Leonardtown -- Marie Rizzio, of Traverse City, Mich., figures you can make cakes out of crab meat, so why not try making cakes out of oysters.
She figured right, whipping up an oyster cake recipe that won her $1,000 and grand prize at the National Oyster Cook-Off held Saturday in southern Maryland.
"I always liked crab cakes so I began experimenting with oysters using Parmesan cheese, and fresh parsley," Mrs. Rizzio said. She fed her experiments to her husband, Richard, a retired clothing salesman who, she said, "is a good guinea pig." Eventually, she hit upon a recipe that pleased him.
When Mrs. Rizzio was told that her husband-approved oyster cakes had made the finals of the oyster cook-off, she packed the recipe and her husband on a plane.
Contestants pay their own way to the contest. Mrs. Rizzio said in previous years the cost of traveling from upper Michigan to lower Maryland had kept her from attending the event even though one of her recipes had been chosen for the contest. But this year, the airlines were having fare wars and her husband was telling her her oyster cake was a winner. So the couple flew into Washington, rented a car and drove to Leonardtown, arriving at the contest test site (the local middle school) just before she and the 11 other finalists began cooking.
In addition to the top prize, Mrs. Rizzio's oyster cakes also won the main dish category. Other winning treatments of oysters were oyster-stuffed mushrooms, first in hors d'oeuvres made by Pearl Ward of Hulmeville, Pa.; Nan's great oyster bisque, first in soups and stews made by Rosemary T. Gentilcore of Bethlehem, Pa.; and BBQ Oysters picante, first in outdoor cookery and salads, made by Robert F. Zella of Baltimore.
The oyster cook-off, sponsored by the Old Bay Company, the Maryland Department of Agriculture Seafood Marketing Program, and the Rotary Club of St. Mary's County, is in its 14th year.
A mother of three sons and one daughter, Mrs. Rizzio, 64, said in a phone interview from her Michigan home that she began entering cooking contests several years ago, "as a hobby." Now her cooking prowess enables her to travel around the country. She has participated in a national beef cook-off in Sacramento, Calif., a Pillsbury Bake-Off in Orlando, Fla., and a chicken-cooking contest in Little Rock, Ark. Last year she accompanied her husband to Richmond, Va., where he competed in a chicken cook-off.
A native of Chicago, Mrs. Rizzio said she developed a fondness for seafood as a child, when she accompanied her father to Chicago's Navy Pier where he bought fresh oysters and fish. Before moving to Traverse City, the Rizzios lived in Marquette, Mich., where Mrs. Rizzio reported they regularly caught and ate "those great fish from the cold waters of Lake Superior."
The National Oyster Cook-Off was held in conjunction with a national oyster-shucking contest held at the St. Mary's County fairgrounds. This year the title of the nation's fastest oyster opener went to Scott Stiles of San Antonio, Texas. Mr. Stiles edged out Clementine Macon of Urbanna, Va., who defeated all female shuckers. Mr. Stiles opened 24 oysters in 2 minutes 48 seconds, or about 7 seconds per oyster.
Oyster cakes with caper-cayenne mayonnaise
Makes 7 to 8 cakes
1 pint fresh oysters,drained
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
3 green onions, tops included, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons snipped parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs lightly beaten
cooking oil for sauteing
3/4 cup light mayonnaise
1 tablespoon light cream
2 tablespoons capers, finely chopped
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Rinse, pat dry and chop oysters. Combine in a bowl with bread crumbs, onions, garlic, parsley, Parmesan, eggs. Form into cakes about 3 inches high and 1 inch wide. Chill, uncovered, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare mayonnaise. In a small bowl combine mayonnaise, cream, capers, and pepper and blend well. Refrigerate.
Heat about cooking oil to a depth of 1/4 inch in heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add cakes, being careful not to crowd them in the skillet. Brown on both sides, about 3 minutes a side.
Serve on bed of shredded lettuce with caper-cayenne mayonnaise.