LEONARDTOWN -- JUST when you think you have tasted every possible oyster dish, new ones come along and blow you away.
That happened to me last weekend while I was serving on a panel of judges at the National Oyster Cook-Off in Leonardtown. The winning dish combined oyster stew and mashed potatoes. When I first saw oyster stew swimming in a bowl of mashed TC potatoes, I told myself, "This is either going to be horrible or wonderful." It was the latter.
The curried stew had rich, warm flavors and the mashed potatoes thickened the mixture and gave it a pleasing texture.
This dish came from Sally Brassfield, who lives in California, a Southern Maryland community of about 8,000 that sits at the foot of the Thomas Johnson Bridge on the banks of the Patuxent River. By winning both the soups and stews category and the grand prize of the cook-off, Brassfield picked up $1,000 in prize money and a silver tray.
Kenneth R. Ward of Hulmeville, Pa., finished second in soups and stews and won $150 with an oyster leek chowder dish. Dorrie Mednick of Baltimore made an oyster chowder with smoked salmon and finished third, picking up $100.
The contest, in its 18th year, is sponsored by the Maryland Department of Agriculture Seafood Marketing Program, the Rotary Club of St. Mary's (county) and the St. Mary's County Department of Economic and Community Development.
There were other unusual yet successful pairings with oysters. Matching cheese and oysters, for instance, can be tricky. It is easy for the flavor of the cheese to swallow that of the mollusk. But Joyce M. Johnson of Chevy Chase matched some broiled oysters with a spread of goat cheese and herbs. The result was a dish that, rather than muting the oysters, encouraged them to stand up and say hallelujah. This dish, served on toast and atop a bed of greens, finished first in the outdoor cookery and salads section of the contest.
The dish that finished second in this category called for massaging the oysters with a barbecue rub, frying them and then serving them in endive leaves. It was made by Mark Mayers of Ocean City. The third-place finisher was last year's grand-prize winner, Marty Hyson of Baltimore. Hyson covered oysters with a mixture of garlic, basil and chopped walnuts, then grilled them over a fire topped with hickory chips.
Southern Maryland is famous for stuffing its hams with a spicy mixture of kale, and Sallie Bilko of Lexington Park won first place in the main-dish category by treating oysters as if they were hams. She stuffed them with seasoned greens and baked them.
Second place in the main-dish category went to Robert R. Vining of Metairie, La., who combined oysters, angel-hair pasta and Tasso, a seasoned smoked ham popular in Cajun country. Debra Wheat of Terrell, Texas, finished third with an oyster and shrimp quiche.
The winning hors d'oeuvre paired breaded oysters with a sprightly jalapeno mayonnaise. It was whipped up by Richard M. Rizzio Jr. of Troy, Mich. Thomas G. Fitzmorris of Covington, La., finished second in the category with a peppery oysters au poivre. Shirely DeSantis of Bethlehem, Pa., came in third with a dish that covered oysters with mixture of ginger, black bean and hoisin sauces, and chili paste.
Copies of a booklet containing all the winning recipes can be ordered by sending $4 to Oyster Cook-Off, P.O, Box 653, D.E.C.D., Leonardtown, Md. 20650.
Here is the recipe for the overall winner.
Sally Brassfield's curried oyster stew
1 pint Maryland oysters with liquor
1/4 cup butter
1 small onion, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 pint milk
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 tablespoon dry sherry
Drain oysters, reserving liquor. In 2-quart pan, melt butter. Stir in onion, flour, curry powder and salt. Cook for 5 minutes over low to medium heat, stirring frequently.
Add oyster liquid and milk, simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Add corn and oysters, cook until the edges of the oysters curl. Add sherry and salt and pepper to taste. Place a scoop of mashed potatoes in center of large soup bowl and spoon stew over potatoes. Garnish with parsley and serve.
Pub Date: 10/22/97