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David Rainer: Tomato pie with blackened quail wins AWF cook-off

A down-home dish that utilized Alabama native species of wild game and vegetables was crowned champion recently at the Alabama Wildlife Federation Wild Game Cook-Off Finals at AWF’s Lanark home.

The LeMay Farms team put together the winning Chandler Mountain Tomato Pie with Blackened Quail, made with home-grown tomatoes and bobwhite quail that prevailed in a tight competition with an array of delicious wild game and fish preparations.

The LeMay Farms team of Steve LeMay, Lake LeMay, John Davis, Charlie Carper, Joel Brown, Curtis Eatman and Tim Saunders also won the Best Presentation Award.

Joel Brown said the tomato pie recipe came from his mom while growing up near Dothan, although the tomatoes came from a different region in Alabama.

“The Chandler Mountain tomatoes are just good tomatoes,” Brown said. “They’re grown up near Steele. Steve LeMay went up and got the tomatoes. They grow acres and acres of tomatoes up there. If you ride on top of the mountain (in northeast Alabama), there are tomatoes as far as you can see. That rocky soil just makes good tomatoes.

“I grew up in Dothan eating Slocomb tomatoes, but that’s too far to go. So, Chandler Mountain tomatoes it is.”

Chandler Mountain Tomato Pie with Blackened Quail

  • 1 pie crust
  • 1 large Vidalia onion
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2-3 Chandler Mountain tomatoes, depending on size
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper.
  • 8-10 fresh basil leaves
  • ½ pound mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 2 cleaned bobwhite quail
  • 1 teaspoon blackening seasoning
  • 2 tablespoon butter

“You get a refrigerated, ready-made pie crust, or you can certainly make your own, and bake it until it’s light brown,” Brown said.

Slice the Vidalia onion and sauté in butter until translucent. Dice the tomatoes and allow to drain.

“I put the diced tomatoes in a single layer on a paper towel to soak up the juice so the pie is not soupy,” Brown said. “I let the Vidalias cool a little and then add a layer in the pie crust. I mix the raw tomatoes in with the Vidalias and add a little salt and pepper. Then I’m going to add fresh chopped basil in that bottom layer. We grow basil, so we just pick the leaves, roll them up and chop them fine.

“The top layer is going to be grated mozzarella, mayonnaise and hot sauce. I like to grate a 1-pound block of mozzarella. I think it tastes better fresh grated. I mix in mayonnaise to get it thicker, kind of like you’re mixing up pimento and cheese. I give that a good dose of black pepper and several dashes of hot sauce, whatever your favorite hot sauce is, whether it’s Crystal or Tabasco. Then I spread it out on top of the pie. I bake it at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the cheese on top is golden brown.”

The LeMay Farms team got the dressed quail from Otter Creek Farms near Ohatchee. Brown said he fillets the breasts and separates the leg quarters intact. He sprinkles the quail with the blackening season and lets them sit for about an hour before he fires up his flat-top griddle.

Blacken the quail in melted butter on the griddle. The leg quarters will take a little longer on the griddle to reach the desired doneness. When done, dice the breasts into half-inch chunks and spread on top of the pie. Serve the leg quarters on the side.

“Mom used to make tomato pies when I was growing up, and that’s similar to her recipe,” Brown said. “Tomatoes were big where I grew up in Dothan. My whole family loves them. I’ve got about 20 tomato plants in my yard. I’m a tomato fan.”

The Alabama Ag Credit team that was victorious at last year’s state final with a taco made with fried Lake Martin bass paired with a slice of Conecuh sausage continued to take advantage of the lake’s abundant bass resources. The team of Andrew Harp, Mallory Harp, Brooklyn George and Russin Wilson took the runner-up spot in this year’s finals with Secret Spot Spotted Bass Cakes.

Andrew Harp admitted he doesn’t have a formal recipe for the dish, that it’s all about experimentation until the desired outcome is achieved.

“We stayed with the spotted bass theme,” Harp said. “We really like the bass. We wanted to do something unique, so we turned it into a fish cake. Instead of a crab cake, we have a fish cake. We take bass caught yesterday. In the cake itself is mayonnaise, cream cheese, diced jalapeños, diced onions, diced bell peppers, minced garlic, fish and breadcrumbs. I don’t have any proportions, but I’ll tell you what I did and that might help with proportions.

“I use four huge dollops of mayonnaise per one block of cream cheese, two cups of fish, about a half-cup of mixed and cooked onions, bell peppers, jalapeños and garlic. Then I take about one can of breadcrumbs. I use a little Tony’s (Chachere) on the fish that I sauté in butter on the flattop. Everything we did was on the flattop, the fish and the vegetables. The key is to try to keep the fish as chunky as possible. Get all your mix done first and make sure it’s the consistency you want your cake to be. Then you add the fish and mix it as little as possible to make sure you have nice chunks of fish. I make the patties up and let them sit. Then I sauté the patties in butter on the flattop and let them sizzle until you get a golden-brown crust on both sides.”

The runner-up team had a side of slaw made from green and purple cabbage with plain Greek yogurt, sugar to taste, diced onions, diced bell peppers and a couple of teaspoons of red wine vinegar. The dipping sauce was made with a combination of Sriracha mayonnaise, a tablespoon or two of honey, a couple of tablespoons of ketchup, yellow mustard and Worcestershire sauce.

The Palomar team of Todd Johnson, Beth Johnson, Maddie Johnson, Bruce Garrett, Robert Adair and Thomas Adair took home third place with its take on crawfish étouffée. Beth Johnson claimed this was a “secret” recipe but later admitted that it had already been published in two magazines.

Mudbug Bowl

  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 large onions (chopped)
  • 1 large bell pepper (chopped)
  • 1½ stalks celery (chopped)
  • 2 pounds crawfish tails
  • 2 tablespoons of liquid crab boil
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1 can Rotel tomatoes
  • 1-2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • ¼ cup parsley flakes
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup white rice
  • 2 loaves round bread
  • 1 cup water
  • Start the preparation by sautéing the vegetables in butter. Boil crawfish tails in water with crab boil. Drain and add to sautéed vegetables. Add cans of soup and Rotel tomatoes. Add garlic powder, parsley flakes and salt. Cook until heated through. Cook rice. Hollow out the inside of the loaf of bread and fill with crawfish étouffée. Top with dollop of white rice and parsley flakes. Serves eight.

Although these were the winners in the competition, the scoring was extremely close with numerous delicious dishes, including Snapper Ponchartrain with Shrimp and Crabmeat, Stuffed Pasta Shells with Venison and Wild Hog, Seared Duck Breast over Penne and Branded Elk with elk prepared four ways.

By the way, if you want to find more wild game and fish recipes or would like to submit one of your own, go to www.outdooralabama.com/WildEats and check out the variety of wild game, fish and seafood recipes available.

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.

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