Sunday, November 3, 2013

Blue Crabcake Algonquian

The Chesapeake Blue Crab is a very special animal.  Its scientific name -- Callinectes sapidus --  is Latin for beautiful, savory swimmer.  I have worked with these beautiful creatures when I was a steam cook for a local seafood restaurant.  The crab are not only beautiful to look at, but their meat is very delicious.  It is so prized that the Blue Crab has been one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable, fishery in the Chesapeake Bay.

For the locals, eating the crab right out of the shell is a timeless ritual.  There used to be, and there still are, many crab houses that dot the region.  Dozens of crabs can be ordered, served on brown, butcher-type paper.  Mallets are handed out to everyone and the feast begins.  

Apart from these crab feasts, the second most popular way for locals to enjoy the meat of the blue crab is the crabcake.  According to Renewing America's Food Traditions, the first recipe for a crabcake was published back in 1685, and, was first recorded twenty-five years earlier when chef Robert May told readers in 1660 that one could: "take the meat out of the great claws being first boiled, flour and fry them to take the meat out of the body, strain half of it for sauce and the other half to fry, and mix it with grated bread, almond paste, nutmeg, salt and yolks of eggs, fry in clarified butter, being first dipped in batter, put in a spoonful at a time; then make a sauce with wine-vinegar, butter, or juice of orange, and grated nutmeg, beat up the butter thick and put some of the meat that was strained into the sauce, warm it and put it in a clean dish, lay the meat on the sauce, slices of orange over all and run it over with beaten butter, fried parsley, round the dish bring and the little legs round the meat."

It would take more than 250 years before the term "crabcake" would bed used for the first time in 1930.  Over that period of time, the historic recipes for crabcakes -- like Chef May's recipe -- continued to evolve.  At the same time, the once bountiful populations of blue crab began to decline.  The reasons are varied: overfishing, chemical runoff (like PCBs and mercury), disease, and other reasons.  Another problem has been the algae blooms, which damage and kill the sea grasses that are vital to the diet of the blue crab.  

This recipe -- Blue Crabcake Algonquian -- comes from the Renewing America's Food Traditions book.  It is a straightforward, traditional recipe for a Maryland crabcake that has been adapted from a couple of recipes used by restaurants and chefs along the Chesapeake Bay.  The recipe calls for the use of "lump" crab meat, which is okay.  If you can find "jumbo lump" crab meat, that would be even better.  Both lump and jumbo lump crab meat provide big pieces of crab that stand out from the binding that keeps the crabcake together.  A great crabcake is one where the crab is the star, not the binding. 

Recipe from Renewing America's Food Traditions, edited by
Gary Paul Nabhan at page 163
Serves 3

1 pound of jumbo lump blue crab meat, preferably local
4 tablespoons of minced onion
1/2  teaspoon of dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon of paprika
4 tablespoons of bread crumbs (such as panko)
1 egg, beaten
2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
4 tablespoons of butter
2 ounces of white wine
Sea salt, to taste
Ground black pepper to taste

1.  Make the crab cakes.  In a mixing bowl, use your hands to combine the crab meat with the minced onion, dry mustard, paprika, breadcrumbs, and egg.  Form six small balls of crabcakes.  Refrigerate for about 15 minutes.

2.  Saute the crab cakes.  Heat the butter in a skillet.  Saute the crabcakes over medium heat until brown and bubbly.  Fluff up and turn over with a spatula without disturbing the lumps of crab, then brown on the other side.  Next remove the skillet from the heat and quickly pour the white wine over the edges of the crabcakes.  While they are still sizzling and bubbling, serve in the skillet.


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