.
And just when I thought there couldn’t be anything better than I’ve had in the past 20 years, my taste buds rejoiced when I was served possibly the best dish ever experienced at one of the AWF Cook-Offs.
It was not only my opinion. David Holloway, the Food Writer at the Mobile Press-Register who has been to almost as many AWF Cook-Offs as I have, had the same opinion of the dish presented in the Wild Game category at the Gulf Coast event. It was from the Middle Bay Boat Company team, and it was called Stuffed Elk Tenderloin with Whiskey Beurre Blanc.
Wait, you say, there are no elk in Alabama. True, at least nowadays, but the AWF Cook-Off rules allow for dishes to be prepared with any wild game that is harvested in North America. Obviously, running down to the Winn-Dixie and loading the cart with Butterballs for a turkey dish is verboten. But any harvested wild game or wild seafood from domestic sources is good to go.
When Holloway, fellow judge Sally Irvine, another food writer from Mobile, and I took the first bite, we all realized this dish was special: melt-in-your-mouth elk with a beautiful beurre blanc sauce. We all gave it the highest score normally possible, but Holloway added an additional half-point. Obviously, the dish won best in Wild Game and best overall. Beth Strickland shared the recipe, which I’m sure can be altered with venison as long as you carefully age the meat.
Stuffed Elk Tenderloin with Whiskey Beurre Blanc
1 cup of Italian dressing
1 tbsp Worcestershire
1 tbsp minced onion
1 tsp garlic
½ tsp pepper
1 asparagus bundle
1 red bell pepper
8 tbsp of butter
Steak dry rub seasoning of your choice
6 ounces feta cheese
Package of sliced prosciutto
8 tbsp of butter
1 sweet onion
¼ tsp garlic
1 cup of Jim Beam Whiskey
1 cup of beef broth
1 cup of heavy cream
Dash of pepper
Dash of salt
Mix all the marinade ingredients together and pour on the tenderloin in a large Ziploc bag. Refrigerate the tenderloin for 2-3 hours.
After the tenderloin is marinated, start preparing the stuffing. Trim the asparagus. Slice the red bell pepper in thin strips. Melt the butter in a large skillet on medium heat. Add asparagus and cook for 8-10 minutes until slightly tender. Remove the asparagus and add the bell pepper to the same melted butter. Cook on medium heat for 8-10 minutes until the bell pepper is slightly tender.
Prep the tenderloin by butterflying lengthwise; be sure not to cut all the way through the meat. Cut the tenderloin into 3- to 4-inch sections. Depending on the size, this should yield 5-8 pieces; dust each section with the steak seasoning. Use a Jaccard meat tenderizer to flatten the meat to make it more pliable for stuffing. Place a spoonful of feta, 3 stalks of asparagus and 3-4 strips of red bell pepper in each section. Wrap the meat up so that the feta is secure and the asparagus sticks out each end, wrap in 2-3 slices of prosciutto and secure with skewers.
In a clean pan, prepare the sauce by caramelizing onions and garlic in butter on medium-high heat. Turn the heat down. Add the whiskey and allow it to simmer a few minutes until the alcohol evaporates. Then add the beef broth and continue to simmer a few minutes while whisking. Continue to whisk while adding in the cream. Dash with salt and pepper and let the sauce simmer and bubble on low until your meat is done, continuing to whisk gradually. If sauce is too runny add a little flour to thicken if needed.
Heat your grill to a medium heat; grill each side 5-10 minutes until the prosciutto is slightly crisp. Remove and let sit for 5 minutes. Remove skewers, cut in half and drizzle sauce on top to serve.
The dish was so good that I forgot to take a photo before it was all gone. Sorry.
The top dish in the Wild Fowl category went to the Mobile County Wildlife Association team with Uncle Tom’s Banded Dove Bombs, a dish Tom Leatherbury Jr. got from John Beall.
Uncle Tom’s Banded Dove Bombs
Jimmy Dean Hot sausage
Soak doves in buttermilk overnight. Cut dove breasts into strips and mix with sausage.
Brown mixture until cooked. Put in refrigerator to cool. Take single crescent roll, add scoop of Velveeta cheese and scoop of dove-sausage mixture. Wrap carefully to form something akin to a Hot Pocket. Return to refrigerator until ready to fry. Drop in 400-degree peanut oil for about 4 minutes and enjoy.
Be careful of that lava-hot cheese though.
The Delta Waterfowl team bagged first place in the Fish category with its Shrimp Boulettes dish.
1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined small shrimp
2 1/2 cups of mashed potatoes
1/4 stick unsalted butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped bell pepper
2 green onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp chopped, pickled jalapeño
1/2 tsp parsley
Cajun seasoning to taste
Bread crumbs, regular and Panko
1 cup milk
2 cups self-rising flour
Salt to taste
Sauté seasoned shrimp in tablespoon of canola oil until pink. Set aside until cool. Mince in food processor and place in refrigerator. Boil potatoes; drain, mash and set aside.
Melt butter in shrimp pan and add onions and peppers. After onion is translucent, add green onion, garlic, jalapeño, parsley and Cajun seasoning. Stir while cooking for 5 minutes.
As vegetables cool, beat one egg and add it and 1/2 cup of bread crumbs to the skillet and combine well. Stir in shrimp and mashed potatoes. When combined, start forming balls with the mixture. Combine egg and milk for dipping station. Dip the balls in flour, egg wash and roll in bread or Panko crumbs. Drop in 365-degree cooking oil and fry until golden brown.
Visit www.alabamawildlife.org/2016-gulf-coast-wild-game-cook-off/ for a complete list of the Gulf Coast Cook-Off winners.
PHOTOS: (David Rainer) Although the cooking team from the Mobile County Wildlife Association didn’t take best overall, the team won first place in the Fowl category with Uncle Tom’s Banded Dove Bombs and third place in the Game category with their Coon Boar Burritos.