The Ultimate Oyster

Winners in a Maryland cook-off present delicious dishes ranging from hors d'oeuvres to stews.

November 14, 2001

Marty Hyson knows his oysters. A self-proclaimed "oyster cookin' " fool, he not only won the People's Choice Award for his Creamed Oysters in Acorn Squash at this year's oyster-cooking contest in St. Mary's County, but he also presented a dish that captured the fall and holiday season.

Hyson, 38, a mortgage banker who lives in Baltimore, loves his Ravens, Maryland seafood and puttering around the kitchen. His addiction to cooking shows helped spark the idea for his succulent winter-squash-based oyster dish.

"I watch Food Network all the time," Hyson said. "There was a special on squash. The acorn squash is supposed to be the most buttery. I knew the oyster cook-off was coming up, and I thought it would be a neat idea to stuff acorn squash with creamed oysters."

Hyson tested the dish on his in-laws. They gave the combination a thumbs up, and he entered it in the contest, where it took second place in the main-dish category.

"If you are having a formal Thanksgiving dinner, it would be a very nice dish to serve because it fits with the holidays and this time of year," Hyson said. "It's easy to make, impressive and one of my favorite recipes."

Five ingredients, plus a can of cream of celery soup, is all that's needed to duplicate Hyson's recipe, which captured the taste buds of festival goers at the 22nd annual Oyster Cook-Off on Oct. 20 sponsored by the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Seafood Marketing Program.

This year, about 200 oyster recipes were sent to the program. Hopefuls submitted entries from more than 15 states. The grand prize went to Terry Ann Moore, 51, a homemaker from New Jersey, for her Oyster Wellingtons With Spinach Pesto and Red Oil, entered in the hors d'oeuvres category.

Baltimore resident Dawn L. Brown took first place in the outdoor-cookery-and-salads category with her Grilled Oysters Athena. While she hasn't planned Thanksgiving dinner yet, Brown, 34, said she would certainly suggest presenting her sensational grilled oysters as a kickoff for the traditional turkey meal, but with one reservation.

"The person cooking them has to be willing to fire up the grill in November," said Brown, who works as an administrative assistant at the Walters Art Museum.

Harry J. Crane of Illinois included oyster juices, plus a pint of fish stock, in his Maryland Oyster and Flower-Petal Stew, which placed first in the soups-and-stews category.

A corporate chef for Kraft Foods in North America, Crane summed up his stew as "luscious" and a show-stopper for any holiday table. Flower petals and young spring greens add color and texture to this rich stew, ideal for a formal dinner.

Crane, 54, trained under a French master chef who taught him about the purity of ingredients. "My theory of cooking is you get the finest ingredients and do the least to them to make it taste natural. This way, you cannot miss."

Creamed Oysters in Acorn Squash

Serves 8

4 medium acorn squash

1/4 cup butter, cut up

two 12-ounce containers Maryland oysters

one 10-ounce can cream of celery soup, undiluted

4 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

Cut squash in half crosswise. Remove seeds. Place squash halves cut side up in a greased 15-inch by 10-inch pan. Add butter evenly to squash halves. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until tender. Drain oysters, reserving half of liquid.

Place oysters and liquid in a large saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until oysters begin to curl. Stir in soup. Spoon evenly into squash halves. Sprinkle with bacon and parsley. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 additional minutes. Serve immediately.

Maryland Oyster and Flower-Petal Stew

Serves 4

3 tablespoons shallots, finely diced

1 tablespoon butter, clarified

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns, crushed

1 pint fish stock from white ocean fish (see note)

5 cups cream, whole

2 cups flower petals (nasturtiums or calendulas)

2 tablespoons butter, whole and unsalted

1 pint Maryland oysters with juices

salt to taste


2 cups spring-green mix

1 tablespoon flower petals

Cook shallots in the clarified butter on low heat until soft. Add wine, peppercorns and fish stock. Reduce liquid to a syrupy consistency. Add cream and cook until it coats the back of a spoon.

Meanwhile, pick flower petals from stems and set aside. When the stew base has reached the proper consistency, add 2 cups of flower petals and puree in a blender. Strain, add butter and keep warm. When ready to serve, place oysters and their juices in a small pan and heat. They should not be overcooked because they will lose their texture and become tough.

To serve, drain oysters over the stew base. Whisk the stew base to completely incorporate the butter and the oyster juices. Correct seasoning if necessary (oyster juices are naturally salty).

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