There’s nothing like gathering around the dinner table during the holiday season—especially when there’s all kinds of fresh Alabama Gulf Seafood being served. Trouble is, it can be tough to get many of Alabama’s best chefs in the same room, and even tougher in December.
That’s why we started doing the next-best thing a few years ago: A hypothetical holiday gathering featuring some of the recent shining stars of our Alabama Seafood Cook-Off!
Sure, we can’t claim to have invented the Feast of Seven Fishes, a holiday tradition with roots that trace all the way back to Italy. But with the plentiful bounty of fresh product in our Gulf waters, we like to think that our rendition would be pretty hard to beat.
Just like every year, we called up a handful of our ASCO chefs to ask what Alabama Gulf Seafood dish they’d bring to the table. Here’s what they came up with for this year’s feast. Try not to get too hungry, folks, and maybe try your own Feast of Seven Fishes this holiday season!
Chef Ramon Jacobsen, Odette, Florence (2019 ASCO Winner)
Sudado de Pescado (Grouper Stew)
“Growing up on the coast of Peru, we had a lot of opportunities to share seafood during the holidays. My mom was the primary cook at home, but my dad was always the one in charge of this dish because it was his favorite. First, we make an aderezo, which is the base, that includes small diced red onions, garlic, and ají amarillo paste (peruvian pepper). Add big pieces of Grouper fillet with the skin on for more flavor. We top that with julienned red onions, tomatoes, green onions, cilantro, and a mix of white wine and beer. Cover it and let it cook for 20 minutes. A sudado is like an improvised party of close friends where the strangers would not be welcomed. It is a family meal!”
Chef Jeremy Downey, Bistro V, Birmingham (2018 ASCO Winner)
Baked White Trout
“I would do a fish we caught regularly off the waters of Dauphin Island: White Trout. It’s a delicious fish that’s often never utilized in restaurants. It has a light and flaky texture with a minimum degree of oiliness. It can be great for a local fish fry. My preference is to treat it like Rainbow Trout and take off the head and organs. You can put a nice 14-inch fish on a foiled sheet pan. Stuff with fresh oregano and lemons, then pour on the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes in oven and serve with a watercress radish and walnut salad. Top with a dill-Dijon aioli. Finish with a great lemon-infused extra virgin oil. Drink with a nice Italian Soave or lean Pinot Grigio.”
Chef Brody Olive, Voyagers, Orange Beach (2017 ASCO Winner, 2015/2016 ASCO Runner-Up)
Whiskey Cured Blackfin Tuna
“Blackfin Tuna has been showing up on fish distributers’ lists over the past couple of years. Blackfin are often the preferred bait of big game sportfishermen to lure up monster billfish from the depths of the Gulf. Ranging from 5-25 pounds, this smaller cousin of the Yellowtail Tuna, has made its way into our kitchen over the past couple of seasons. When fresh, the Blackfin holds up to the same cooking applications that other Tuna species yield themselves to. Seared, grilled, smoked and even cured! The blackfin is considerably cheaper than the more “known” species of tuna and is often labeled a “by-catch.” We have found that it is a fun fish to experiment with when available, which is how this recipe was drafted. Smoky notes of whiskey are a great play date for the Blackfin, and with a little patience and a few ingredients, cured Tuna is all yours!”
Chef Jeremiah Matthews, Southwood Kitchen, Daphne (2019 ASCO Runner-Up, 2018 ASCO Contestant)
Seared Sheepshead with Lemon Beurre Blanc
“With the cooler weather comes one of Alabama’s best kept secrets: Sheepshead. A mild yet tasty white fish, it has just in the last few years started to get national attention. We’ve been eating them for years around here, but now it seems the secret is out. The best thing about Sheepshead, other than being plentiful in the fall and winter, is that it can be prepared in a variety of different ways. One of my favorite ways is to dust it with finely ground pecans and rosemary. A brief flash in the pan and finish in a hot oven. Paired with a simple lemon beurre blanc, cayenne sweet potatoes, and wilted spinach, it’s hard to go wrong.”
Chef Scott Simpson, The Depot, Auburn (2019 ASCO Contestant, 2018 ASCO Runner-Up)
Seared Albacore Tuna with Smoked Shoyu Calabrian Chili Glaze, Miso Cannellini Puree, and Fennel Citrus Seaweed Salad
“To evoke the essence of this holiday meal, I created an Italian-inspired sustainable seafood dish. The inspiration is basically a classic tuna and white bean salad that’s very common in Tuscany, Italy, where I went to culinary school. Normally it’s made with an Italian/northern white bean with tuna packed in olive oil, but I like the Asian spin on it and therefore added some miso, soy sauce, and pickled ginger seaweed salad. We use Albacore to create an awareness around consuming more sustainable substitutes and encouraging diners to realize what species of fish they are ordering. Basically, my motivation was to celebrate the feast in a Depot Global way and also speak to the high demand and the extreme shortage of certain species of tuna and other overfished tuna.”
Chef Matthew Palamara, Coastal Alabama Community College, Gulf Shores (2019 ASCO Contestant)
Smoked Mackerel and Roasted Vegetables
“The holidays bring cooler weather and a desire for hearty comfort food, and this simple dish is a personal favorite. I start off by soaking the Mackerel in water with salt, sugar, ginger, and chili flakes for about 2 hours. (If you don’t have Mackerel, you can use any other fish you have, fresh or frozen. Oily fish will yield better results.) Remove from the liquid and smoke until done (cooking time will depend on temperature and thickness of fish). If you don’t have a dedicated smoker, you can improvise one with your grill and some wood chips, or even a fire pit. While the fish is smoking, toss some vegetables in olive oil and roast in a 400 degree oven until crispy on the outside, but tender on the inside. Good choices would be potatoes, peppers, fennel, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. When the fish is done smoking, flake it into a bowl and add the vegetables. Toss with some olive oil, fresh citrus juice and zest, sliced olives, basil and mint. Season with salt, pepper, and some toasted fennel and cumin seeds. Drizzle with a lemon garlic aioli and enjoy!”
Chef Kelly Grady Hargroves, Wind Creek Hotel & Casino, Montgomery (2017 ASCO Contestant)
Crispy Croaker Tacos with Shrimp Tortillas
“A few years ago, I had grown tired of traditional holiday fare. Don’t get me wrong—turkey, ham, cornbread dressing, and all the other trimmings are great, but I wanted something different. I came up with the idea of doing different cultural cuisines for the holidays: Chinese, Thai, Creole, Cajun, and Mexican are some of the dishes I prepared. For this feast, I would do a new version of an old favorite: the fish taco. The fish would be Croaker, fried in an extra crisp batter, wrapped in a corn & shrimp tortilla, topped with a spicy cabbage slaw and finished with a black garlic and avocado aioli.