Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Great Garlic Cook-Off 2013: Carnival-style Fish Sticks with Lemony Jalapeno Mayonnaise and Spicy Apple Kohlrabi Slaw

You might recall that this time last year I wrote about my trip to the Gilroy Garlic Festival and the Great Garlic Cook-Off.  You remember, the one where I was mistakenly awarded 2nd place and the garlic crown that goes with it, only to have it quickly revoked in front of hundreds of people. Yep, that one.  Well, believe it or not, I entered again this year in hopes of going back and bringing that 2nd place prize home.

Not only do I love Gilroy's location in the central part of California, but this cook-off, although not the biggest in the country, is quite prestigious in the contesting world because it is all about the food. No voting or or social media elements involved whatsoever.  Just great food with garlic, and as everyone knows, great food always contains garlic.  So when I was invited to compete for my third time, I couldn't have been happier.

As with every contest I have been involved in, I always feel like I have it in the bag until I get a glimpse at the competition. After looking over the other recipe names, I thought this year had some especially inventive and delicious sounding dishes with some pretty impressive competitors behind them.  I honestly figured I didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning anything, but what the heck.  I decided to go anyway and enjoy a weekend in a beautiful part of the country, eat some wonderful food and maybe have a cocktail or two with friends.

This year I competed with a recipe that I called Carnival-style Fish Sticks with Lemony Jalapeno Mayonnaise and Spicy Apple Kohlrabi Slaw.  In a nutshell it was cubes of super fresh halibut on the end of a wooden stick, deep fried in a light and crispy tempura batter, complemented by a creamy dipping sauce and a fresh coleslaw side.

The inspiration for the fish part of my dish came partially from a fish corn dog appetizer that I was served some months ago at a cooking school opening here in Denver, and partially from America's love of food on a stick. It seems like everyone is putting something on a stick these days, be it cake, pie or meatballs, everyone loves eating a "pop" of some sort. Up to this time I had avoided this trend, but I thought that this really captured Gilroy's festival spirit this time of year.

The number one rule of this cook-off is that all recipes must incorporate 6 cloves of garlic.  Last year, even though I did use the required amount of garlic, it lost a great deal of its flavor during the cooking process, which cost me points with the judges. Remembering that problem, I decided to really showcase the garlic this year and not cook it at all which presented me with another problem, I needed to add the remaining garlic to a dish with flavors that were strong enough to hold their own.  Enter the spicy coleslaw.

OK, everyone knows about coleslaw, so I figured I needed to make mine really different and exciting for this competition.  In addition to the usual cabbage, for my slaw I added lots of crispy sweet apple, minced onion and some pleasant, slightly radish/cabbage/turnip tasting kohlrabi.

This isn't the prettiest kohlrabi bulb I've ever seen, but you get the idea.

After playing around with a couple of flavor combinations, I decided to dress my slaw with a honey mustard type dressing.  To kick up the flavor of my dressing I then added the remaining 5 cloves of crushed garlic and a tablespoon of grated fresh horseradish.  It tastes kind of like a sweet and sour coleslaw with the volume turned all the way up. I loved it.

Spicy Apple Kohlrabi Slaw

OK, so there's my inspiration and recipe development process.  Now I had to come up with an eye catching name and clever presentation for my dish.  I always like to give my recipes a descriptive yet clever name that will catch the eye of the judges during the initial round.  I like for my titles to give them just a little information about the dish, but not too much so they want to take a closer look at what's going on.  Since any given contest could have hundreds, if not thousands of entries, something needs to help your recipe stand out to make that first cut. Your recipe will never have a second chance to make a first impression.

Never underestimate the power of presentation at cook-offs.  Some cook-offs only allow for you to present on a plain white plate, but if you have the option, doll it up.  Gilroy encourages you to be creative with your presentation.   This year I chose to play on my theme and served mine the way I thought it might be served in a festival setting starting with a large brown cardboard "boat" as my base.  I then lined that with a newspaper looking printed tissue that I bought from a local fish and chip shop.  I then used smaller individual containers inside to hold my fish sticks, slaw and mayo.  I later heard from one of the judges that this pushed my dish over the top.

Well, if you haven't guessed by now, I didn't win second this year as I had hoped, I won first.  Like I said before, I didn't think I had a chance against the other contestants, so when that first place crown was placed on my head I was more than surprised.  And the best part of all?  Well, in addition to the $5,000 dollar prize of course, the best part is that I got to keep that crown this year.

Even though it had a pretty rough trip home, my garlic crown has pride of place on my wall.

Interested in entering next year? The call for entries will take place sometime in September so it isn't too early to start thinking about your recipe.  To get an idea of the types of recipes they are looking for, click here to see some of the winning recipes from the past and read more about this festival.

Carnival Style “Fish Sticks” and Lemony Jalapeno Mayo with Spicy Apple Kohlrabi Slaw

Spicy Apple Kohlrabi Apple Slaw:
1/4 of a small head of green cabbage (about 12 ounces), shredded
1/6 of a small head of purple cabbage (about 8 ounces), shredded
1 medium size bulb of kohlrabi, peeled and julienne sliced
2 large apples, peeled and julienne sliced
1/4 of a small purple onion, finely diced

Slaw Dressing:
1 tablespoon grated fresh horseradish
5 cloves of garlic, grated
3 tablespoons stoneground mustard
3 tablespoons vegetable or light olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
1 – 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Place the cabbages, kohlrabi, apples and onion in a large bowl and toss well; set aside.
For the dressing, place all of the ingredients in a small jar with a tight fitting lid and shake well.  Pour over the cabbage mixture and toss again.  Cover and refrigerate while the fish is prepared.

*If making this recipe more than an hour or so ahead, leave out the horseradish until right before serving as it gets stronger as it sits. 

Lemony Jalapeno Mayonnaise:
1 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, grated
1 large jalapeno, finely diced (remove half or all of the seeds and membranes for a milder flavor)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Carnival Style Fish Sticks:
1 – 1/2 pounds meaty white fish (such as halibut or cod)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup ice water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 wooden craft sticks or wooden skewers
Salt (optional)

Place fish on paper towels and gently press out all the moisture, making sure it is very dry; set aside.

Heat a deep fryer or deep frying pan filled with enough oil that it comes up at least 2” at the sides, to very hot.

While oil is heating, place flour, sugar, salt, egg ice water and vegetable oil in a bowl and mix well to combine.  Transfer to a tall, skinny container (such as a quart mason jar); set aside.

Cut the fish into 12 – 2 x 3” cubes (the thicker the better for cooking).  If using a wooden stick like I did, make a small pilot hole in the top middle of the fish with a small paring knife. The pilot hole should be much smaller than the stick so that it fits tightly. Push the stick or skewer in the middle of each piece of fish, stopping about an inch from the end. Holding the end of the stick, dip each piece of fish into the batter in a swirling motion, completely covering the top of the fish and just a bit of the stick.  Gently shake the excess batter from the fish before putting it directly into the hot oil.  Very carefully hold the stick just a moment to seal the batter so the fish sticks won’t stick together.  Drop fish sticks into the oil and cook until they are a golden brown being careful not to over cook.  Drain on paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt if desired.

Serve with Lemony Jalapeno Mayonnaise and Kohlrabi Apple Slaw.


Nancy said...

What a fabulous win! I love the whole idea of your entry, and I am definitely going to have to try that slaw -- with or without the fish sticks. Congratulations again!

Danielle D'Ambrosio said...

OMG YAY! Even though I already congratulated you on Twitter I have been so swamped at work I had not checked out any of the recipes. This one looks incredible...sounds incredible...and obviously must taste incredible since you had some pretty stiff competition!! So excited to say I know the garlic queen :)

Vickie said...

Beautiful! Love the food, the presentation and that feisty crown. Congratulations!!

Barb | Creative Culinary said...

You know how delighted I am for you...a most deserving win! I am disappointed with one thing though - where is the photo of YOU with your crown on your head? That would have made it ever more perfect!

Sounds both delish and doable; sort of the perfect recipe in my book...congrats again!

Craig said...

Wow! Congratulations Karen, that's really brilliant news!
The food looks divine. $5000? You can come visit us in the UK and teach us a thing or to!
Seriously, well done.

Laureen Pittman said...

It was so great to be there when you won! So happy for you!

Laureen Pittman said...

So happy I could be there to taste your recipe and see you win! The Garlic Crown looks great on you!

Holly @ abakershouse.com said...

Thanks for sharing the details of all the effort that went into your recipe. So very pleased and excited for you!! Woo-hoo!!

Lynne Laino said...

Karen, there is just nothing less than amazing about your dish. The presentation couldn't be more perfect, I want to order one myself! Congratulations on a very well deserved win. Thanks so much for generously sharing the thought that went behind it all. Well done!

Angie Schneider said...

Congratulations, Karen!
The kohlrabi slaw looks yummilicious!

Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

How terrific...congratulations on winning the top prize. I can see why your presentation was so well received.

Cathy at Wives with Knives said...

Congratulations, Karen! How exciting to win first place. I have been to Gilroy several times and know how crazy everybody is about their garlic. Your entry is so creative - love the fish on a stick!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Congrats! This is a big deal - taking first in this competition is hard, from what I understand. Love the presentation, and totally dig the use of kohlrabi in slaw - terrific idea. Really fun post, and I'm delighted for you that you won.

Yvette said...

I love the background of it all. So cool to read how and why! Great blog post, but more importantly, congratulations Garlic queen. What a win and a wonderful story. Salud!!!

Lea Ann (Cooking On The Ranch) said...

BRAVO!!!!! I'll get your autograph next time I see you! ;) I'm impressed that you chose a deep fried dish. I think frying can be tough. Things fall off the stick ... to mention one. Love that photo of the kohlrabi. I think your slaw sounds fabulous.

Amy said...

Oh my goodness. Big congrats on your big win! Well deserved. This is such a creative and festive recipe. I'm not surprised that you've won. Truly love your presentation. ;)

Kirsten@My Kitchen in the Rockies said...

Congratulations again, Karen. I am so happy for you!