Volume 13, Issue 42 ~ October 20 - 26, 2005
Bay Bounty
by M.L. Faunce

Contestants travel many paths to National Oyster Cook-off

Doug Pope of Delta, Pennsylvania, grows lemon grass in his herb garden. When news of the National Oyster Cook-off at the St. Mary’s County annual Oyster Festival came his way, the chef added one and one together in Oyster-Lemongrass Stew.

Veronica Callaghan of Glastonbury, Connecticut, says she doesn’t know the origin of the oysters she buys from her local New England fishmonger. But when she discovered the oyster-cooking competition on the Internet and remembered a cousin in St. Mary’s County, she concocted the Chili-Lime Oysters on Polenta Circles that paid her way to Maryland.

Lynne Laino of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, had time on her hands without high school football games. That and the prospect of another trip to see her freshman son at the University of Maryland inspired her to dream up Corn Battered Oysters with Fresh Creamed Corn. Her creamy oyster dish took the 2005 grand prize, earning her $1,300 as well as time with her son.

In California, Florida, New Jersey and Oregon, other oyster-loving cooks concocted original recipes for dishes in one of three divisions: Hors D’Oeuvres; Soups and Stews; Main Dishes.

As well as oysters, Maryland sent contestants. Brian Boston, chef at the Milton Inn in the Baltimore County town of Sparks, won both first place and best presentation awards for his literary hors d’oeuvre. For Milton Inn Paradise Lost Oysters, he topped a smoky oyster on the half shell with fresh corn, shiitake mushrooms, apple-wood smoked bacon and beurre blanc sauce.

Money-winning recipes and honorable mentions earn the title World-Famous Award Winning-Recipes. They’re collected in the annual cookbook published by Maryland Department of Agriculture Seafood Marketing Program and the Rotary Club of St. Mary’s at Lexington Park, the event’s organizers.

With Maryland oysters just in season, now is the time to dream of national honors and test recipes, which are due in August, when Seafood Marketing director Noreen Eberly culls the best from a field that’s typically about 100.

Come October, the top nine chefs pack up their supplies and ingredients. If you had the job of shopping for the ingredients for this year’s recipes, your list would have included buttermilk; lots of fresh corn; fresh ginger; gorgonzola cheese; horseradish; hoisin sauce; minced mint leaves; citrus-flavored olive oil; panko (Asian breadcrumbs); and white wine.

Clearly, what they were cooking was not your father’s oyster stew. Still, the tried and true also travels in these chef’s pantries: chicken broth; chives; corn bread mix; lots of cream; white bread crumbs.

The key ingredient is Maryland oysters, supplied by the St. Mary’s Rotary.

On the third Saturday in October, the competing chefs cook their recipes at the festival kitchen in view of anybody who wants to watch but the cook-off judges. Finally, the recipes are garnished with vivid imagination, flowers and props, to be served half to the audience, half to the chefs. On the palates of those five chefs, editors and food writers (including Bay Weekly editor Sandra Olivetti Martin), fame and fortune ride.

Find rules for the 27th annual National Oyster Cook-off on October 21, 2006 at www.marylandseafood.org/
index.php. or e-mail Eberly at [email protected]

2005 Grand Prize Winner
Corn Battered Oysters with Fresh Creamed Corn
–by Lynne G. Laino

2 dozen large Maryland oysters, drained
6 strips of bacon, cooked, diced
8 ears of fresh corn (4 cups), blended until finely chopped but not smooth
3 tablespoons butter
1&Mac218;4 cup shallots, minced
1&Mac218;2 to 3&Mac218;4 cup light cream
salt and white pepper to taste
1 small box of corn muffin mix
1 small jalapeño, finely diced
2 teaspoons onion powder
canola oil for frying
1&Mac218;4 cup sweet red pepper, finely diced

Creamed Corn: Melt butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat; add shallots, stirring until soft and translucent. Add half of corn and cook 4-6 minutes more. Add light cream and reduce heat, stirring until heated through and slightly thickened. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Keep warm.

Oyster Batter: Prepare corn muffin mix, replacing milk with water. Stir in remaining corn, jalapeño and onion powder.

Heat oil in large frying pan. Dry oysters and coat with corn batter, shaking off extra batter. Cook 6 at a time for about 2 minutes a side or until golden. Drain on paper towels.

Spoon creamed corn onto center of plate in a circle. Top with 6 oysters. Sprinkle with bacon and diced red pepper.
Serves 4

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.