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Creativity leads to rockfish prizes


OCEAN CITY -- A professional Ocean City chef and a down-home cook from Smith Island shared top honors in the seventh annual Maryland Rockfish Cooking Contest, with each winning $500 for dishes that showcased rockfish in creative and delicious ways.

This year for the first time, the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Seafood Marketing Program elected to recognize both a professional and a nonprofessional winner.

The professional winner was Douglas Spencer, the sous-chef for Center Plate catering at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, who won for his Cashew and Coconut Crusted Rockfish With Apple Cider Beurre Blanc and Oyster Fennel Dressing. Janice Marshall of Tylerton, Smith Island, took home first prize for her creation, Chesapeake Rockfish Imperial, at the contest held earlier this month.

Spencer admitted that his choice of cashews and coconut to coat rockfish fillets might sound off the wall, but it's a combination he'd had success with before. "It's not what you'd expect, but it actually works really good. The cashews have a sweetness to them, as well as the coconut. It's not overpowering, so you can taste the flavor of the rockfish," he said.

Marshall, who founded the Smith Island Cooperative for crab picking, elected to combine crab and rockfish in a homey and hearty dish. She covered thick, succulent fillets with a rich crab imperial and topped it all off with buttered Ritz crackers for a satisfying crunch.

"I couldn't believe I won because it's a very simple recipe and anybody can do it. Most of the things it takes are in your kitchen, other than the seafood," Marshall said.

Screeners for the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Seafood Marketing Program chose 10 finalists from 50 entries. For the cook-off, each contestant received 2 pounds of fresh ocean rockfish fillets and a place to cook. This year, for the first time, the contestants were able to use stoves on site instead of bringing their own cooking apparatuses.

The contest was sponsored by the Maryland Commercial Fishermen, Maryland Seafood Processors and the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Seafood Marketing Program.

All of the contest recipes are available in a brochure from Maryland's Seafood Marketing Program. Call the request line at 410-841-5972 or 888-841-5828.

Douglas Spencer's Cashew and Coconut Crusted Rockfish With Apple Cider Beurre Blanc and Oyster Fennel Dressing

Serves 4

2 pounds rockfish fillets

1/2 cup cashews, chopped

1/2 cup coconut, shredded

1/4 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten and mixed with a little half-and-half to make an egg wash


1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots

1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

2 cups apple cider

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter


1/4 cup finely chopped celery

1/4 cup finely chopped fennel

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sage

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup fish stock

8 select oysters

3/4 cup oyster liquor

3 cups dried bread cubes

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 stick butter

Mix together chopped cashews and coconut. Coat fish with flour, dip in egg wash and coat fish in cashew-coconut mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

To make beurre blanc: In saucepan, put chopped shallots, pepper and apple cider. Reduce to one-third, add heavy cream, reduce by boiling 1 minute. Remove from heat, stir in butter until emulsion forms.

To make dressing: In separate saucepan, saute chopped celery and fennel in olive oil, add sage and nutmeg. Add fish stock. Bring to simmer. Add raw oysters and oyster liquor. Remove from heat and add to bread cubes in mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Put in baking dish, top with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

To serve, place a scoop of dressing on plate, cover bottom of plate with beurre blanc, lay fish at an angle on stuffing, place haricots verts on the side.

Per serving: 1053 calories, 60 grams protein, 70 grams fat, 32 grams saturated fat, 44 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 343 milligrams cholesterol, 1091 milligrams sodium.

Janice Marshall's Chesapeake Rockfish Imperial

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 1/2 tablespoons seafood seasoning

2 pounds rockfish fillets


1/2 stick butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 teaspoons mustard

1 pound crab meat

salt and pepper to taste

seafood seasoning to taste


1/2 stick butter

1 cup crushed Ritz crackers

Mix mayonnaise and seafood seasoning together. Spread on both sides of rockfish. Broil fish 4 minutes on each side. Set aside.

In frying pan, melt butter, add flour and stir until mixed. Add milk, stirring constantly until thick. Set aside and cool. When cool add mayonnaise, mustard, crab meat, salt, pepper and seafood seasoning. Fold together. Place on top of fillets.

To make topping: melt butter in small frying pan. Stir in cracker crumbs until coated. Sprinkle on top of fish and crabmeat. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Per serving: 548 calories, 49 grams protein, 32 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, 0 grams fiber, 171 milligrams cholesterol, 1120 milligrams sodium.

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