FARGO -- The Great Sarello's Soup-Off has come to a close, and with 122 votes cast over two days of tasting last week at Sarello's, one soup reigned victorious. While our voters enjoyed all five of our featured finalists' soups, in the end there was no stopping the juggernaut that was Tom Shorma's Walleye Chowder, which received an impressive 54 percent of the vote.
We congratulate Tom for his original use of a favorite regional ingredient that both surprised our voters in its creativity and delighted them with its wonderfully delicious, local flavor. People were positively gushing about Tom's walleye chowder, which, with its lovely red color, will cut a pretty picture when served in the soup bowls that were graciously offered as our grand prize by our friends at Prairie Fire Pottery in Beach, N.D.
An avid foodie, Tom is also a passionate outdoorsman and experienced fisherman, both on the lakes of Minnesota and in over 30 fly-in fishing trips to Canada. Tom told us he serves as the "head chef" in their group of six to eight fishermen and is responsible for cooking up fresh walleye two to three times each day for four days straight. Tom approaches this culinary challenge with enthusiasm, making it his goal to give the group as much variety as possible.
Some of Tom's features include the traditional shore lunch, Cajun walleye and walleye tacos. But Tom said that each year the party favorite ends up being his personal favorite, and after tasting Tom's walleye chowder in last week's soup-off, our voters gave it their endorsement, too.
Tom's chowder is a clever twist on a traditional Manhattan clam chowder, which has a tomato-based broth as opposed to the thick and creamy classic New England chowder. When submitting his entry, Tom advised us of the factors he considered when creating his chowder, which included easy preparation and ingredients that can be found in most any local grocery store.
He even recommended looking for ingredients that are already cubed or chopped, which shortens the amount of prep time. Tom also takes the time to pre-measure all of the spices, which he puts in a small container to pack for the trip.
With both a daughter and mother-in-law requiring a gluten-free diet, Tom said that his chowder is easy to modify to accommodate their needs, and he included these tips in his recipe.
While Tom's walleye chowder was the star of the Great Sarello's Soup-Off, our voters raved about all five of our finalists' featured soups. To select our finalists among the dozens of recipe entries we received, we looked for soups that were unique to each other and different from what we typically offer at Sarello's. Any one of these soups would be a welcome addition to our menu.
Finishing in second-place was Michelle Erdmann of Fargo, with her recipe for Italian Sausage and Cheese Tortellini Soup with Spinach (Gio's favorite), affectionately dubbed "Ogre Stew" by her co-worker's children who noticed that the shape of the pasta resembles Disney-character Shrek's ears.
Third place honors go to Renee Crary of Detroit Lakes, Minn., with her elegant and creative blend of white and black beans called Tuxedo Bean Soup. Our runners-up, both hailing from Fargo, are Kristen Berg Rheault's Valley Borscht and Sarah Ann Miller's Beer Cheese Soup. All of the entries can be found on our blog at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.
Whether you submitted a recipe, cast a vote or contributed a prize for our winners, we are grateful to everyone who participated and helped make the Great Sarello's Soup-Off such a success.
Tom Shorma's Walleye Chowder
Serves about 6 to 8
3 pounds fish (walleye) fillets (boned and cubed)
6 medium potatoes (cubed)
8 strips bacon (chopped)
4 large carrots (chopped or shredded)
3 celery stalks (chopped)
3 onions - 1 red, 1 yellow and 1 white (chopped)
3 cups milk
2 cups water
1 can tomato soup (optional gluten free)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (optional gluten free)
*1 can of corn - optional. Sometimes I add it just for color. I first did it to use up the leftovers on the fishing trip.
8-ounce can tomato sauce
¼ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced (or ¼ teaspoon garlic seasoning)
¼ teaspoon celery salt
¼ teaspoon sage
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon of Louisiana Cajun Seasoning (it too is gluten free)
A pinch of cayenne pepper
Fry the bacon and then combine all ingredients (except the fish) in a large kettle. Cook over low to medium heat and let simmer until vegetables begin to tenderize. This typically takes 60-90 minutes.
Just prior to serving, add the cubed fish. Do NOT put them in too early. Gently push fish cubes into the center of the soup and stir lightly. Continue to cook over low heat until the veggies are tender. Be very careful if you do any additional stirring, as you want the fish cubes to stay as cubes.
When the cubes become white and flaky, it is ready to serve. This generally takes no more than 15 minutes. I like to serve it with a couple of Parmesan and/or garlic flavored croutons on the top (gluten free when needed).
Sarah and Tony Nasello owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead, Minn., and live in Fargo. Readers can reach them at dine//thelostitalian.areavoices.com