CLARIFICATION--Additional recipes from last weekend's National Oyster Cook-Off in St. Mary's County are posted on The Post's online edition, washingtonpost.com. Once logged onto the site, click Metro under the News links, then click Communities and finally click on Southern Maryland. The recipes initially were posted at another location on the World Wide Web site. (Published 10/24/1999)
"Crabbie Oysters," prepared by Linda Hurt of Lexington Park, didn't win the judges' grand championship in Saturday's National Oyster Cook-Off Competition. But it did win the Peoples' Choice Award, prompting celebration by her fans in the grandstand.
Twelve finalists from around the country gathered in Leonardtown on Saturday for the oyster cooking competition. The cook-off was one of the main events at the 23rd annual St. Mary's County Oyster Festival, which celebrates the opening of the oyster season on the Chesapeake and recognizes the men and women who make their living working the water.
The cook-off at the St. Mary's County Fairgrounds included four categories of fresh oyster preparation: hors d'oeuvres; soups and stews; main dishes; and outdoor cookery and salads. Winners were named in each category, as well as an overall grand champion.
This year's overall winner was Marjorie Fortier of West Redding, Conn., for her entry in the soups and stews category. "The Oyster Bowl" is a hollow crusty bread roll filled with a tasty oyster stew, rich and robust with colorful peppers peeking through. The creative dish with its visual appeal is a perfect addition to a holiday feast.
Visitors watched the preparation and sampled the contestants' entries when they were ready for the judges. Judges for the national championship were five food experts, including food writers and chefs. And just to keep the experts honest, the People's Choice Award was judged by festival-goers who sampled all of the seafood offerings in a given category.
Local finalists included Hurt and Anita Meridith. Hurt was told in August that her recipe was accepted from more than 200. She's a cook at her son's restaurant, Captain Pat's Seafood in Lexington Park. She prepared for Saturday by testing her recipe on the restaurant's customers. Hurt said she "cooked for the restaurant as I always do on Friday, then at the end of the evening prepared the recipe one more time for the crowd that was left." In addition to winning the People's Choice Award, her "Crabbie Oysters" took first place in the hors d'oeuvres category. Hurt's entry was a tasty combination of oysters, crab, and Swiss and Parmesan cheeses presented on oyster shells. A hint of nutmeg was an interesting complement to the dish.
Meridith, of Mechanicsville, competed for the third time since 1981. She said she's still amazed to be competing with amateurs as well as "world class chefs." She works in the Town Hall at Leonardtown by day and cooks for fun by night. She won second prize in the soups and stews category for her "Oyster Maze Chowder"--a wonderfully rich and creamy chowder, flavored with half a cup of slivered carrots and a little sugar. It was "somewhat jazzed up," she says, meaning she added a degree of richness with butter and half-and-half, ingredients she typically doesn't include when preparing the dish for her family. A dash of oregano on top added a little accent.
Fortier, this year's grand champion, also was a finalist in the main dish category in 1981 when she entered "Leonardtown Oyster Cakes." She entered again this year because of her family's love of oysters. Fortier says the 16 people who gather around her Thanksgiving table have requested she reduce her side dishes this year and triple her "Famous Scalloped Oysters."
The festival, which ended Sunday, was a showplace for fun and lots of seafood--"oysters any way you like 'em," fried clams, scallops, crab cakes, shrimp, chowder, stuffed ham, burgers and sausages were just some of the choices available from local nonprofit groups raising funds for their charities.
In addition to the cook-off, the festival hosts the U.S. National Oyster Shucking Championship. George Hastings of Severn, whose adjusted winning time was 24 oysters opened in 3 minutes 29 seconds, beat out champions from at least 11 states to earn the title.
If you didn't get a chance to check out the St. Mary's County National Oyster Cook-Off and the Oyster Festival sponsored by the Rotary Club of Lexington Park this year, mark your calendar now for Oct. 21 and 22, 2000. It's a wonderful taste of Southern Maryland's finest. And, if you'd like to test your favorite oyster recipe and enter the contest, write to: Oyster Cook-Off, P.O. Box 653, Leonardtown, Md. 20650.
Want to sample other prize recipes from the Cook-Off? They are available by logging onto washingtonpost.com, the online edition of The Washington Post. Once there, simply click Metro unter the News links, then click Communities and finally click Southern Maryland.
Grand Champion: The Oyster Bowl
Marjorie Fortier, West Redding, Conn.
* 1 quart shucked Maryland select oysters
* 6 large, round, crusty rolls
* 2 eggs, slightly beaten
* 2/3 cup milk
* 2 teaspoons oil
* 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
* 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
* 1/2 cup chopped onion
* 1 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
* 2 tablespoons prepared bacon bits
* 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
* 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper--or to taste
* 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper--optional
* 1 (16-17 ounce) jar prepared Alfredo sauce
* 2 lettuce leaves
* 6 small cherry tomatoes
Cook oysters in their own liquor 3-4 minutes, or until firm. Drain; coarsely chop any large ones; set aside. Cut top 1/4 off each roll; remove soft crumb leaving 1/2-inch wall. Save crumbs for future use, if desired. In a medium bowl, combine eggs and milk. Dip hollowed-out rolls and tops in egg mixture, coating all sides. Place on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven 10 minutes or until dry and slightly crispy; remove and keep warm.
In a large skillet or saucepan, heat oil to medium-high temperature. Add red and green bell pepper; stir fry two to three minutes. Add onion; stir-fry two minutes. Stir in mushrooms, bacon bits, garlic powder, nutmeg, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, two to three minutes or until vegetables are tender crisp and no liquid remains. Stir in Alfredo sauce and reserved oysters. Heat, stirring constantly until bubbly.
Arrange lettuce over platter or individual plates; place prepared "bowls" on lettuce; fill with oyster mixture, dividing equally. Secure tomatoes in center of tops with toothpick. Arrange "covers" over "bowls." Serves six.
CAPTION: National Oyster Cook-Off champion Marjorie Fortier autographs her recipe for King Oyster, played by Dan Parker of the St. Mary's Rotary Club.
CAPTION: One of the entries, oysters in a flaky shell, was the creation of Charles F. Lee of Turnersville, N.J.