Here at Alabama Gulf Seafood, we love traditions. And what better time for traditions than the holidays, right?
A few years ago, we decided to host our own Feast of Seven Fishes, a seafood feast rooted in the Christmas Eve celebration originated by Italian-Americans. So we called up seven of our chef friends—which became Alabama Seafood Cook-Off contestants one year later—and asked them to bring a dish to the feast!
Well, sort of. Since it’d be nearly impossible to have a dinner party during the holidays with these busy and spread-out restaurateurs, we settled for a hypothetical gathering. Each chef told us what they would bring to the table, paired with some nice stories and descriptions of their dishes.
This year, we’re celebrating a new crop of ASCO contestants (and one judge!) alongside a few from years past. And we switched up the menu a bit, too—instead of having these chefs bring just any ol’ Alabama Seafood dish, we asked them to focus on underutilized species. The sort of “bycatch” that most folks don’t think about much.
As a result, we’ve got some wonderful dishes on this year’s menu. Read below to see what each chef brought for the feast. (You’ll notice that a particular theme emerges…) Happy Holidays, folks!
Chef Jeremy Downey, Bistro V, Birmingham (2018 ASCO Champion)
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 Kelly Grady Hargroves, Wind Creek Hotel & Casino, Montgomery (2017 ASCO Contestant)
Smoked Gafftopsail Catfish
“I was around 11 years old when I first learned you could eat Gafftopsail Catfish. It has the texture of freshwater catfish, if not a little firmer. The flavor here is that of a good channel cat, but sweeter. You can grill it, fry it, or even poach it in court bullion—whatever you can do to regular catfish, you can do to these guys. My dish I would bring is Tabasco-brined hot smoked Gafftopsail Catfish on a bed of creamed corn thyme sauce, with duchess sweet potatoes and sautéed pickled collard greens.”
Jeremiah Matthews, Southwood Kitchen, Daphne (2018 ASCO Contestant)
“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 Brody Olive, Perdido Beach Resort, Orange Beach (2017 ASCO Winner, 2015/2016 ASCO Runner-Up)
“Cooler weather and water temperatures brings with it a unique fish to our coastal waters: the Sheepshead. I love catching these fish, almost as much as eating them. In fact, I just got in from catching a bunch of them last week! For a meal like this, I’d recommend broiled Sheepshead, then put that on top of a bed of fennel angel hair pasta and roasted artichoke, finished with a bit of brown butter.”
Chef Jason Ramirez, Perdido Beach Resort, Orange Beach (2017 ASCO Runner-Up, 2018 ASCO Contestant)
Fried Yellowtail Snapper
“I’ve lived on the coast for several years. One of my favorite fish to cook is the Yellowtail Snapper. It’s not a very common fish to cook because of its small size. The best way to prepare yellow snapper is to fry it whole. The fish will make perfect dinner for any family, big or small, and there is no closed season for it which means it’s available all year around. To make it juicy and tender, I like soak it in buttermilk and then dredge it in corn meal mixed with seasonings. With a sweet flaky texture, the fish melts in your mouth. I like to serve Yellowtail Snapper with herb-roasted fingerling potatoes, crispy bacon, and brussels sprouts topped with a Cajun remoulade.”
Chef Scott Simpson, The Depot, Auburn (2018 ASCO Runner-Up)
“Growing up in an Italian family, my great grandmother would always make sure the family was spoiled with Italian feasts over the holidays. Later when attending culinary school in Florence, Italy, I was reintroduced to those delicious and authentic recipes. One of the Italian favorites I brought back was Agrodolce, a concentrated sweet & sour sauce. I would grill my fish and then lather the sauce over the fish. Agrodolce is easy to make at home and consists of raisins (regular or golden) soaked briefly in hot water, then simmered with a red wine vinegar, sugar, Vidalia onion, and a bay leaf. Simmer until it thickens into a syrupy glaze. Agrodolce goes great with pan-seared Alabama Sheepshead. This pure white, flaky fish is the perfect vessel for this tangy sauce. Add a splash of your favorite extra virgin olive oil and serve it over your fish and you are ready to feast!”
Chef Jim Smith, ASMC Chairman (2018 ASCO Judge)
“One of my favorite fish to serve during the holiday season is Sheepshead; it is a great underutilized species that is easy to work with and has amazing flavor. I really like to use a blackening seasoning that I mix with paprika, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, and lots of toasted fennel seed. And then I grill it! Sheepshead is great to serve with roasted vegetables, fresh herbs, and a squeeze of lemon.”