So I did something crazy this month that I would ONLY have done for a friend. I signed up for a recipe contest.

That’s me, all the way in the right, looking slightly shell-shocked.  I shared a home kitchen in prepping with five other amazing cooks as we competed in the Tournament de Tuna.

The contest was a promotion for the Queen of the Coast brand tuna products, a Portuguese import that has just recently become available in the United States.  Along with tuna packed in plain oil, Queen of the Coast offers pre-packaged “tuna salads” featuring ingredients such as chickpeas, black eyed peas, red beans and corn, and potatoes, carrots & peas.  Our mission was to choose one of these tuna salads and create a recipe featuring it as an ingredient.

I have to confess, I LOVE tuna.  Tuna salad was one of the first things I could make for myself as a kid, and it was through the laborious and repetitive process of chopping onions and celery that I learned knife techniques that helped cut down my salad making time!  The only drawback is that… well… tuna salad is the ONLY thing I’ve ever made with canned tuna.  And Matt, my usual recipe taste-tester, refuses to touch the stuff.

Weeks dragged by. I racked my brain for ideas. In the end, I decided on a crunchy tuna fritter, topped with tomato relish and avocado. My first attempt at the fritter drove me to despair – in trying to be “creative” I had added far too many things to the mix, creating a spicy, tangy, confused tuna mess. Inspecting the contents of the cans, I decided to use the tuna, potato, carrot and pea mix, hoping the veggies would add their own flavors to the fritter.  To accent the sauce the tuna is packed in, I added parsley and a simple binder of eggs and mayonnaise.

I intended for the tomato relish to be a tangy, flavorful complement to the fritter.  I looked at some recipes for tomato ketchup and pared back the spices, left the tomatoes chunky, and added some hot pepper flakes for heat.  I served the dish with a wedge of avocado to contrast texturally and add some coolness for the tomato relish.

The day of the competition rolled around. Mayhem! Raphael, spokesman for Queen of the Coast, was a guest judge.  Even the Queen of the Coast herself made an appearance!

Some contestants brought their own plates and silverware.  I was floored! My poor little fritter looked rather plain in comparison.

Dragana Harris‘ Tuna Puri

Chantal Duvall’s beautiful tuna martini with goat cheese mousse

Todd Romero’s tuna pasta

Holly Erickson’s tuna pot pie with spring greens

My lonely little fritter!

Joni Buck’s Texan Tuna Slider

Well… to make a long story short, somehow, someway… I won!

The judges said they liked the textural and flavor contrasts in my dish.  Whohoo! I definitely would have worked on the plating, given more time. Done some loops and swirlies with the sauce or something 🙂 But I was floored and excited to have won the contest.  Dragana won second and Holly third.

Here we are, Dragana, Holly, and I, with Raphael and the Queen of the Coast and my nifty tuna trophy:

Keep your eyes on the Raphael Facebook page for the recipe, which should be posted imminently.

All photos courtesy of Karen Cook: Check out the Facebook album here!