The good folks of Crisfield, Maryland, our neighbor as the crow flies, have been delighting people, from far away as well as close to home, for the past 62 years by sponsoring the Annual National Hard Crab Derby, held over Labor Day weekend. Since 1948 they have been spotlighting one of Crisfield’s greatest natural resources, the blue crab, in one form or another. For approximately 45 of the Derby’s 62 years, showing how crabs should be cooked, served and eaten through the National Crab Cooking Contest has proved to be a very popular part of this three-day event.
When the final dish of 20 was tasted, a lot of discussion followed among the two men and four women. It’s not always an easy job to select a first, second and third in each category—they are all winners. And then they must agree on which of the four top honors takes the grand prize, the best in the contest.
Remaining friends to the end, the judges decided Christine Dryden’s Crab and Fresh Corn Gratin was the best entry of all after it won first place in the main dish division.
CRAB AND FRESH CORN GRATIN
First place in Main Dishes and the grand-prize winner
2 ears fresh sweet corn
3 c. cream
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. cayenne
¼ tsp. celery seeds
1 lb. Maryland blue crabmeat, divided in half
1 c. fresh bread crumbs
3 Tbs. cold butter in ¼-inch pieces
1 c. roasted red pepper sauce
Red Pepper Sauce
2 slices thick bread, crust removed
3 jalapeño peppers, stemmed and seeded
1 jar roasted red peppers (12-oz.), drained
2 c. (packed) fresh basil leaves
3 Tbs. garlic, minced
½ c. light olive oil
Sea salt, dash or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sauce: Place the slices of bread in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Drain the bread, squeeze gently and place in processor with jalapenos, red peppers, basil and the garlic. Process to a coarse puree. Drizzle in the oil with the machine running. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl for using immediately or refrigerate in sealed container for up to 5 days. Can be made ahead of time. If chilled, heat before using.
For the corn mixture, shuck the ears and cut kernels from the cobs carefully with a sharp knife. Set kernels and the corncobs aside separately. Bring 4 c. salted water to a boil; add the corn kernels and cook for 4 minutes. Drain and set aside. In a large pot, combine cream, shallots and corncobs. Bring to a boil and reduce heat so the cream just simmers. Cook for 12-15 minutes, stirring to keep the cobs from sticking and scorching or until the cream is reduced by half. Remove corncobs and set aside on plate to cool enough to handle.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Scrape corncobs with the back of a knife to remove all of the corn pulp and the cream that is clinging to them. This will be a paste. Return this to the pot with the reduced cream and discard corncobs. Season the mixture with salt, cayenne and celery seeds. Gently stir in the divided crabmeat.
For the gratin: Divide mixture into 6-8 gratin dishes or spread into a large casserole. Sprinkle with the remaining crabmeat and breadcrumbs over mixture and dot with the butter pieces. Bake 12-15 minutes, until bubbly and browned on top. Drizzle with roasted pepper sauce. Serve hot.