It looked like a family reunion under the cook-off tent at the University of Delaware's 23rd annual Coast Day on Sunday, October 3. But rather than blood lines, the common bond shared by these men and women was a talent for transforming Delaware's most beloved shellfish into sumptuous crab cakes.
The 10th annual Crab Cake Cook-Off, and a reunion of past cook-off finalists, were among the festivities held at Coast Day on Sunday, October 3, at the University's Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes. Sponsored by the Sea Grant College Program and Graduate College of Marine Studies, Coast Day is designed to be a day of discovery focusing on the ocean and its resources.
Eight finalists competed in this year's cook-off, setting up their favorite appliances under a tent to prepare their recipes in front of the judges and interested onlookers. The finalists included one Pennsylvanian, Eric Piston, from Philadelphia, and seven Delawareans -- Sarah Dinsel, from Centerville; Christine Dryden, Georgetown; Carol Hunter, Wilmington; Kimberly Mathews, Claymont; Captain William Parsons III, Wilmington; Kay Phillips Ruark, Wilmington; and Linda Saccardi, Rehoboth Beach.
Judging the event were Nikki Achtermann, of Rehoboth Beach, who won last year's cook-off; Bonnie Aronson, certified executive chef, Culinary Institute of the Eastern Shore; and Nancy Lynch, "Delmarva Portrait" columnist for the News Journal.
Carol Hunter of Wilmington wowed the judges with her "Just Crab Cakes -- Almost." Her first-place recipe featured a delectable blend of crab meat and mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cilantro, and Old Bay seasoning. The crab cakes were enhanced for presentation with a festive garnish of finely diced red, green, and yellow bell pepper. Along with the coveted title of "Delaware's Best Crab Cakes," Hunter received a $150 cash prize, a plaque, and an invitation to return as a judge for next year's competition.
Earning second-place honors and a $100 cash prize was Sarah Dinsel of Centerville. Her "Wasabi Crab Cakes" had a deliciously distinctive Oriental flavor. The recipe featured a unique mix of crab meat, chopped water chestnuts, chopped green onions, sesame oil, soy sauce, and wasabi, which is an Oriental horseradish.
Philadelphia resident Eric Piston won the $75 third prize with his "Blackened Potato Crusted Crab Cakes with Roasted Garlic Rémoulade Sauce." Crab meat, diced celery and onion, plum tomatoes, and basil were among his ingredients. Once the crab cakes were formed, he coated them with grated potato, sprinkled them with Cajun seasoning, and sautéed them. The cooked cakes were garnished with an aromatic roasted garlic sauce.
After the competition, the eight finalists for 1999 joined together with returning finalists from the previous nine cook-offs to reminisce about their experiences and have their pictures taken.
"It was a lot of fun bringing back the past finalists," said Doris Hicks, seafood specialist for the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service and organizer of the annual cook-off. "So many of them said how much they enjoyed being part of this event and how they have encouraged others to compete over the years. A few finalists have been mothers and daughters who competed in different years with recipes handed down through the family."
Hicks says each finalist also "was tickled" to receive a copy of the commemorative Coast Day Crab Cake Cookbook. The 50-page, spiral-bound booklet, published by the University's Marine Communications Office, contains all of the finalists' recipes from the past 10 years.
More than 400 copies of the cookbook were sold at Coast Day. Copies are still available from the Marine Communications Office in Newark at (302) 831-8083, or the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service in Lewes at (302) 645-4346. The cookbook costs $3.
In the meantime, aspiring cooks might want to begin working on their recipes for next year's cook-off. Hicks says information about the 11th annual Coast Day Crab Cake Cook-Off will be released next spring.
1999 Coast Day Crab Cake Cook-Off Winners
FIRST PLACE -- "Just Crab Cakes -- Almost"
by Carol Hunter, Wilmington, Del.
2 pounds lump crab meat
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
Salt and white pepper to taste
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon each red, green,
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
yellow pepper for garnish.
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
Pick over crab meat, removing any cartilage. Beat eggs and then add rest of ingredients except olive oil, butter, and bell peppers. Gently mix all ingredients. Make into cakes approximately 2 inches in diameter by 3/4 inches high. Sauté in the olive oil and butter until golden brown on both sides. Garnish with red, green, and yellow bell peppers finely diced.
SECOND PLACE -- "Wasabi Crab Cakes"
by Sarah Dinsel, Centerville, Del.
2 pounds blue crab meat
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 cup coarsely chopped water chestnuts
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon Wasabi powder
2 1/2 cups bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper
Heat sesame oil in fry pan. Add green onion and water chestnuts. Sauté until tender and golden. In small bowl, whisk Wasabi powder into mayonnaise and soy sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Combine crab meat with mayonnaise mixture and add sauteed onions and water chestnuts. Add bread crumbs 1/2 cup at a time until mixture can be shaped into patties. Do not use more than 2 1/2 cups bread crumbs. Mound into patties, lightly rolling in excess bread crumbs. Refrigerate 1 ­ 3 hours.
Cook in frying pan, 3 at a time, over medium-high heat in 2 tablespoons butter. Cook until golden, about 5 minutes per side. Serve warm.
THIRD PLACE -- "Blackened Potato Crusted Crab Cake with Roasted Garlic Rémoulade Sauce"
by Eric Piston, Philadelphia, Pa.
2 pounds blue crab meat
1 tablespoon chiffonade of fresh basil
1 small white onion, medium diced
2 dashes of Tabasco
3 stalks of celery, medium diced
1 whole egg
Tomato concasse of 2 plum (Roma) tomatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 cup of freshly ground bread crumbs
1 teaspoon Pommery mustard
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh chopped garlic
3 peeled Idaho potatoes
1 oz whole unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups of Cajun or blackening seasoning
Pick out shells from crab meat. Melt butter in a sauté pan and slowly sauté your onions and celery (approximately 7 minutes). Place sauteed celery and onions in refrigerator and let cool.
In a large bowl, mix the onion and celery with the rest of the ingredients together, except the potatoes and Cajun seasoning, being careful not to break up the larger pieces of crab meat. Form crab cakes into 5-ounce balls and gently flatten out. Let formed crab cakes rest in refrigerator for 1 hour.
Coarsely grate your potatoes and cover your entire crab cake with the grated potatoes. Sprinkle the Cajun/blackened seasoning on entire crab cake and saute in hot oil on each side for two minutes. Take crab cakes out of hot pan and place on a cookie sheet or aluminum foil and place in a 350°F oven for 7 minutes. Finish with Rémoulade sauce and garnish.
Roasted Garlic Rémoulade Sauce
12 oz mayonnaise
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon capers
Salt and white pepper, to taste
2 bulbs of fresh garlic
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
Roast garlic in a 350°F oven for 35 minutes. Combine all other ingredients in a bowl. Take roasted garlic and combine with the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Note: Depending on thickness of mayonnaise, a tablespoon or two of water may be needed to thin out the sauce.