Saturday, May 07, 2011

Weekly Fish #3: Crab Three Ways

Before The Wire, Maryland was best known for its crabs. Crabs are to Maryland as Cheese is to Wisconsin. As Moustaches are to Chicago. As Passive Aggressive is to Minnesota. The premier crab accoutrement, Old Bay Seasoning, bears a "Made in Maryland with Pride" stamp on each tin. The locally favored potato chip, Utz, offers The Crab Chip flavor. (Alert viewers of The Wire will see a bag make a cameo roughly every fifth episode.) Crabs are everywhere.

So it's not really any wonder that, back in late 1970's, The Seafood Marketing Authority within the Department of Economic and Community Development decided to release a cookbook, heavy on the crab recipes.

I present you with the original Maryland Seafood Cookbook. Not to be confused with "The Maryland Seafood Cookbook, Vols. I, II, and III" found on Amazon. Nay, this bad boy bears no ISBN:

The recipes themselves are very simple, and do not fuss with anything so fancy as smoked paprika (which I ended up adding to embellish the dish below). Why bother dicing an onion when you can just use some instant minced onion? It's all the same. Why bother specifying a particular species of fish? It's all the same. Margerine? Butter? Oil? It's all the same. These recipes are so unfussy that this book may well have been written by a bunch of impatient crabbers inbetween pulling up their pots.

Incidentally, Jess gave me this book for my birthday, having stumbled across it in a thrift store here in Minnesota. The happy surprise was two-fold, because I remember this very same book from my Maryland years. Crazy.

On to the weekly fish dish itself.

We decided early in the week to do some crab cakes, and I thought I'd prepare a couple of other crab dishes while I was at it. So, the trio of crab dishes were:
  • Avocado soup with a crab tomato salad
  • Crab cake
  • Crab Imperial
My local grocery store didn't carry the Phillips brand canned crab, so I settled for something else. (When I asked for Phillips, the monger said "I haven't heard that name in years." Sad.)

Readers of The Flavor Bible will know that crab + avocado is one of the Best. Food. Pairings. Ever. I've wanted to validate that claim, so this was a natural first course for our weekly fish. There isn't much to the soup itself; just avocado, ramps, garlic, lime juice, sour cream, water, salt and pepper, blended to oblivion. I mixed up some lump crab meat, cherry tomatoes, front-yard chives, olive oil, salt and pepper into a basic salad, and dropped it into the soup when served.

Protip: chill the soup bowls in the fridge prior to serving.

Everyone has a different recipe for crab cakes, but everyone agrees on the First Fundamental Theorem of Properly Caked Crab: use as little filling as possible. Use just enough egg, mayo and bread crumbs to bind the crab into a patty that is ever on the verge of falling apart, and rely on the crab molecules' van der Waals forces to do the rest. Following that, recipes will vary on the details; my recipe this time included a healthy amount of dijon mustard and Old Bay Seasoning, but no onion, green pepper, or Worchester sauce this go-round.

The cakes were crabby, mustardy and delicious. I decided to add some oil to the butter for the saute, which I think helped crisp them up much better than usual.

The last of the trio was straight from the Maryland Seafood Cookbook. In honor of the recent royal nuptials, I just had to go with the recipe entitled "Crab Imperial." Crab Imperial, according to The Seafood Marketing Authority, is crab, seasoning, and filler, baked and broiled in a ramekin (or a scallop shell, which I lacked). I did my best to dress it up with some smoked paprika and other spices, but in my opinion the mayo in the recipe was too dominant. And if you know me, you know well that mayo is one of my least preferred foodstuffs. Next time: less mayo, more Old Bay. But then again, why not just make more crab cakes instead?

So, lovers of The Wire, bear witness to the original Baltimore gangster, prepared three ways.

After heavily-smoked salmon last week, and dressed-up crab this week, I feel a need to return to a basic, white fish dish for Weekly Fish #4...


Jaime said...

I am drooling! This sounds so delicious...

I made my first ever crab cakes this year for Christmas Eve at Richie's relatives' house in Florida and they were a big hit. I couldn't get Phillips down there either, but it is the standard grocery store brand in VA. Do you use lump or claw meat? I was cooking for a crowd and decided to cut my expenses a little bit by doing half and half and I don't think anyone would have known the difference.

j.j. said...

Great post! Can't wait for #4!


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