What to do?
In our case, there was no choice but to invite friends over for my wife's superb crab cakes. I could not think of any way to turn this into a winter menu, we just followed our best instincts and made some of our favorite three-hour braised green beans and the cheese grits we've been focused on this week.
The final menu looked like this
Tender Greens w/ Honeycrips Apple, Toasted Walnuts, Dried Cranberries
Crab Cakes w/ Tartar Sauce
Green Beans Braised w/ Tomato and Fennel Seed
Sweet Potato Pie w/ Vanilla Whipped Cream
Naturally, I received a thorough thrashing from my wife for purchasing green beans in January. Oh, the ignomy of it all. Mea culpa.
The secret to successful crab cakes is to handle the meat as little as possible. In Crisfield, Maryland, for instance, once the world's crab picking capital, a crab cake likely as not will consist of a pile of choice lump meat barely breaded and placed under a broiler to brown. Most cook's ignore this tradition or are completely ignorant of it. That's why so many crabcakes you see in restaurants have the density and resiliency of a hockey puck that has spent too much time in a deep fryer.
My wife's method is to combine 1 pound of lump crab meat with 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs--that usually means a couple of dinner rolls pulled into small pieces. Combine with 1 beaten egg, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon worcesterhire sauce, a tablespoon chopped parsely, a dash or two of Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste. Gently toss all the ingredients together and let the mixture sit in a bowl for an hour or more. This will help the cakes hold together in the cooking and give the flavors some time to meld.
Next, pour canola oil into a heavy skillet to a depth of about 1/2 inch and heat to medium high. Gently form the crab mixture into 4 jumbo puck shapes, or 5 or 6 large cakes. Place the crab cakes in the hot oil and brown on both sides, turning them gently with a slotted spatula. Remove the cakes to paper towels to drain, then arrange them on a baking sheet and place in a 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes to cook through.
For her tartar sauce, my wife mixes mayonnaise with a bit of finely chopped red onion, some chopped capers, pickle relish, a little juice from the pickle relish jar, and some Old Bay seasoning.
A lot of chefs claim to have secret methods for making crab cakes but this one is better than any other I've seen. The green beans, cooked to death, come to the plate dripping their magical, fennel-scented broth, which runs into the cheese grits to make a delicious muddle. We washed the whole thing down with a wonderful Vouvray wine.
Unless you happen to have a pound of crab meat in your refrigerator already, however, do give the crabs a break and wait until summer to enjoy this meal.