LEONARDTOWN -- IT was weather only an oyster could love, wet and chilly. Nonetheless, 12,000 fans of the mollusk made their way to the National Oyster Cook-Off and National Oyster Shucking Contest two weekends ago at the St. Mary's County Fairgrounds.
This Southern Maryland county is known for dramatic waterfront vistas and for plump oysters. The Patuxent and Potomac rivers course through the county in broad, sweeping style before merging into the salty waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
There aren't as many oysters or oystermen in this region as there once were, but there is plenty of activity on the waterfront. The county's population is swelling as engineers and other high-tech types, drawn from throughout the nation by jobs at the booming Patuxent Naval Air Station, move to waterfront homes. It is hard to find a resident of St. Mary's County who doesn't live near a bay, creek or river.
So with all this affinity for water, it was not surprising that when heavy rains hit the area on the October weekend set aside for annual festivities honoring the oyster, events went on as scheduled. Folks put on rain slickers and showed up.
Marty Hyson of Baltimore won the cook-off with a peppered oyster salad. This dish was flavored with blue cheese and topped with fried oysters.
Scott Stiles of San Antonio, Texas, pried open two dozen oysters faster than any of the other entrants in the shucking contest and was declared America's fastest shucker. This is the second year in a row that he has won the national contest.
This year, figuring in penalties for torn meat and shattered shell, Stiles averaged 7.7 seconds per oyster. Using the same method of calculation, second-place winner Cathy Carlisle of Shallotte, N.C., finished with an average time of 9.8 seconds per oyster. Stiles will represent the United States in an international oyster-shucking competition next fall in Galway, Ireland.
Other winners in the cooking contest were Nancy Trepczyk of Salisbury, who won first place in the main-dish category with oyster potato fritters; Joyce Johnson of Chevy Chase, whose oysters in puff pastry won the hors d'oeuvre category; and Charlie Petrocci of Chincoteague, Va., whose West African soup, a mixture of oysters and peanuts, won the soups and stews category.
For Hyson, a 33-year old settlement agent for Security Trust Title Co., winning the cooking contest was the culmination of six years of trying. In some years, he picked up lesser honors in the contest, but until this year had never taken the top prize, a check for $1,000.
A few days after his culinary victory, Hyson spoke with me on his car phone as he drove from Towson to Glen Burnie to conduct real-estate business. His prize-winning recipe, he said, grew out a salad he frequently makes for his wife, Jeania, and his daughters, Amy and Valerie.
"It was a really good salad that I thought would be even better with fried oysters on top of it. It was simple, yet it had some bite," he said. The only tricks in the preparation, he added, come in frying the oysters. First, be sure to place the oysters in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes after they have been coated with flour. Refrigeration helps the coating cling to the oysters during cooking. Second, heat the vegetable oil thoroughly before dropping the coated oysters into it.
When I asked Hyson exactly what temperature the oil should be, he laughed. "I'm just a home cook," he said. "I don't put a thermometer in the oil. I just let it get really hot, heating it up maybe 15 minutes or so, just before it starts smoking."
Marty Hyson's peppered oyster summer salad
1 pint oysters
1/2 cup coarse black pepper
1/2 cup flour
1 head romaine lettuce
3 red plum tomatoes
1/2 small red onion
1 avocado, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
2 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1/4 cup croutons (for garnish)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Drain oysters well and coat well in mixture of black pepper and flour. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
Mix ingredients for dressing, shake well, refrigerate.
Arrange lettuce, tomatoes, onion, avocado, cucumber and blue cheese on large platter. Refrigerate.
Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet for about 15 minutes, until oil is almost smoking. Fry oysters until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Remove salad and dressing from refrigerator. Pour dressing on salad and top with croutons and fried oysters.
Pub Date: 11/03/96