First place to the Fish Market

Fat Tuesday’s gumbo won the People’s Choice award. (Photo: Katherine Solomon/ByWard Market BIA)

I’ve long maintained (and not entirely facetiously) that if you want to win the annual ByWard Market Stew Cook-Off, it never hurts to reach for a carton of heavy cream.

And that certainly seemed to be the ticket last Friday, as Fish Market Restaurant won its first No. 1 prize with judges at the 22nd annual lunch-hour tummy-warmer that opens Winterlude every year.

Despite bone-numbing cold, the event this year attracted 650 people to raise $6,300 for the Lowertown Community Resource Centre summer camp and Have a Heart — Give Smart program.

For $10, folks sampled as much stew as they liked from 22 competing restaurants and soup kitchens, then voted for their favourite. While Fish Market placed top with three judges, Fat Tuesday’s won People’s Choice for its Duck Confit and Andouille Sausage Gumbo.

Judges had a tie for second place going to Restaurant E18hteen and Fat Tuesday’s, and third to Steak Modern. People’s Choice second-place was Social, while third place was Fish Market.

Asked about her prize chowder, Fish Market chef Tania Budd says the mix contained stone crab and snow crab meat, double-smoked bacon “and a whole bunch of stuff.”

Ah, don’t forget the cream.

“Winning is absolutely amazing,” she said. “Holy Moley!”

The Fish Market Restaurant’s crab stew was tops with the judges at the ByWard Market Stew Cook-Off. (Photo: Ron Eade)

As one of six judges, I particularly enjoyed a concoction by Restaurant E18hteen cook Steve Darou that included pig cheek, chili peppers, white beans, pork shoulder, pork stock, cumin, hominy, and crispy tortilla strips for texture. Great flavour with just a little kick, and his was among the very few entries that made any attempt to dress up the presentation, using a few leaves of fresh coriander for colour.

I also liked the stew from Courtyard Restaurant, which wisely chose beef brisket slowly braised 48 hours in Mill St. Tankhouse ale and served with brown butter infused vegetables, onion gravy, with a clever savoury cheddar and chive scone for interest, flavour and texture. The brisket delivered characteristic full flavour, while the meat still held together enough to maintain texture. Too often, overcooked beef tends to either fall apart or lose its meaty mouth feel.

Below are the winning recipes, but let me offer a few footnotes before you wade in.

In the Fish Market Restaurant, you’ll see a commercial seasoning called “Old Bay” among the ingredients. This is widely available in the United States and to restaurants, but not so much to the rest of us. It is basically a Creole seasoning, so I would substitute a mix of ordinary pickling spice. The recipe also calls for a roux to thicken; I would make about 1 cup of roux using equal parts melted butter and flour, which is whisked and gently cooked on the stovetop about 3 or 4 minutes just until it froths.

In the Fat Tuesday’s recipe for duck confit and andouille sausage stew, you’ll need 2 cups of shredded duck confit. This horribly overpriced prepared meat is available at better butchers, or you can make it at home by coating two duck legs attached to thighs in a savoury blend of herbs and salt, letting it sit overnight, then brushing it off and gently poaching about 6 hours immersed in vegetable oil. Andouille is a spicy smoked sausage used in Cajun cuisine. Substitute another spicy smoked sausage and I don’t think anyone will arrest you.

The recipe also calls for 2 cups of black bean “dirty” rice, which is Louisiana style where rice is cooked with black beans and Cajun spices. Really, don’t sweat it if you can’t find it: substitute a store-bought pouch of any other savoury rice blend that strikes your fancy. It also calls for lobster paste — another arcane ingredient — but normal folks can substitute fish sauce from a bottle. Again, you need a roux to thicken.

Fish Market Crab Corn Bacon Stew

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

A-list ingredients:

■ 8 cups (2 L) heavy 35-per-cent cream

■ 2 cups (500 mL) chicken broth

■ 1/2 cup (125 mL) clam juice

■ 3 bay leaves

■ 1 bunch, fresh thyme

■ 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) Old Bay seasoning

■ 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) chili flakes

■ 1 tablespoon (15 mL) dry sherry

■ 1 jalapeño pepper, pierced in middle with sharp knife

■ 1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter

B-list ingredients:

■ 1 pound (450 g) double-smoked bacon, cubed

■ 1 cup (250 mL) cooking onion, diced

■ 1 cup (250 mL) leeks, white part only, chopped

■ 1 cup (250 mL) celery, chopped

■ 2 tablespoons (25 mL) fennel seeds

■ 1 cup (250 mL) snow crab meat

■ 1 cup (250 mL) canned stone crab meat

■ 1 cup (250 mL) red-skin potatoes, cubed

■ 1 cup (250 mL) carrots, diced

■ 2 cups (500 mL) corn kernels

■ Salt and pepper, to taste

■ 1 cup (250 mL), as needed to thicken

1. In a saucepan on medium-high heat, combine all ingredients in List A and simmer about 20 minutes, lid off, to reduce liquid volume, then strain and discard solids.

2. In a second saucepan, fry bacon on medium-high heat to crisp; remove bacon and set aside. In the fat, sauté onion, leeks, celery and fennel seeds until onions are translucent but not browned. Add cream mixture, bacon, crab meat, potatoes, diced carrots and corn and simmer until tender.

3. Season to taste with salt, pepper, then stir in roux as needed, 1 tablespoon (15 mL) at a time, simmering between each addition to thicken as desired.

Source: Fish Market Restaurant chef Tania Budd

Fat Tuesday’s Confit Duck and Andouille Gumbo

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

■ 1 tablespoon (15 mL) cooking oil

■ 2 cups (500 mL) shredded duck confit meat

■ 2 cups (500 mL) smoked, crumbled andouille sausage

■ 2 cups mixed diced onion, carrots, green pepper

■ 1 cup (250 mL) dry white wine

■ 1 teaspoon (5 mL) fresh thyme leaves

■ 4 leaves fresh basil, chopped

■ 2 teaspoons (10 mL) fresh oregano leaves

■ 1 tablespoon (15 mL) roasted garlic

■ 8 cups (2 L) duck or chicken stock

■ 1 tablespoon (15 mL) chipotle paste (or other chile paste)

■ 2 tablespoons (25 mL) lobster paste (or substitute fish sauce)

■ Salt and pepper, to taste

■ 2 cups (500 mL) dark roux, or as desired to thicken

To serve:

■ 2 cups (500 mL) cooked Louisiana-style “dirty” rice

1. Heat oil in a large stock pot, add duck and sausage and sauté until sausage starts to release its fat. Add diced onion, carrots, green pepper and sauté about 2 minutes, then add white wine and reduce liquid by half. Add fresh herbs, garlic, duck or chicken stock, chipotle and lobster paste; stir and simmer 45 minutes.

2. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and stir in roux, 1 tablespoon (15 mL) at a time, simmering between each addition to thicken as desired.

3. To serve, spoon Louisiana-style rice into bowls as desired and top with stew.

Source: Fat Tuesday executive chef Mathew Gregoire

Twitter.com/roneade

Connect with Ron Eade |Google+|@roneade|reade@ottawacitizen.com