Speaking of being fortunate, I can attest to how mouth-watering fresh seafood can be after serving as one of the judges at the World Food Championships (WFC) held earlier this month in Orange Beach. One of my duties was to judge the signature dish round of the seafood competition.
I know, I know. How did I get that job? Judging the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Wild Game Cook-Offs for the past 20 years helps as well as hanging out with folks like chef Chris Sherrill, who helped me achieve EAT judging certification, and Mobile Press-Register food editor David Holloway.
Alabama Gulf Seafood was one of the sponsors of the seafood competition, which meant the chefs had the freshest Gulf seafood available to prepare the dishes.
When the difficult judging (in terms of distinguishing between the delicious dishes) was finished, chefs from Alabama held three spots in the top ten. Matt and Regina Shipp of Orange Beach took fourth place, followed by Tuscaloosa’s Paul Kerr in fifth and Orange Beach’s Haikel Harris in sixth.
Talk about accidental contestants, the Shipps, who operate the Fin and Fork restaurant in Orange Beach, didn’t have WFC competition on the radar until their culinary skills were on display at a local fundraiser, which also happened to be a WFC qualifier.
“We didn’t go into Uncorked for the competition,” Regina said of the event at The Wharf to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “It’s a fundraiser and we did it to help the community.”
For the structured dish, the cook teams were required to prepare mahi mahi on a cedar plank. The Shipps tested their creation the day before the competition.
“Regina asked me if I had ever done that dish,” Matt said. “I said, yes, about 15 years ago.”
The two stopped at Publix, purchased cedar planks and soaked them to get ready for the test run. The Shipps scored a 96.25 out of 100 on the mahi dish.
“That’s why it’s exciting,” Matt said. “I think I bring a certain talent to the preparation of the dish, and Regina’s creativity brings the dish to 100 percent.”
For their signature dish, the Shipps stuck with one of their favorites, yellowtail snapper.
Whole Yellowtail Snapper
1 to 1½-pound yellowtail snapper
4 cups rice flour
1 cup red chili flakes
1 tsp baking powder (for crispness)
Salt and pepper to taste.
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup dark rum
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup lime juice
½ cup sliced red bell peppers
½ cup sliced yellow bell peppers
½ cup sliced green bell peppers
½ cup red onions
Fresh cilantro to taste
Scale and score the yellowtail snapper and marinate the fish for several hours. Reserve half the marinade.
Combine rice flour, chili flakes and baking powder. Roll scored snapper in the rice flour mixture. Drop in 350-degree oil for about 6-7 minutes, depending on the size.
While the fish is frying, take the reserved marinade and simmer until reduced by half to make the finishing sauce. Remove the fish from the fryer and let it drain on a rack momentarily. Plate and spoon plenty of sauce over the top.
After making the finals, all the contestants were required to use grouper filets in the deciding dish.
Fin and Fork Grouper
1 6-ounce grouper fillet
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Salt and pepper fillet, roll in flour, dip in buttermilk and roll in Panko bread crumbs before sautéing in skillet until brown on both sides. Transfer to 500-degree oven to complete cooking with cook time depending on the thickness of the fillet. Cook in oven for 10 minutes for a 1-inch-thick fillet.
Lemon Beurre Blanc Sauce
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup white wine
1 Tbsp heavy cream
½ pound unsalted butter
Combine lemon juice, white wine and heavy cream. Simmer to reduce by half, and slowly add cold butter one pat at a time to make the beurre blanc sauce.
½ cup of lemon beurre blanc sauce
½ cup diced red onions
2 cups sliced button mushrooms
8 deveined Gulf shrimp
1 cup white wine
½ cup lump blue crab meat
Heat beurre blanc. Add onions and heat until translucent. Add mushrooms and shrimp until shrimp are about halfway cooked. Add cup white wine and simmer to reduce until shrimp are just done. Do not overcook or the shrimp will be tough. Add crab meat and combine.
Take fish from the oven, plate, and spoon over a generous portion of topping with crab and shrimp over fillet.
“For us to finish fourth for our first time, that was pretty awesome,” Matt said. “The competition was really close. Between the winner and fourth place was just a little over a point.”
Close behind was Harris’ team from the Flora-Bama Yacht Club with its Margarita Mahi and stuffed grouper finale. However, the team’s success was not because of a lot of practice.
“We didn’t get to put a lot of prep into it this year because we’ve been so busy with all the evacuees from Hurricane Michael coming over,” Harris said. “So we got a little behind. I got an email from World Food Championships to turn in my recipes ASAP; the deadline was near. I ended up putting the recipe for the first round together in less than two hours to keep from getting disqualified.”
1 6-ounce mahi mahi fillet
Cavender’s Greek seasoning to taste
1 Tbsp sesame oil
Brush seasoned fillet with oil and slow-roast seasoned mahi on cedar plank on grill away from direct heat until fish is done, 15-20 minutes.
¼ cup diced yellow onion
2 ounces unsalted butter
1 cup jasmine rice
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp orange juice
Zest from half of each fruit
1 ounce tequila
½ ounce triple sec
Sauté onions in butter until translucent. Add remaining ingredients and cook until all liquid is absorbed by the rice and rice is tender.
Citrus Beurre Blanc
½ cup diced yellow onions
2 Tbsp diced garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
1½ cups white wine
1 cup lemon juice
¼ cup orange juice
1 pound unsalted butter
Sauté onions and garlic until translucent. Add wine and fruit juices. Simmer to reduce by half, and slowly add cold butter on low heat until incorporated.
For plating, add layer of Margarita Rice, top with mahi fillet and ladle beurre blanc over top.
Boursin and Boudin Stuffed Grouper
2 links boudin sausage, casings removed
5 ounces Boursin cheese
2 ounces Panko bread crumbs
1 6-ounce grouper fillet
1 pound unsalted butter
3 ounces jumbo lump crab meat
Flora-Bama House Rub
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
¼ cup shallots
6 cloves black garlic
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
½-cup white wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
12 egg yolks
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp salt
1 pound melted butter
1 sprig tarragon, minced
Combine boudin, cheese and Panko to make stuffing. Cut pocket in grouper filet and fill with stuffing. Rub Flora-Bama House Rub on each side of fish filet. Sauté butter until brown. Reserve half and add fish fillet to remainder to brown on both sides. Transfer to 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.
Sauté jumbo lump crab in reserved brown butter.
To make sauce, sauté shallots and garlic in butter. Add vinegar and juice from half lemon. Simmer to reduce until thick syrup and set aside. In double boiler combine egg yolks, cayenne and white pepper, salt and remainder of lemon juice. Slowly heat and lightly whisk until egg mixture starts to thicken.
“Thicken the eggs to where when you drag your whisk through it you can see the lines left in the eggs,” Harris said.
Pull egg mixture from the heat and slowly fold in the pound of melted butter. Fold in the white wine vinegar reduction. Fold in minced tarragon to complete the sauce.
Plate fish fillet. Top with sautéed crab meat. Liberally spoon Béarnaise Sauce over top.
Mouth drooling yet? Mine is, and I’m not even hungry.
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.