Friday, October 2, 2009

In Search of Crab

If you remember Robbin Lynn Crandall's earlier posts, you must have been waiting for her next appearance here, if you're new to her work, you'll be wanting more after you read this...

...from our wonderful guest and friend, Robbin Lynn Crandall:

After an unusually cold and rainy summer this year, we are finally enjoying some wonderful summer weather—technically in fall. But I like to remind myself that there are other things that make the onset of autumn—albeit a beautiful time of year—and the fading of summer not such a sad event. I’m talking about…crab.
I received a little culinary inspiration—or should I say, aspiration—while on a driving vacation down south this summer, all the way to Florida (they had sun!) and back: sixteen days of driving, hotel-hopping and eating. My husband and I made stops, among others, in Savannah and two tiny islands off the coast of Virginia and Maryland well known for their wild ponies, Chincoteague and Assateague. These islands, like Boston, are also pretty well known for their outstanding shellfish, specifically oysters and clams.

I have to admit, though—I was also expecting to find wonderful crab. I love crab and was thinking that surely in the southern states, one would find it plentiful and outstanding. It didn’t appear to be either, at least where we traveled. We had fantastic oysters and fried shrimp, accompanied by that wonderful southern side dish—hush puppies—but no crab.

There was one exception: at a restaurant which shall forever remain nameless, I did find and order probably the worst crab cake I have ever had. But I think it had more to do with my expectations on its preparation—expectations it did not live up to. Where were the big succulent pieces of crab? Where was the light breading? Where was the seasoning? This crab cake appeared to be a blob of something mixed with too much mayonnaise and a dark, over-fried bread crumb coating.
Well…that did it. The hunt for the perfect crab cake recipe was on. And I couldn’t wait to make them back in Boston, of course, where we find wonderful crabmeat pretty easily. It wasn’t until the following morning, as we were taking in one last round of the shops before leaving Savannah that I found a glossy postcard bearing a traditional Savannah Crab Cake recipe that sounded good. Perfect!
Crab season in Boston follows the traditional season anywhere, come to find out, and although crabs become plentiful in summer (after their long hibernation during the winter, they wake up in spring, and start swimming around in summer), they are really at their peak during the fall, when the little guys start packing on weight (translation: ‘fat’) for their winter hibernation. So autumn is the perfect time to get out those crab recipes.

I found my crabmeat from a surprising source—at my local grocery fish market in a one-pound can. But don’t let the can fool you—even though North Coast Seafoods, located in South Boston, hand packs their fresh crabmeat into a can, it is not considered ‘canned’ in the traditional sense since it is stored on ice and does not come from the market isle. I paid $13.99 for the pound and the pieces turned out to be perfect for crab cakes—uniform medium flakes with great fresh flavor.
The cakes were simple to make and, I’m happy to say, contained just enough mayonnaise to make all the ingredients stick together fairly well for easy frying. I whirled up fresh breadcrumbs in my food processor, and of course, I also enjoyed going out to my garden to snip the fresh parsley and dill the recipe called for. My husband announced (as he inhaled them) that they were the best crab cakes he ever had, which is saying something since he is not a lover of them. I have to say it was an outstanding recipe and much more like what my expectations of a crab cake should be. The true clean flavor of the crab came right through.

I surely didn’t think I would gain so much inspiration from my southern trip when shellfish is so plentiful here in New England, but isn’t that what it’s all about? Traveling and tasting new flavors is a delight and helps make trying new recipes at home a renewed pleasure.

Savannah Crab Cakes
If you don’t have fresh dill on hand, you can certainly use
½ teaspoon of dried dill as a substitute. The crabs won’t tell!
1 Tbls. Butter
½ c. chopped celery
½ c. chopped onion
½ c. breadcrumbs
1 lb. fresh crabmeat
1 egg, beaten
3 Tbls. mayonnaise
1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. chopped fresh dill

In a small skillet, melt the butter. Add the celery and onion and sauté until vegetables are transparent. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, add the crab, ¼ cup of the breadcrumbs, egg, onion and celery, mayonnaise, parsley and dill. Mix gently. Form cakes into 2-inch patties. Do not compress too much. Coat with the remaining breadcrumbs. Fry in oil 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown. Makes 6-8 patties.

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