Rosie Hawthorne’s recipes: Sweet season for crabs

By on May 27, 2019

It’s Crab Season!

Ahh … The blue crab. Callinectes sapidus. Beautiful, savory swimmer — from the Greek calli for “beautiful,” nectes for “swimmer,” and Latin sapidus for “savory.” Just swim on over to my plate, please, you savory little beauty.

There’s nothing quite like a newspaper-lined table top of fresh-caught, just-steamed, Old Bay-sprinkled blue crabs, with nothing more than melted butter and some lemon juice to dribble over that succulent meat. Except maybe crab soup. Or crab cakes. Luckily, for your gustatory pleasure, I have recipes for both.

If you’re not catching and picking your own crabs, go buy a pound of crab meat. Half goes for the crab soup, and the other half will make 5-6 cakes. For crab cakes, lump crab meat is my grade of choice, although the flavorful claw meat will do in a pinch. I prefer the large chunks. They hold together well with minimal fillings or binders. For soup, the smaller pieces of backfin crab meat are just fine.

Rosie’s Crab Soup
2 TB unsalted butter
¼ cup minced celery
¼ cup minced onion
2 ½ TB flour
⅓ cup shrimp stock (optional)
½ cup vegetable stock
½ cup milk
½ cup cream
¼ cup sherry
8 oz. crab meat
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Chopped parsley and chives
Minced red pepper
Oyster crackers

In a medium pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and celery, stirring for about a minute. Add in the flour, stirring, until flour is cooked, another minute or so. Slowly stir in the shrimp stock, then the vegetable stock, milk, and cream, letting the mixture thicken.
Stir in the sherry and crab meat and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and top with parsley, chives, minced red pepper, and oyster crackers.

Rosie note: The shrimp stock is optional, but I like the extra flavor it imparts. You can substitute with vegetable stock if you want. Shrimp stock is nice to have on hand in the freezer and you can easily whip up a batch whenever you have shrimp shells. After peeling shrimp, save the shells along with the heads too if you happened to have heads-on shrimp. Heat up 2-3 tablespoons oil in a stock pot over medium heat and add in the shells and heads. Poke and stir for 5 minutes until the shells have turned a nice pink color. Add some aromatics – coarsely chopped onions (with skin), chopped carrots and celery, smashed garlic, some peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaves. Now cover everything with water and add some kosher salt. Bring it to a simmer and let it go for about 45 minutes, skimming any foamy stuff off top. Let cool, drain off the liquid and discard solids, pour into pint containers, and freeze.

Now, for the crab cakes.

When it comes to crab cakes, less is more. You don’t want a lot of filler, or “sawdust.” And finding the “ultimate” crab cake is like finding the “best” barbeque, or the “best” potato salad, or the “best” cole slaw. Everybody’s got a recipe and it’s a source of debate and fierce regional pride – a culinary battlefield, so to speak. I’ve made a lot of crab cakes, tweaking the recipes as I go along. But I always remember to go easy. You don’t want the filling to overwhelm the crab.

Rosie’s Crab Cakes
8 ounces crab meat
1 egg
1 TB mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 TB minced sweet red bell pepper
1 TB minced celery
1 TB chopped parsley

Beat egg with mayonnaise until smooth. Add all ingredients except for the crab meat and mix until well-combined. Gently fold in the crab meat, trying to keep the lumps intact. Do not over-mix!
Form into cakes about ½ inch thick. Chill for at least an hour.

Breading is optional, but if you like, press cakes into a mixture of crushed Ritz crackers, crushed Saltines, and panko breadcrumbs.

Heat 1 TB each unsalted butter and oil in skillet over medium heat until butter is sizzling. Slide in crab cakes and cook about 2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain and serve with tartar and/or remoulade sauces.

Tartar Sauce
⅓ cup mayonnaise
1 TB sweet pickle relish
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 – 1 tsp chopped capers (optional)
2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 heaping TB chopped red onion or scallions
Freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients.
If you don’t have fresh tarragon, not to worry. Substitute with fresh parsley and/or chives, or even dill – different flavors, but all quite doable.

Remoulade Sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
1 heaping TB coarse grained mustard
2 tsp sweet relish
2 tsp horseradish
½ – 1 tsp Texas Pete
½ tsp minced garlic
¼ tsp Cajun seasoning
1 tsp Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
freshly ground pepper, to taste
Mix all ingredients until smooth.

Rosie Note: The amounts for the sauces are merely starting points. Adjust ingredients according to your own tastes.

For the simplest of sauces, just swirl together some mayonnaise and sriracha sauce.

Enjoy!

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