Sunday, April 18, 2010

Crab Cakes ~ A Motley Crew

I've always been fascinated with the crab. They've appeared in so many dishes throughout my life in various forms, I can't help but be in awe of the curious crustacean. Here's one of my early memories as a little girl.

During the summer months we'd spend questionable beach days crabbing off the dock by our house. After an hour or so of finding and messing with the rusty traps, untangling the seaweed stained ropes and gathering all necessary supplies one needs to be a successful "crabber"... we were off! Bucket, net and bunker bait in hand, we would walk the block or so down the alley to the public dock. "Tie um' up and let um' drop!"

As with most eight year olds, my impatience quotient was high. I could only bear to wait approximately two minutes before lifting my trap to check, "Nope, nothing yet..." This behavior continued every two minutes thereafter until finally hunger set in and my sisters, brother and I opted to head back for lunch. Always apprehensive to leave the traps unattended, we'd pen a note to ward off intruders, "Be Right Back, Please Don't Lift!" We all agreed, it was pleasant yet strong and to the point.

The discussion during the three minute walk home revolved around, "possibilities." The possibility it wasn't a good crab season, the possibility our traps might be pirated and ransacked, the possibility we'd return to a bounty of blue claws so plentiful people far and wide would want to pay us for our secret!

We scarfed down hot dogs, drank some apple juice, fought over whose turn it was to do dishes and in all of this, inevitably became side tracked with Frogger, Pack Man, Mad Libs and the Rubik's Cube. Time passed...seconds turned to minutes...minutes became hours. It wasn't until my parents discussion as to what to have for dinner and the duty of husking corn was bestowed upon us, that we quickly recalled the business at hand. In the interest of a common goal, we begrudgingly husked the crap out of that corn and headed back to the bay.

There they were... seemingly undisturbed, lying in wait for a whole 3 hours. The possibility they could be full of crabs for that evening's dinner was more than we could handle. But wait, the scene had changed? There was a boat a few yards away near the marsh, ropes over the edge disappearing into the murky salt water, people laughing, their eyes peering into buckets. We noticed other children a few docks down cheering, slapping five and calling for their parents to "come look and see...!"

What on earth did all this mean?! Bewildered our eyes darted...mine to June's, June's to Olive's, Olive's to Jo Jo's and then all eyes down. There were little bubbles popping upon the waters surface. Now we were young - but well schooled in the "art" of dock crabbing - and this could only mean one thing...THE MOTHER LOAD! CRABS! TONS OF CRABS! Big ones..."KEEPERS!"

We jumped up and down, threw our arms in the air. Pure elation, the boat people waved to us, the dock kids smiled...there was an unspoken acceptance of each others presence. We laughed as some got away, scurrying along the wooden boards falling back into the sea. It was merely a matter of time... he'd soon be ours again we chuckled! We poured them into buckets and ran them home in shifts, "Get out the Old Bay mom because here we come!"

It turned out that summer was one of the best blue claw seasons ever! Like a motley crew returning from the Baring Sea, we still gather down the shore house, throw back brewskies (Corona's with lime) and reminisce about "The Infamous Catch" some 25 years ago, and how sadly it seems to still be affecting the crab population this very day.

Crab Cakes

Ingredients:2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup diced onion
1/2 cup small diced red or green bell pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon
Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Old Bay
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground
black pepper
1 pound lump crab meat, drained and picked to remove shells
1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs (or crushed saltine crackers or a mix)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 scant cup olive oil or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350. Place 1-2 tablespoons butter, onion, bell pepper, parsley, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay seasoning, and pepper in a large saute pan over medium-low heat and cook until the vegetables are soft, approximately 8-10 minutes. Cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, add the lump crab meat (careful not to break up lumps too much) and fold with bread crumbs (or saltines), mayonnaise, mustard, and egg. Add the cooked mixture and gently fold. Carefully shape into desired sized portions keeping integrity of the jumbo lump.

Heat the butter and olive oil in frying pan over medium heat in a large saute pan. Carefully add crab cakes and fry for 4 to 5 minutes on each side (for smaller cakes like the ones shown here 2-3 min each side),until browned. Drain on paper towels or brown bags. Place them on a pan in the oven for approx. 7-10 mins and then, turn off oven and keep them in the warm oven to keep hot until ready to serve. Serve with classic homemade cocktail or tarter sauce and wedge of lemon.

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