Crab Cakes (Chesapeake)
Manna from Heaven (Chesapeake)
About 7 billion people live on this planet, but only a tiny fraction of them, are fortunate enough to live in Maryland and Virginia, the two states which surround the Chesapeake Bay.
Fortunate because the Bay means crabs, eaten in one of three ways: a) boiled in delectable spices, spices that constitute -- well, "crab boil" -- and then cracked open with wooden hammers preferably on a picnic table in sight of the Bay, b) "soft shell," a true magnificence, and c) crab cakes.
Here we will be cooking and serving crab cakes. Fortunate we are indeed.
Help for the 6 billion 986 million
Basically, if you don't live in the Chesapeake area, you will have trouble getting crab meat fresh from the Bay.
There are other fine crab cakes in the world, including those on the West Coast where a different species of crab predominates. Indeed, if you live in Louisiana (and in certain other parts of the world), you can get the very same species of crab -- the Blue Crab -- that resides in the Chesapeake. But crab cakes are a specialty of the Chesapeake region and are prized worldwide.
A few high-class food stores are able to bring fresh Chesapeake crab meat to their counters on occasion More power to them!
But for the vast majority, we have to rely on frozen crab meat (when we can get it). Here is a good brand, not always available.
Launching our boat
Here is what they look like when thawed in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 hours.
The great virtue of the crab cake, aside of course from its superb taste, is that the problem of removing the meat frrom the crab shell -- a maritime art form requiring high skills -- has been solved for you. What we are looking at here is the solution to the problem.
If you do acquire fresh crab meat you can of course form your own crab cakes by adding some egg yolk as a binder along with panko breadcrumbs (in modest amount) and things like chopped scallions or shallots and herbs and hot sauce.
With the crab cakes shown here the additions have already been made, and it must be noted that they play a very secondary role to the crab meat itself, as they should.
In the pan
Heat up some canola oil in a pan. Canola oil is good because it has little taste of its own and so will not interfere with the deliciousness of the crab cake itself.
The cakes are flat on the bottom side and rounded (see pic above) on the top. After the oil has heated to sizzling, put the crab cakes in the pan with the rounded side down, then press them down a bit with a metal spatulla to flatten them a bit, being careful not to destroy the overall shape of the cake..
Two or three minutes should be sufficient to produce the beautiful brown seen here. These were flattened a bit more after being turned.
The burner is slightly uneven for some reason, so the oil was not distributed evenly in the pan. The result is that the crab cake in the foreground did not brown as nicely as the other three. That crab cake was originally where the top crab cake is now, so the idea is to move it down where there is more oil.
These need to be cooked for only two or three minutes on this side.
This is a lemon-rosemary aioli.
- some mayonnaise, amount depends on how many crab cakes you are cooking
- a clove of garlic, smashed and chopped to a fare-thee-well
- a tablespoon or so of fresh rosemary
- lemon juice - ream perhaps half a lemon into this mixture
- lemon zest, add as much as you want
Don't forget to season this, ie, grind some sea salt in there and some coarse ground pepper.
What a beautiful sight!
The term "mouthwatering" does not do this justice. Although, as we've seen, this meal was simplicity itself to create, the end result can match any meal that takes hours and hours of preparation.
The taste of the Chesapeake right in our own home. It's a unique taste, a taste of the sea. Grilled to perfection. That delicious aioli is the perfect accompaniment, tasty and fresh in a way that complements the crab cake rather than diverting attention.
Crab cakes are great with grilled corn and a salad.
A bigger picture
It is difficult to go wrong when selecting a wine to go with this dinner. The standard suggestions would be Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, dry white wines, served cold. Personally, I prefer Merlot, a wine that has a lot of taste but isn't going to overpower the stars of the show, the crab cakes.
The state of Maryland has a state crustacean: Callinectes sapidus. Better known as the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab. It is from this crab that the crab cakes we prepared here came, of course.
As noted above, you can get this same blue crab in Louisiana. You can also get it in New Jersey. Indeed, now you can get it in many places because although the original distribution of the blue crab was from Cape Cod south to the Chesapeake area, down and into the Gulf of Mexico, and then all the way down to the coast of Argentina, it has now been introduced in many other waters -- those around Greece, for example -- and is farmed extensively in places far from the home range.
I have eaten many, many of these crabs in one form or another over the years, but in researching them now I was started to discover something that had been staring me in the face on numerous occasions: the abdominal shell of female crabs, to which I had paid little attention when flipping it open to get at the meat inside, actually resembles the dome of the US Capitol Building, whereas the narrow abdominal bone of the male resembles the Washington Monument. Conspiracy theorists should look into this.
One last fact about the blue crab. We humans are not the only ones to feast on blue crabs. Other predators include the eel, the croaker (or drum), the striped bass, trout, sharks (those with good taste), and certain stingrays and other rays.
Real Meal. Unlike fancy food mags, where images are hyped and food itself is secondary, all pix shown here are from a real meal, prepared and eaten by me and my friends. No throwing anything away till perfection is achieved. This is the real deal --- a Real Meal.