Wednesday, October 31, 2007
CRAB CAKE DREAMS
The other morning I woke up thinking about crab. I'm sure it was the Surimi sandwich I made last week that set my subconscious mind going. If you subscribe to dream symbolism, it may just mean that I'm crabby or unable to address my own difficulties. It could also mean that I'm craving intellectual nourishment. More realistically though, it probably means I'm craving physical nourishment from the sea. Well, it so happened that we were having some people over for a night of cards. Euchre, being our card game. It's a regional game played in the Mid-West & Mid-Atlantic area that is usually attributed to being popularized by the Pennsylvania Dutch. Every now and then you'll excitedly find someone you have met is familiar with the game and it becomes an amazing bonding point and conversation igniter. Sorry for the digression. The important thing is, Euchre is a four person game. Therefore, I had to come up with something fairly simple and good for a four person group. Lucky for me I had crab on my mind and crab cakes sounded like the right call. I knew the ones I wanted to make, too. I had made them last year after reading The Wednesday Chef's posting on crab cakes where she spoke of Regina Schrambling's LA Times article on the same topic. It's so good, I thought it's worth writing about again.
Side Note: I remembered Regina's article because she takes a dig at surimi, calling it, "that crime against nature." That's not very nice, now is it, Regina?
Back to the crab cakes. I had been toying with a couple different recipes in the past and this current reading had focused my efforts. The key for me with crab cakes is that they be simple. No peppers, celery, etc. All crab and very little filler. Just thick giant luscious pieces of crab meat barely held together by some egg, panko, a little mayo and minimal spicing. You don't want a greasy bread bomb. You want a crab cake. Therefore, jumbo lump crab meat is the only real option. If you're going to make these, commit to it. It's not cheap, but it's good. These particular crab cakes go against the ancient origins of crab cakes or minces. Minces were created for economy as well as to add flavor. There isn't much economy or added flavor in these, but there is a lot of crab flavor. After all, they are called "crab" cakes. Be gentle with these crab cakes, they will not want to stay together. The key is to keep the crab pieces as whole and unbroken as possible and to chill them right after you combine them for an hour before cooking. The chilling helps them to stay together when you cook them.
I think these cakes are great served on their own with some freshly squeezed lemon or with any sauce with some creaminess and spice. I thought avocado would go well and give me the creaminess I wanted without having a mayo based sauce. Our guests we were having over had what seem to be the typical mayo aversions. They didn't need to know about the small amount in the cakes, but the sauce would have been too much. When did mayo become such a bad thing? Regardless, Regina had an Avocado-Tomatillo sauce in her article, similar to a Bobby Flay sauce I had tried before which seemed perfect for an accompanying sauce. I adapted mine from a combo of both of theirs.
adapted from Regina Schrambling
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
1 shallot, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (or to taste)
1/4 cup organic mayonnaise
dash or two of Tabasco or other Louisiana pepper sauce
1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1. Pick over the crab meat to remove any cartilage, trying not to break up the chunks. In a bowl, gently toss the crab meat, shallots, parsley, panko and Old Bay. Again, try not to break up the crab.
2. Gently fold in the mayonnaise. Season with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and tabasco. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Add the lightly beaten egg and fold just until the mixture is well combined.
3. Shape the mixture into eight fat ball-like cakes. (They will flatten slightly during cooking.) Place them on a platter or a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Drape a second sheet of wax paper over the top. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
4. In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Carefully lay the crab cakes into the butter and oil and fry until crusty and browned, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Drain quickly on paper towels. Serve hot, with a chilled sauce or fresh squeezed lemon juice.
6 - 8 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 jalapenos or serranos
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 white onion, chopped
1 ripe Haas avocado, halved, pitted, and flesh cut into chunks
juice of 1 lime
Preheat a broiler or grill.
1. Lightly coat the tomatillos and chiles with oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil or grill the tomatillos and chiles till blackened on all sides. When blackened and soft, coarsely chop the tomatillos and stem, seed and chop the chiles. Be careful. They will be very hot.
2. Combine the tomatillos, chiles, cilantro, onion, avocado and lime juice in a blender. Add 1/2 tsp sea salt. Purée until smooth. Taste for seasoning. Serve either warm or chilled.
Note: If the tomatillo sauce is too tart for you, try adding a little honey. But, you'll have to blend it again after adding.
We served the crab cakes with a caesar salad, fresh smoky margaritas and my wife's version of my Grandmother's apple dumplings with homemade ice cream for dessert. Delicious evening. Oh, and some champagne as an apertif.
The guys got killed by the girls in the card game, if you're interested.