Fresh Culinary Techniques Displayed at 2012 National Oyster Cookoff

Chef Alfredo Malinis, Jr., of Annapolis, MD

Being in the audience at the 33rd National Oyster Cook-Off was like sitting among neighbors and watching chefs embellish and flavor the humble Chesapeake oyster and showcase its qualities as a local delicacy.

The annual event, held in Leonardtown, Maryland, attracts chefs and home cooks from across America to compete for cash and the coveted silver platter. This year’s contestants, all from the Mid-Atlantic region, brought alluring ingredients and flavors along with leading-edge culinary techniques.

Chef Alfredo Malinis, Jr. of  Level, A Small Plates Lounge in Annapolis, Maryland, helped to set the tone for cutting-edge ingredients and techniques in the Hor d’oeuvres competition with his dish, Oysters on the Half Shell with Local Plum Mignonette, Shiso, and Yuzu Pearls (pictured above). Chef Malinis, who often uses local food ingredients in his work, used local plums in his dish at the Cook-off. Chef Malinis’s yuzu pearls caused a buzz among the audience as he demonstrated this latest, science-in-the-kitchen technique when he mixed yuzu juice with sodium alginate and, in a separate container, calcium chloride with water. He created the “pearls” by dropping the yuzu mixture in the calcium chloride and water and, removing the pearls quickly, rinsed them in cold water. The result was a stunning appetizer with delicate crunch and freshness from the shiso leaf.

Chesapeake Oyster with Rockfish Ceviche and Cucumber Granita
Chef Josean Rosado of Baltimore, MD

The fresh techniques display continued with Executive Chef Josean Rosado of Royal Sonesta Harbor Court in Baltimore. His winning main dish, Chesapeake Oyster with Rockfish Ceviche and Cucumber Granita, featured a granita formed with blended and strained cucumber, olive oil, and yuzu juice and other ingredients. Super thin slices of rockfish–it’s Maryland’s state fish and is otherwise known as striped bass–was layered with cucumber brunoise inside the shell and topped with the freshly shucked oyster and granita. Chef Rosado garnished his dish with fresh micro-greens and presented it to the curious (and hungry) audience.

Local sweet corn from Maryland’s Eastern Shore filled oyster cups with sweet-and-smoky flavor along with delicately fried oyster texture in one of the cooked dishes in the Main Dish Competition. Ocean Odyssey Restaurant’s Chef Sami Jo Lord prepared Flash Fried Choptank Oysters with Eastern Shore Sweet Corn & Green Chile Hash.

Flash Fried Choptank Oysters with Eastern Shore Sweet Corn & Chili Hash
Chef Sami Jo Lord of Cambridge, MD

Chef Sami Jo stressed “milking” the corn cob with the back of the knife blade, after shucking the corn, to get every drop of sweet corn flavor for the dish. She used a finely milled baking flour to flash fry the Choptank Oysters. These oysters are raised in the Choptank River, a major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, in an effort to increase and protect oyster populations in the Bay.

I purchased the event’s cookbook, so now I have the recipes from all of the 2012 contestants as well as “honorable mention” recipes. I’m sharing the recipe for Chef Sami Jo’s fried oyster dish, but I’m telling you: if you’re an oyster lover and aren’t afraid of shucking a few oysters if the recipe calls for it, you’ll want your own copy of the 2012 World Famous Award Winning Recipes from the 33rd Annual National Oyster Cook-off. For more information about ordering the $8.00 cookbook or about becoming a contestant in the 2013 cook-off, send an e-mail to smcoysterfestival@yahoo.com. Below the recipe are this year’s winners of the 2012 National Oyster Cook-off.

Recipe: Flash Fried Choptank Oysters with Eastern Shore Sweet Corn & Green Chili Hash (Used with permission; Copyright 2012 by the National Oyster Cook-off Committee and the Rotary Club of Lexington Park)
(Note: Recipe is reproduced as shown in the cookbook, except to clarify abbreviations.)
Ingredients
6 ears corn (3 cups)–Cut from cob and corn milk scraped
1/2 yellow onion (1 cup) fine chopped
8 cloves garlic (3 tbsp) fine chopped
3 oz. chopped chilies
1/2 red bell pepper (3 tbsp)
1 tbsp Cajun seasoning
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1/2 lemon squeezed for juice
2 tbsp Tabasco chipotle sauce (or less, to suit your taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp fresh cilantro
1/4 unsalted butter
salt to taste (1 tsp to start)

For Flash Fried Oysters
Freshly Shucked Choptank Sweet Oysters
1 cup Wondraflour (AP [all-purpose] is a fine substitute)
1 tbsp Old Bay [seasoning]
Frying oil

For The Hash:
Lightly sweat the onion & garlic in unsalted butter until translucent over medium-low heat. Add chopped chilies, red bell, Cajun, salt, pepper and smoked paprika and stir for roughly one minute. Add corn and scraped corn milk, stir and simmer until corn is warmed throughout but still firm in texture. Add lemon juice, chipotle hot sauce and heavy cream and bring to a bubbling simmer then turn off the heat and stir in fresh cilantro.

For the Oysters:
Simply shuck into a non reactive container, be sure to remove little bits of shell, mix your dry ingredients in a bowl, take a fork and drop your oysters one by one into the dry mix, toss to coat, add to your frying oil at 340 degrees, making sure they don’t stick to the baskets or sides of the pan. Fry for two minutes then transfer to paper towels long enough to let the excess oil fall away.

To Plate: 
Hot hash goes into cupped oyster shell, fried oyster on top, finish with fresh cilantro.


Winners of the 2012 National Oyster Cook-off

Hors d’oeuvres
First Place: Chef Edwin “Zeus” Harmon, Baltimore, for Mozambique Peri Peri Breaded Oyster
Second Place: Chef Alfredo Malinis, Jr., Annapolis, for Oyster on the Half Shell with Local Plum Mignonette, Shiso, and Yuzu Pearls
Third Place: Amy Angelo, Pennsville, New Jersey, for Sassy Asian Oysters with Siracha Slaw

Soups and Stews
First Place: Thomas Faglon, Somerset, New Jersey, for Oyster Royale
Second Place: Robert Johnson, Bushwood, Maryland, for 7th District Chesapeake Bay Gumbo

Main Dishes
First Place: Chef Josean Rosado, Baltimore, for Chesapeake Oyster with Rockfish Ceviche and Cucumber Granita
Second Place: Chef Sami Jo Lord, Cambridge, Maryland for Flash Fried Choptank Oysters with Eastern Shore Sweet Corn & Green Chili Hash
Third Place: Recipe by Todd Gray (Equinox Restaurant) Washington, D.C. and prepared by Chef Peter J. Prime, Washington, D.C.

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