Monday, July 29, 2013

Crab Cakes Extraordinaire!

Following Keja's translocal theme, we report to you from the Jersey Shore. Our kids went crabbing on the docks overlooking Barnegat Bay with an old friend of mine (and mother of their friends), who is a patient, informative, and successful crabber. They came away with some beauties, which Cocktail Dave then made into amazing crab cakes. Probably the best I've ever had, though they were amply spiced with a cold beer on a shady porch overlooking a lovely body of water, so I may be biased.

Dave, take it away!

My grandmother is descended from a long line of Marylanders, whose surname I was given as a middle name.  All her life she has griped about her favorite food, crab cakes.  If someone else makes them, they use too much filling and not enough crab.  If she makes them herself, the darn things are always falling apart in the pan.

This is not her recipe.

My kids went crabbing in Barnegat Bay and brought home 3 beauties.  It ain't the Chesapeake, but thanks to the efforts of groups like Save Barnegat Bay you can still eat the crustaceans pulled from it.

Now, last time I visited my Maryland cousins (about 8 years ago), they treated us to a crab feast.  I was hungry and couldn't pick the crabs fast enough to feel full.  I am told that this is a common problem among crab-eating peoples.  This time I planned to do it differently.

I found a rocking chair -- three cheers for the inventor of the rocking chair! -- and sat out on the porch to pick these 3 crabs.  I was not hungry.  I had nowhere to be.  I had a nice view and people to chat with.  I took my time and learned a thing or two about picking crabs.  First, that curved, pointed tool is not just for getting the little tubes of meat from the legs.  It can be used for the meat from the body as well, which helps you get it out in big lumps instead of little stringy bits.  By the time I got to my third crab I felt I was getting the hang of this.

Then I took the meat and threw it into a mixing bowl.  I added 1/3 cup stale crushed tortilla chips, an egg, some lemon/olive oil-based salad dressing I had in the fridge, and half a red onion, finely diced.  Once this was mixed together, I found that the darn things kept falling apart when I tried to make patties.  I threw the mixture back in the bowl and scraped some breadcrumbs out of a stale heel.  With this added, the darn things still wouldn't stick together, but remembering the words of my grandmother, I refused to dilute the crabmeat further.

I made patties in one hand by squeezing all the extra liquid out and spreading them on a plate.  I dusted the tops with flour then with great care flipped them over, dusting the other side.

I put a good amount of safflower oil in a medium-hot pan and let it heat.  Then I slid the patties into the oil with a spatula and my fingers.  After that -- important step!  -- I left the room.  I poured myself a beer first, but then I skedaddled.  I knew that if I remained in the room I would poke and prod the cakes and flip them too early.  I hoped that if I left them alone they would get crusty on the bottom and might not fall apart in the pan when flipped.

After drinking about 1/3 of a beer, assuming that the cakes would be brown and crispy on the bottom, I came back in and flipped.  The darn things did not fall apart.  The other side didn't take as long, and after draining them on paper towels, they were solid enough to be eaten by fingers.

These crab cakes were not overly seasoned, which I liked.  They might have been better with a nice aioli, but they were good plain with a lemon wedge.  I wish my grandmother would have been with me to share them, but next time I see her I'll read her this recipe and hopefully she'll appreciate that I did my best to follow her Maryland principles of crab-cake making.