Sometimes, I, like most people, find myself in a lose-lose situation. What is called zugzwang in chess: no matter what move is made, the player’s position weakens. And the fact that I ended up in this position despite the sheer number of good decisions and surprise twists, is kind of remarkable. So let’s dive into today’s recipe, crab cakes, and how I ended up between a rock and a hard place.
You Wanna Make God Laugh? Tell him your plans.
This story begins almost 2 weeks ago. As part of writing A State of Catastrophe, I told myself I’d start planning posts better. I even reference in the post that I was planning something Superbowl related. Except, as I should have remembered, I know very little about Football, and have only the bare minimum of care. Like, I know the rules of the game, can name a dozen or so players from the last two years, etc. But once the Seahawks are out of the running, my attention basically dwindles to nothing.
Go regional tribalism!
As such, I had forgotten that, when I made that claim, I had no idea who would be playing. So I debated doing something kind of generic, but that felt like cheating. So I said “I’ll just wait until I do know.” Eventually, I learn it’s the Patriots vs the Falcons. New England versus the South. And I say “damn it, I should have just picked something stupid.”
Because here’s the thing: New England and the South don’t really agree on many things (*cough*TheCivilWar*cough*), and an easy example is tailgating food. My first 20 seconds of Atlanta tailgating recipes told me exactly what I expected: barbecue, barbecue, fried chicken, and barbecue. New England didn’t even WANT to give me a straight answer. It sent me straight to a patriots page of fairly generic foods. I had to troll through a slideshow gallery to get to the statement: “Don’t bring a bag of chips. You’re better than that. Try wings, Italian sausage with peppers and onions, steak tips or even burgers.”
Which is a mixed bag of “oddly specific” and “mindboggingly generic.” Shit. Not helpful. Fine. What do the two areas share in cuisine? Um…New England’s got seafood, casseroles, meat in a bun…Georgia’s got peaches, barbecue, seafood…Oh goddamn it.
Angry Hissing Begins
As you may or may not be aware, I, despite growing up a mere hour from Seattle, and literally a 5 minute drive to the Puget Sound, don’t like seafood. So I was immediately against the idea. Maybe they don’t share any real TYPES of seafood! But a quick check of Atlanta restaurants confirmed: hey, these guys make a fair bit of crab cakes. And, I mean, New England is DEFINTELY down with crab cakes. And that point, it came to the moment: I could make you guys something generic, or I could make something I wasn’t going to really like. I had bullied myself into making crab cakes.
Except, I hadn’t, not yet. See, I, (again, like most people) am pretty lazy when it comes to doing things I don’t want to do. And I KNEW I had a back-up recipe. Roasted Pepper Salsa, that’s pretty game-day. Heck, I really LIKE this salsa. So I consoled myself: if we don’t find any already shelled crab meat, we won’t do it.
Which made it a bad time for me to wander into a luxury grocery store.
Damn you, the siren song of Sancere!
Morose, I dragged myself to the seafood isles. They had salmon candy. They had smoked mussels. They had wagyu beef two bins down, they’re definitely going to have…what’s this? I mean, here’s a crab dip, and here’s some premade cakes, but…maybe it’s in the frozen foods. Hmm. Hmm. Holy shit is this a half pound of rendered duck fat? That’s amazing! But not crab. No. There’s…no crab here. Haha! HaHA! EAT IT, DUTIFUL JON!! I WIN AGAIN. Let’s let out a self-satisfied “hmph”, to seal the deal.
“Hmph what?” My mother, standing beside me, asked.
“Oh, nothing,” I said, my tone shifting slightly down. “I was thinking of maybe making crab cakes tomorrow for the blog, but they don’t have any crab meat. Well, that’s-“
“Oh, well if you need crab meat I can pick it up tomorrow morning from Fred Meyer.”
“…That would be…great.”
Damn it, dutiful Jon, you win again.
Working the Field. Moving the Chains. Sports Metaphors.
So, if you haven’t made crab cakes, you may be surprised at the intricacy of the recipe:
Step 1: Stir ingredients together
Step 2: Chill for a bit, then cover in flour.
Step 3: Fry.
Pictured: Culinary elegance.
Yes, as with a great many seafood recipes, the point isn’t in the complex preparation, but rather in simply showcasing the ingredients. So it was pretty easy to throw together. However, I was mildly thrown off by one specific ingredient. “Scallions, only the green parts, minced.” See, in my experience, scallions typically use “the white and light green parts” only, and they’re almost universally thinly sliced. I actually had to re-check the recipe after slicing them to confirm, because my mind still didn’t believe it.
But in the end, it’s a pretty simple recipe. Which makes sense, as I got it from the American Test Kitchen, and their goal was “crisp exteriors with a creamy crab interior.” I was joined in the dining experience by my mother, and site Alcohol Editor JJ Hernandez. As we waited for the meat to chill, I remarked “You know, I don’t even like crab.”
“Neither do I,” he confessed. “That’s why I’m waiting. It’ll be funnier for the post.”
Ha. Ha ha. Hee hee.
Finally the time came to eat my freshly-fried crustacean cakes. The jury’s verdict:
These taste like crab.
That’s…really the major takeaway. If you’re looking for an appetizer that delivers on crab flavor, I assure you, these got it. In my opinion, they benefited from a savory cream sauce (I used a pre-made roasted-garlic-and-chile mayo I owned) but we all agreed: they filled their function beautifully. The recipe said “serve immediately”, but we found the texture was improved by waiting just a bit. Literally, 5 minutes let them firm up to something we preferred.
Another important thing we learned: holy crap, frying seafood makes a hell of a smell. Two and half Hours later, our kitchen was still haunted by the scents of crabs long gone. So we looked up and found a way to handle that: Turns out boiling 3 tablespoons of white vinegar in a cup of water on the stove cuts the scent out of the air in 2 minutes flat.
So not only did we make crab cakes, which were…distinctly crabby, we also found a way to get your house to smell good again by the time your guests arrive.
So if you’re searching for Seafood this Big Game Sunday, count yourself caught up.
Join us next time, when I make a meal I actually enjoy eating.
Further, if you like Kitchen Catastrophes, please feel free to support us on Patreon. A mere dollar a month gives you access to a look behind the curtain on how this blog gets made, with better rewards the more you’re willing to give. This Patreon is our effort to sustain the site without resorting to any sort of ads distracting you, so if you like what we do, chip in, or at least spread the word on Facebook and Twitter! Keep Your Kitchens Cooking, and goodnight. (Or Day. Whenever.)
Maryland-esque Crab Cakes
1 pound crab meat, preferably lump, cleaned of shell fragments or gills.
4 green onions, green parts only, minced
1 tbsp. chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley, but you could go with something stronger like dill or basil)
1.5 tsps. seasoning. (I used Cajun, to make this a little more southern. Old bay, Creole, any spice mix will do.)
2+ tbsps. Plain dry breadcrumbs
¼ cup mayonnaise
Salt and (preferably white) pepper, to taste
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup Vegetable oil.
1. Mix the first 6 ingredients together in a bowl, trying not to break up the crab meat. (you want some substantial crab chunks.) Add salt and pepper, then the egg, folding the mixture till it just comes together. If it looks too wet, add more bread crumbs. What’s too wet? I don’t know, man.
2. Take this mixture, and separate it. The original recipe called for 4 patties, each ¼ of a pound, 3 inches wide and 1.5 tall. We went for 1.5 wide and 1 tall, and made 9 of them, because we were aiming for a ‘party’ serving. Put your little patties on a baking sheet cover in wax paper, cover them, and chill for at least 30 minutes to firm up.
3. Preheat the oil until shimmering, but not smoking. Dredge the cakes in the flour (I used a Tupperware container to hold the flour) and add to the oil. Fry between 3-5 minutes a side, until nicely golden, then flip and repeat. Serve hot, but not too hot, with lemon or sauce of your choice.