Yesterday I journeyed to Baltimore's Harborplace to watch "Old Bay" seasoning 4th annual peel and eat shrimp contest. Rather than incur the rising cost of gas and parking in downtown Baltimore I took the subway - something I haven't done in about 4 years. That is another story.
So tented under the noon day's sun were 8 contestants from all over the country, 7 men and 1 woman looking to gorge themselves on shrimp in the hopes of winning $10,000.00. Each contestant was given a bowl of shell on shrimp and as the bell sounded we got to witness the dexterity of how fast a shrimp can be peeled and consumed. Let me state these were not small shrimp they were 21-25 count per pound if they were identical to the samples giving out to the audience.
As they counted down the last seconds 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, contestants stuffed whatever they could in their mouths. Cheeks were ballooned like Louis Armstrong's cheeks when he plays his horn. Organizers vocalized that the contestants should take their time to chew the last of the shrimp before swallowing. One contestant in obvious distress from all the food laid down on the platform in what seemed an effort to equalize the shrimp throughout his body.
The contest organizers called for a woman, man and child to participate in a one minute contest and the young man one a prize package of branded items. By this time they had finished the tally and the winning total was 89 shrimp consumed in the 10 minute contest. (equal to about 4 pounds of shrimp).
There was some controversy prior to the national contest from the "competitive eaters association" when a professional competitive eater called foul.
So before I packed up my Old Bay samples and went into the pavilion to cool down for a bit I enjoyed some steamed shrimp. Of course the little cup with 2 shrimp each wasn't enough so I went back for more. I stopped feeling guilty when I saw one woman with a plastic Old Bay cup the size of a Big Gulp brimming with shrimp.
There is a lot of back story to Old Bay Seasoning and how it came about. One interesting story is that many years ago the Arcadians in their travels before arriving in New Orleans spent time on the Eastern Shore and possibly could have started the seasonings for crabs. It is also said that it was a general store owner at the docks who would take the last of each spice bins and mix it with the other leftovers and sold it off to the crabbers. There is probably truth in both.
If you haven't used Old Bay seasoning you should, it isn't just for shrimp and crabs...try it in a Frogmore Stew, corn on the cob or potato salad.