Friday, July 19, 2013

Midwesterners Can Make Crab Cakes Too



People associate crab cakes with the east--at least I do.  I have visions of tony vacation areas like Nantucket and the Hamptons, and people like Martha Stewart or Ina Garten who live in pristine properties with lush gardens and have clambake parties oceanside. 

I like crab cakes, but I never thought about making them myself.  Who always has crab, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay Seasoning?  Well, it so happened that I had gotten a pound of lump crabmeat and used only half of it.  That meant that I could take The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook calling for half a pound of lump crabmeat in its recipe for crab cakes to be a sign from the culinary stars.  So, I invested in a small container of Old Bay Seasoning (not normally in our pantry) and got to work.

The recipe seemed a bit complicated, using more ingredients than I thought traditionally part of crab cakes—capers, peppers, celery.  And I suspected that there must be much less involved recipes for crab cakes out there (and it turns out there are), but I thought Ina Garten could possibly be trusted to make a decent crab cake.  (Click here to follow with the recipe: The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook Crab Cakes)

So I set out to do some chopping: onion, celery, red pepper, yellow pepper, parsley, capers.  Then I collected the seasonings: Tabasco sauce (or any other hot sauce), Worcestershire sauce (you can skip this if you don’t have it), Old Bay Seasoning (if you skip this one, you need to get celery salt, paprika, etc. etc.), kosher salt, black pepper.  Then I sautéed the whole mixture in butter and olive oil.  It smelled good, but I worried that it looked a bit wet. 


Then, as instructed, I let the veggie mixture cool while I put together the crabmeat, bread crumbs (I always use panko), mayonnaise (Ina Garten says “good mayonnaise” and she usually means Hellmanns’/Best’s), Dijon mustard, and eggs.  Hmmm.  This mixture was very wet too.  After all, there is ½ cup of mayonnaise and two beaten eggs for just ½ pound of crabmeat and ½ cup of breadcrumbs.  I then combined the cooled veggie mixture with the crab mixture.  Even wetter.  I was relieved that she called for the mixture to sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  After all, maybe the breadcrumbs will absorb some of the wetness and the chilling will firm up the mixture. 


I gave it a bit longer than the 30 minutes called for, but the mixture was still quite wet when I needed to start frying and it was difficult to handle and "shape into bite-sized pieces."  The simple rescue option I always go for when a something is too wet to fry: Add more dry ingredients.  In this case, I opted to add the dry ingredient on the outside.  I poured a cup of panko crumbs on a plate, spooned large rounded tablespoons of the mixture onto the crumbs (not bite-sized if it's going to be this labor-intensive per each crab cake!), and gently rolled to form an outside layer of crumbs.  That did the trick.  I was left with 12 crab cakes that were just dry enough on the outside that they could be slid onto a wide pan of melted olive oil and butter.


Once they are frying, the wetness of the mixture is less problematic.  We just need to be careful in making the first flip so that they don’t break apart.  Once the turn happens, the frying process forms a nice crust of panko crumbs on the outside to be able to handle the rest of the cooking process.  They turned out perfectly fine after all.  Whew!


Then you make a tartar sauce by combining mayonnaise, mustard, and finely chopped pickles (or cornichons) for your last step.  Will, who loves anything pickled, thinks the sauce is indispensable to the crab cakes.  Serve two crab cakes with a light side salad, and you have a lovely summer dinner.



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