Sunday, January 11, 2009

Accidental Crab Cakes

The crab fishery has been declared a disaster in the Chesapeake Bay and crab is hardly seasonal this time of year. But most catering clients don't give a lick about sustainability or seasonality. Hence, it's possible to end up with a leftover pound of crab meat in the fridge, probably from someplace in Southeast Asia purchased at Costco.

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

Salad
Tender Greens w/ Honeycrips Apple, Toasted Walnuts, Dried Cranberries
Entree
Crab Cakes w/ Tartar Sauce
Green Beans Braised w/ Tomato and Fennel Seed
Cheese Grits
Dessert
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.

5 comments:

Chris said...

Though I live in Oregon now, I grew up in Maryland and spent summer vacations crabbing with my family and have fond memories of setting traps, catching them with bait on strings, and later watching the live crabs in our motel room bathroom, awaiting their stovetop demise. Family reunion meant "crab feast" when I was very young, but became less as less common by the time I was a teen. I'm sad about the Blue Crab, and the rest of the Bay's poisoned, over-fished denizens. Glad you got to enjoy your accidental crab cakes. Out here, we have Dungeness crab, which are still in good supply and in season now. Our Christmas Eve feast included fennel, arugula, and orange salad with crab, which was magnificent, the crab and fennel were an unexpectedly delicious combination. Three crabs fed two adults and two littles. I had hoped to make cakes with the leftovers, but there were none. My husband thinks I'm crazy because I enjoy picking crab, but for me it's a bit of nostalgia for the days of blue crab.

Nicebroom said...

My own personal secret to crab cakes is to not use a bread filler. It's tons more expensive, because it yields only 2 cakes from a tin of premium crab meat, but they're so much nicer. I combine the crab meat with 1/4 cup mayo, an egg, some mire poix, and sometimes a little grated potato (gives it an interesting texture).

Jennah said...

Found you on gardening.alltop! I'm a Southern MD gardener (and the odd Southern Marylander who has never liked crabs, but can still tell out-of-towners how to pick 'em), and ran across this Gardeners for the Bay pledge the other day. Check it out and save a crab or two. http://is.gd/fqI4

Joanna said...

Those look good ... I use a little matzo meal in my crabcakes (and I like a lot of brown meat in them). I always eat them with chilli jam. And try hard at this time of year to think how good they'd be with a few beans ;)

Love the stew on your masthead - is it oxtail?

Happy New Year
Joanna

Ed Bruske said...

Joanna, matzo meal in crab cakes makes abundant sense and the chili jam is very intriguing. I wonder if our green tomato chutney would work. The delicious looking meat in the masthead is our favorite cholent, or Jewish pot roast with beef shoulder, pink beans and pearled barley.