You know it’s crab season when the nice table linens are replaced with yesterday’s newspaper. Anyone living within a day’s drive of the Chesapeake Bay has a special appreciation for crab that is only paralleled by France’s passion for cheese. These days, Maryland-style crab cakes pop up on menus from Toledo to Tucson. Personally, I’d much rather try that city’s specialty, but I like knowing the crab cake has fans from sea to shining sea.
Blue Crab is the usual choice for Mid-Atlantic cuisine since the crabs have taken a liking to the Chesapeake Bay. The Blue Crab also has a fancier name, Callinectes sapidus. The first part means beautiful swimmer in Greek and the second part means savory in Latin. Though Blue Crab is local, many other types of crab (eg, Dungeness, Snow, Alaska King) are available thanks to the marvels of modern-day shipping efficiency. In general, all crabs should be eaten within 24 hours if raw or live and within 48 hours if cooked.
Whether it’s a hot day or a chilly evening, this week’s recipes pay homage to the savory Blue Crab. Without hesitation, the Chesapeake Crab Cakes are the first listed in the column and the first to disappear from a dinner plate. If you can’t get to Chincoteague Island or Maryland’s Eastern Shore, then this recipe will take you there! Cool off with Crab & Avocado Salad, which has a tangy citrus dressing that is barely there so you can enjoy the natural flavor of the crab with the smooth avocado to balance out the spice. A crab column wouldn’t be complete without Maryland Crab Soup. This recipe went through rigorous critiques to become what it is today. Turn a snack or appetizer into a seaside experience with Kathy’s Crab Puffs. Easy to make, they’re an instant crowd pleaser.
Chesapeake Crab Cakes
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (not dressing)
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, like Tabasco
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon Old Bay seafood seasoning
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
1/2 cup crushed Saltine crackers
1 pound fresh raw crab meat
1. In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs then mix them with the mayonnaise, mustard, hot pepper sauce, lemon juice, Old Bay, and cayenne pepper. When the ingredients are well blended, stir in the parsley.
2. Sprinkle the bread crumbs in little-by-little until the consistency of the mixture can be formed into a shape, but not so many crumbs that it becomes dry. It is not necessary to use all the crumbs. Gently stir in the crab meat.
3. Form burger-shaped cakes from the mixture and place them in a dish or air-tight storage container. The mixture should provide about six cakes, more if you are making this in appetizer-sized portions. If placing the cakes in the container in layers, place wax paper between the layers. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (no more than 12 hours) before cooking.
4. To fry the cakes, melt butter in a pan over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes on each side. To bake the cakes, place them on a lightly-greased baking sheet or dish, leaving a 2-inch space between cake patties. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes (less time for appetizer cakes). Using either method, the inside of the cake must reach an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees.
Crab & Avocado Salad
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
1/3 cup chopped Roma or vine-ripened tomato
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, like Tabasco (to taste)
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon mayonnaise
6 ripe avocados
8 ounces fresh cooked crab meat
Romaine lettuce, broken into manageable pieces
Blue corn tortilla chips (optional garnish)
1. In a bowl, stir together the chopped onion, chopped tomato, and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro leaves. Set aside in a cool place while preparing the dressing for the salad.
2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the hot pepper sauce, 2 tablespoons lime juice, and mayonnaise. Pour the dressing over the chopped ingredients, cover, and refrigerate until 30 minutes before the dish will be served.
3. Just prior to serving time, the avocados can be prepared. Cut around the avocado completely, but not cutting through it. Separate the two halves and remove the pit from the center. Gently remove the avocado peel so you are left with only avocado meat. Chop the avocado so the pieces are about the size of dice. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon lime juice on the avocado meat. This will keep it from turning brown at its usual speed.
4. Add the crab meat to the avocado and gently fold them together. Then stir together (again, gently) with the chopped ingredients. Serve immediately on a bed of lettuce and garnish with tortilla chips.
Maryland Crab Soup
4 3/4 cups beef broth
6 cups water
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
2 1/2 tablespoons Old Bay (or similar seafood seasoning)
2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
2 1/2 cups frozen succotash (or an equal amount of fresh cooked corn kernels, peas, chopped green beans, and lima beans)
5 cups diced potatoes
16 ounces fresh crab meat
1. In a large stockpot over medium heat, combine the broth, water, onion, and Old Bay. Bring to a boil.
2. Reduce the burner heat to low-medium and add the tomatoes, vegetables, and potatoes. Cover and let the soup mixture simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
3. Stir in the crab meat and cover the soup again. Simmer the mixture for an additional 1 1/2 hours.
4. Serve hot in individual soup mugs or bowls with oyster crackers.
Kathy’s Crab Puffs
1 teaspoon minced shallots
1/3 cup mayonnaise (not dressing)
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Old Bay (or similar seafood seasoning)
6 prepackaged refrigerated flaky biscuits
10 ounces cooked crab meat
1/3 cup grated Swiss cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place the prepared biscuit-shaped dough on a baking sheet and cook for half the time recommended in the package’s instructions. Remove from the oven promptly. Using utensils, carefully split each biscuit into two halves. The dough will be hot so do not try doing this by hand. Set the biscuits aside and keep the oven at the same temperature.
3. In a bowl, mix the shallots, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and Old Bay. Gently stir in the crab meat. Place a spoonful of the crab mixture on each biscuit half and sprinkle the top with the Swiss cheese.
4. Return the baking sheet to the oven and cook the crab puffs for the remaining half of the recommended cooking time. Serve warm.
This post was original published in The New Mountain Tribune on July 20, 2005.