Most Big Ten fans are probably familiar with the Outback Bowl’s annual promotion where the winner determines what free appetizer hungry fans are entitled to the day after the game. It’s a fun little promotion that serves to generate Twitter buzz and provide free bowl tickets to EDSBS’s Fryin’ Ryan Nanni.
For those of you less familiar with casual dining-themed bowl games, anyone eating at an Outback Steakhouse the day after the game can get a free appetizer. If the SEC wins, fans get a free Bloomin’ Onion. If the Big Ten wins, fans get the less-fun sounding Coconut Shrimp. Since my Hawkeyes were able to assert the B1G West’s dominance over Mississippi State and the lowly SEC yet again, coconut shrimp was the app du jour.
Now, I’ve never been a fan of Outback Steakhouse. It’s nothing against them, it’s just that if I’m going out for a steak I’ll go to a nice local steakhouse and not a Crocodile Dundee themed Applebee’s. But hey, it’s free shrimp! Everybody likes shrimp! And it’s an excuse to celebrate a great bowl victory for an extra day. So after work I picked the wife up and took her out for a casual night on the town.
Why? Why is this a dish? It was terrible. Now, I’m a sucker for coconut. Almond Joy is the absolute best Halloween candy (don’t @ me). The coconut added nothing but shame to this appetizer.
A complete breakdown: The shrimp were breaded. Nothing coming from the sea should ever be breaded unless it’s a flavorless garbage fish like cod. Cod: the honeydew melon of the sea! As we all learned from Forrest Gump, shrimp is a very versatile main ingredient. A shrimp cocktail can be a delicious and refreshing hors d’oeuvre. Shrimp can be covered in a light pesto sauce and broiled to make a mouthwatering side dish at home. Of the (presumably) thousands of ways to prepare shrimp, frying and breading them is the only method that makes shrimp less edible than when it’s raw.
The coconut sticking out of the breading added nothing to the flavor. It was enough coconut to make you feel like you’re eating pencil shavings, but not enough to add a deliciously subtle complexity to the overall flavor.
The dipping sauce was clearly just Kroger brand orange marmalade. It would be a great topping on a dry, flavorless British breakfast. Or tolerable or whatever. On coconut shrimp it tastes like the deep fried orange peels you’ll find at the dystopian Iowa State Fair in twenty years as we slowly enter the Mad Max stage of civilization.
By contrast, here’s the SEC’s signature dish: The Bloomin’ Onion
Holy shit look at that. The presentation is beautiful. Playful, even. It’s like a huge, sharable onion ring that’s as bright as the friendly morning sun. It’s both delicious, and has a real nice profit margin. That’s a proper accompaniment to an inexpensive cut of meat and a Bud heavy.
I had to see my waitress walk no fewer than three of those past me and set them down on much happier tables.
Thank god for the contract between the league and the Outback Bowl, because it will be a few years before Iowa plays in that game again. This is a purely food based decision (like most of my decisions), but I’m cheering for the SEC in every future Outback Bowl. The difference in quality between these dishes is preposterous. Scroll up and look at my shrimp one more time. Welcome to the club. Well done, SEC. You finally have my begrudging support (only on January 1st and only if you’re in Tampa).
If the Big Ten is going to sit back and be fine with coconut shrimp as our reward, than we don’t deserve to win, pure and simple. The Bloomin’ Onion is the superior appetizer, hands down. Maybe after the contract is up in 2020, Jim Delany will renegotiate it to get us some Kookaburra Wings or Sydney Shrooms. Maybe we’ll get the Mac & Cheese bites, I don’t know! The one thing I do know is that I can no longer support team coconut shrimp.