The annual Crab Cake Cook-Off is one of the favorite events that occur during the University of Delaware’s annual Coast Day festival. This year, seven contestants braved the wind to compete for the honor of making “Delaware’s Best Crab Cakes” on Sunday, October 7, at the University’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes.
Georges “Geo” Johnson of Frankford, Delaware, won first place with his “Crab-Cake-Abella.” Johnson’s crab cakes were named for his unique presentation — each crab cake was placed in the cap of a roasted portabella mushroom on a small bed of spinach and topped with a special sauce, which included lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning, dry mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Along with the coveted title of “Delaware’s Best Crab Cakes,” Johnson received a $150 cash prize, a plaque, and an invitation to return as a judge for next year’s competition.
“I couldn’t be more pleased and more proud about winning first place — there were some really interesting recipes,” Johnson said. “I was very apprehensive about the wind and cooking outside in the middle of a field. I finally had to use duct tape, which saved the day, to keep the door to my toaster oven from blowing open!”
Earning second-place honors and a $100 cash prize was Rich Gebrosky, a middle-school teacher in Murrysville, Pennsylvania. He topped his “Creamy She-Crab Cakes” with a cheese sauce and garnished them with fresh parsley to make a tasty and creamy version of the traditional Eastern shore crab cakes. Gebrosky was inspired to enter the contest because Lewes was the first place he caught and ate crabs.
George Shogan of Wilmington, Delaware, won the $75 third prize with his “Augustine Blue-Claw Crab Cakes.” His recipe called for a wide variety of ingredients — among them were celery, shallots, button mushrooms, heavy cream, white wine, cubed bread, egg yolks, Old Bay seasoning, Romano cheese, and Worcestershire sauce. He rolled the crab cakes in Japanese panko bread crumbs before cooking to give them a crunchy and crispy crust.
Last year’s winner, Gail Koller from York, Pennsylvania, returned as a judge for this year’s competition. “Being a judge was a whole different ball game,” said Koller. “I was actually more nervous about judging, than I was about cooking — I wanted to be sure that I was fair and consistent.”
Also judging the event were two food writers from local papers — Marilyn Marter from the Philadelphia Inquirer and Anne Graham from the Cape Gazette, which is published in Rehoboth Beach. The crab cakes were judged for originality, composition, taste, and texture.
Seven finalists competed in the cook-off, setting up their favorite appliances under a tent to prepare their recipes in front of the judges and interested onlookers. In addition to Johnson, Gebrosky, and Shogan, the finalists included Gunnar Roe from Galena, Maryland; Terri Carr from Lewes; Jennifer Willoughby also from Lewes; and Anne Hickey from Philadelphia. The finalists included both professional chefs and amateur cooks.
“Sometimes people ask us why we don’t have separate cook-offs for professional and non-professional chefs and cooks,” said Doris Hicks, seafood specialist for the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service and organizer of the annual cook-off. “But we never know what the composition of the finalists will be or who will win. If we look back over the last 12 years, the women outnumber the men who have won first place (7 to 5) and the amateur winners outnumber the professionals (7 to 5). This year was unusual in that men won first, second, and third place.”
Each finalist received a copy of the commemorative Coast Day Crab Cake Cookbook. The 50-page, spiral-bound booklet, published by the University’s Marine Public Education Office, contains all of the finalists’ recipes from the first 10 years of the contest. Copies are still available from the Marine Public Education Office in Newark at (302) 831-8083, or the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service in Lewes at (302) 645-4346. The cookbook costs $3.
COAST DAY 2001 CRAB CAKECOOK-OFF WINNING RECIPES
FIRST PLACE — “CRAB-CAKE-ABELLA”
by Georges “Geo” Johnson
2 pounds lump crab meat
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
(low fat, if wanted)
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/3 cup fine-cracker crumbs
3 cups mayonnaise (low fat, if wanted)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
8 portabella mushroom caps, 5 to 6 inches across
1 pound cleaned spinach (if frozen,
To make crab cakes: In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, mustard, and Old Bay seasoning. Add crab meat and cracker crumbs. Toss with hands until evenly combined. Form into eight patties (approximately 4 ounces each).
To make sauce: In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together all ingredients until smooth.
NOTE: Both of these preparations may be done ahead. Just remember to keep chilled.
To cook: Preheat oven or broiler to 450°F. Place portabella caps, dark side up, on greased cookie sheet and roast for four minutes. Remove from oven. Place 2 ounces of spinach inside each cap. Place a crab cake on top of each, forming around each cap. Roast again for eight minutes or until crab is golden brown. Top each with 2 tablespoons of sauce and cook for two more minutes.
To serve: Place each crab-cake-abella on a bed of lettuce with lemon wedge and a few soda crackers.
SECOND PLACE — “CREAMY SHE-CRAB CAKES”
by Rich Gebrosky
2 pounds lump crab meat
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon mustard
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon minced onion
3 tablespoons Miracle Whip
1/4 cup orange crab roe
1/3 cup salted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons flour
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup cooking sherry
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh, shredded Romano cheese
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped parsley
Place the crab meat in a medium bowl and GENTLY pick out any shells.
Add all of the remaining ingredients, except for the olive oil, and GENTLY mix with a fork just until blended. Let mixture sit while making the cream sauce.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the flour and the pepper. Cook until bubbly, and then stir in the cooking sherry. Gradually stir in the heavy cream. Cook over very low heat for about five minutes. The sauce will thicken.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet to 375°F. Use a spoon or scoop to form the crab cakes and fry them in the skillet until they are golden brown on one side. Turn them, and fry on the other side until golden brown. Remove the crab cakes, and drain on a piece of paper towel.
Add the grated cheese to the cream mixture while the crab cakes are draining. Stir just until melted.
Presentation: Place a teaspoon full of the cream sauce in the middle of a plate, and form a small circle. Place a crab cake in the middle of the circle, and pour more sauce over the top. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley.
For variations, the crab cakes can be served over cooked fettuccine noodles or a slice of floured and fried zucchini squash.
THIRD PLACE — “AUGUSTINE BLUE-CLAW CRAB CAKES”
by George L. Shogan
6 tablespoons butter
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
4 large shallots, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 oz. button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons dry white wine
6 slices white bread, crust removed and cubed
3 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise
zest of one lemon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 oz. freshly grated Romano cheese
2 pounds lump crab meat
2–3 cups Japanese panko bread crumbs
6 oz. butter and 4 oz. extra virgin olive oil for frying
In a large non-stick frying pan, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add celery, shallots, bell pepper, garlic, and mushrooms. Sauté until tender. Add cream and wine, and cook — whisking to make a thick sauce. Add bread cubes and Old Bay seasoning. Stir to blend and absorb all liquid. Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature.
Beat egg yolks in large bowl until smooth. Add parsley, Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise, lemon zest, nutmeg, and Romano cheese. Mix well. Add sauté mixture, and stir to blend. Fold in crab meat. Refrigerate until cool, about one hour.
Shape into crab cakes, and roll in Japanese panko bread crumbs to coat. Refrigerate one hour.
Fry the crab cakes in melted butter and oil until golden brown. Makes 12–16 crab cakes.