Ok, I know the last post was a highly opinionated manifesto on the crab cake, so I will keep this crab post short. One other way (of the millions) that we enjoy crab is in this decadent, fragrant, creamy, elegant crab and pumpkin soup. I serve it with some yogurt (+/- chives, lemon) for that creamy tanginess that offsets the aromatics of curry spices so well. This has made it to the Thanksgiving table for the past few years but it’s also great with crusty bread and salad for a casual dinner. This curried crab and pumpkin soup is easy to make, but tastes like you have been working all day from a secret recipe on a handwritten scroll squirreled away in a trinket box you hide from prying eyes. By which I mean, it’s fantastic and people love it and you will look like a culinary genius.
Look, I’m from Maryland and I know crab cakes. I remember my first crab boil as a kid and thinking these adults were crazy for all of this work and mess just for a morsel of – ohhhh….this is amazing! I could never be a full vegetarian mostly because I love crab. I’m convinced that crab cakes are appropriate for all special events, and have made it a part of our Thanksgiving tradition in place of turkey. And now that I am living on the west coast, I have learned to love the Dungeness crab. Learn, I say, because it’s definitely a bit different from the Maryland blue crabs with which I grew up. Blue crab is just a but sweeter, a bit more delicate. I am not trying to be inflammatory when I say: I have yet to taste a good crab cake on the west coast. I wasn’t sure if its from the crab or from the technique, so I was skeptical. So I make them myself, and the first time I made a crab cake with Dungeness, I was horrified to watch them crumble apart in the pan. But I’m now a convert, and in the fall I’d been frantically keeping tabs on the news and hoping that Dungeness season will be a good harvest. But on to the perfect crab cake – you can use blue crab or Dungeness, and you’ll be pleased to know how simple they are to make. But be forewarned, on this subject I have many opinions.
The first thing to know is that good crab needs nothing, nothing, to taste good. Not sauce, not butter, not lemon, not even salt and pepper. Truly fresh, wonderful crab is perfect on its own, so a crab cake is really just gilding that lily – be judicious. Second, crab cakes do not have filler, they have binder – that is, just enough extraneous non-crab ingredients to hold together the pieces of crab and if that ratio is wrong you have a cake with crab in it and not a crab cake. Third, there is no wrong direction to take the seasoning of a crab cake. I am partial to the Maryland standard of Old Bay seasoning myself, but just using salt and pepper, or a curry powder, or southeast Asian flavors, or tropical flavors is not wrong. Wherever there is an ocean, people on the coast eat crab, so who’s to say what’s correct or authentic? Fourth, form the cakes and let them rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour, then add some more bread crumbs before frying. This really helps the cakes keep their shape when you fry them. Fifth, use panko bread crumbs. They are light and keep crispy, I really feel that they make a difference. Lastly, if you fry them, you should use a combination of butter and oil. The sweet, salty butter coats the bread crumbs making a golden grilled cheese sandwich-type crust that is a perfect shell for the tender sweet crab inside.
So, what do you put in them? Well I usually eyeball some mayo, Dijon mustard, an egg, fresh herbs (chives or parsley) and Old Bay with panko – again, just enough to hold the crab together. This is a close recipe to how I make my crab cakes and (according to my years as a self-appointed expert, for whatever that’s worth! [not much]) how they should taste. I’ve been known to add some sriracha, Greek yogurt, capers, or curry powder. I do not add any diced, shredded or chopped veggies of any kind to my crab cakes. I’m partial to pairing the rich, creamy cakes with a bright, peppery side of arugula with a crisp, astringent dressing for balance (like this champagne vinaigrette). You could also serve them on a (soft, slightly sweet) bun with lettuce and tomato or a slaw. Use whatever sauce you want, but no ketchup! What’s wrong with you? Any other sauce will do, really. Creamy? Tangy? Spicy? Vinegary? Even just a squeeze of lemon for that acid contrast is a delicious finish. In the picture above I used a yogurt sauce with some lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper, capers and fresh chives.
There you have it, my missive on crab cakes (I won’t say the perfect crab cake, because that is subjective, but let’s just say really really essential, standard-bearing, you-can’t-go-wrong crab cakes). And if ever you are on the appropriate coast for crab season, get to cracking those meaty claws and try your first bite without a single additional ingredient – then, give thanks for that good harvest.
Sometimes you just want comfort food. Sometimes, you unwittingly wander into an awesome indie music festival and end up spending the whole day laying in the grass listening to some of your favorite bands play music all day with your amazing friend Niti and by nightfall you realize you’re starving and you don’t want to eat any festival food because you both have a sudden and relentless craving for mac and cheese and only the kind from a blue box will do and so you leave the concert to drive to Kroger and pick up blue box mac and cheese and Heinz ketchup (no other brand is acceptable) and rush home and make a pot of it and eat it straight from the pot with a spoon while Niti’s then-fiance-now-husband watches with amusement because y’all are crazy. I mean, this happens sometimes and that is OK. Other times you have this exact same scenario occur but you also want to pretend that you have reached adulthood and this is a story of one those other times.
You can class up your plate of cheesy mac by splurging on some decadent crab and brie macaroni and cheese. I made a big dish of this recently to celebrate a weekend of No Plans Whatsoever and to have a great excuse to get Dungeness crab. Making a bechamel of brie is super easy and really, you can sub in camembert or any other soft cheese (goat cheese may be a great tangy alternative) that you like. I am always worried about over salting and was especially so in this case with the inherent saltiness of brie – however, even after adding some traditional Maryland Old Bay seasoning I found I needed to add more salt so make sure to salt to your taste. Also, I always use panko for that perfect bread crumb topping – its super light and crunchy.
I further classed up this plate with some simple roasted tomatoes as a play on a side of ketchup. This makes OK out-of-season tomatoes great and wonderful height-of-summer tomatoes glorious. Their ripeness are the perfect acidic complement to the creamy richness of the pasta. Simply drizzle cherry or grape tomatoes with a flavorful olive oil, add fresh ground salt and pepper and roast for 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Pour some of your favorite wine, light some candles, and revel in an elegant grown-up meal that satisfies your secret childhood comfort food cravings.