Thursday, December 06, 2007

Crab cakes

A week ago a friend called and said she was having a small party this weekend but would be out of town until today and wanted to know if I could help her out. I, of course, said yes, because cooking is much more exciting (to me) than shopping for Christmas presents. So I pulled together several menu ideas and we decided on one, and then she headed out of town while I started working on recipes. Here's the menu, which she wants served buffet style:

Vegetables with dip
blanched green beans, baby carrots, blanched broccoli, cucumber spears, radishes, and grape tomatoes; roasted red bell pepper and cream cheese dip

Crabcakes with sauce
(more on this in a moment)

Pear, pecan, and bleu cheese salad with cranberry vinaigrette
recipe here

Chicken with bacon mustard vinaigrette
(more on this another day)

Potato gratin
Yukon Golds with butter, cream, and Gruyère

Roasted zucchini

Vanilla lime crème brûlée
with candied lime zest

I've been so excited since she called, since it means I get to develop and test recipes. I started with the crab cakes and the chicken. The chicken I got right instantly, and we will probably end up using that as a semi-frequent meal around here, at least as frequently as we make any meal using bacon fat.

As for the crab, I liked my first attempt okay, but I altered it here and there a bit, and now I'm really happy with it. I've always wanted to be able to make crab cakes myself and never really taken the risk to learn, since it seemed rather an expensive risk. It's really not that bad cost-wise, especially for special occasions. I like a little zip to my cake...enough flavor that it's exciting but not so much you drown out good crab. And while taking apart the Dungeness crab isn't the most glamorous work, once you've done one, it's no big deal. Just make sure they're as fresh* as you can get them, or they stink and taste horrible. Crazy how something can taste so incredible one day and within just 2 or 3 days it's unbearable. It's important to note that a Dungeness crab will yield about 25% of its weight in crabmeat, so for this recipe, you'll want to buy about 2 1/2 pounds of crab, which is one quite large crawler.

So here's my recipe for crab cakes. Maybe you'll find a use for it, since it is the season for entertaining, and crab cakes are great entertaining-type food. I'm including my recipe for the accompanying sauce/dip/spread. It's mellow and a nicely paired contrast to the bright flavors in the crab cakes. I hope you get a chance to eat some good crab cakes soon!

Crab Cakes

10 oz. (about 2 c.) Dungeness crab, patted dry
1/2 c. + 1 T. Saltine cracker crumbs (very fine)
2 T. mayonnaise
2 T. sour cream (light works great)
1 1/2 T. chopped cilantro
1/2 serrano chile, minced**
1 1/2 t. lime juice
1 egg, lightly beaten
pinch Kosher salt, unless your crab tasted really salty
2 T. olive oil
2 T. unsalted butter

In a medium bowl, mix the crab and cracker crumbs together.

Separately, combine all other ingredients up to and including the salt. Taste for spice and add more chile if you like. Add to the crab and mix together well with a fork or your clean hands...both work great.

Set a nonstick skillet over medium to medium-low heat (I use 4 on my scale of 10). You may be tempted to turn up the heat over the next few minutes, but resist. (Well, maybe you're not like me. I'm always terribly impatient and tempted to turn up the heat.) Once the skillet is preheated, add the olive oil and butter.

Once these fats have heated and are evenly combined, drop round Tablespoon-size balls of the crab cake mix in. I like my little scooper for this task. Once you've set the lump in, lightly press it down to turn it into a disc shape. Repeat until the pan is filled. Cook the crab cakes until lightly golden, then flip and repeat (about 2-3 minutes per side). Remove to a plate, let cool, and enjoy.

This recipe should make 25 - 30 appetizer-size crab cakes, and it will probably take 2 full skillets to prepare. You may have to add a bit more oil and butter for the second batch, but don't load it up. We're not deep frying here, you know.

Green Onion Side Sauce

4 green onions, trimmed to about 5" in length
1/4 c. mayonnaise
4 turns of the pepper mill
small squeeze of fresh lime

Sauté the green onions with a touch of salt in the leftover olive oil and butter from your crab cakes, or in their own if you're preparing this ahead of time. (They don't need much.) Cook, stirring, until they brown a bit. Remove to a plate and cool to room temperature.

In a food processor, combine the green onions with the remaining ingredients and purée until smooth. (This will probably work just as well in a blender.) Chill until ready to serve. Enjoy with crab cakes or anything else that suits your fancy.

*By fresh, I mean how recently it was thawed. Crab doesn't travel well raw, so it's cooked right when it's caught and frozen immediately, then shipped out to the rest of the world frozen. The supermarket wraps it up and it thaws in their refrigerated case. Unless you live on the coast and catch your own, in which case you probably cook it right up and never freeze it and you're very lucky.

**You could substitute about 1/3 of a jalapeño chile if you can't find serranos. This will give the crab cakes just a little bit of heat. If you want really spicy crab, you'll need to increase the amount to your taste. Be careful. Just know I warned you. Also, if you have remotely fair skin, like me, wear gloves when working with the chile. It's such a pain to wear the gloves, since it's much more difficult to use a knife, but it's also nice to not have your hands burning for the next 3 days after touching the pepper.


Anonymous said...

That sounds like a great menu, but lots of work! I'm sure enjoying my
morning smoothie. Thanks for your good ideas!

Anonymous said...

Ooh, the Vanilla lime crème brûlée
with candied lime zest; do you happen to have a recipe for this? Yummy!