There is no real trick to making wonderful crab cakes. Well, those of you from Baltimore may claim there is, but there really isn’t. To make great crab cakes, you need to go back to the basics: good ingredients, proper technique. In the restaurant world, crab cakes are one of the easier dishes to produce. Make them well ahead of time, give them a dunk in the deep fryer or a roll across the flattop, have a nice little salad ready with a dipping sauce, and call it a day. Really, 99% of the time, that’s how it goes.
Of course, crab cakes are produced from a ‘mix’ which is in reality a stuffing. And there is your ticket to creative and unique food. If you want to make crab cakes, serve them with simplicity in mind: some sort of little salad and a spicy dipping sauce. Maybe an Asian slaw. Maybe chipotle mayo (http://chefnotebook.blogspot.com/2012/08/chipotle-mayo.html). But if you want to be creative, start thinking about other things that go well with crab, and use the mix as a stuffing. Mushrooms, artichokes, peppers, little tomatoes, squash blossoms, filet of sole, salmon, and so on go so well with crab. The flavors work in harmony and all these items take stuffing well.
In my opinion, crab cakes should have just enough ‘binder’ to hold them together. The bulk of the mix should be crab, accentuated by a few select vegetables, herbs and spices. Use good quality lump crab meat, not the processed frozen cheap product. Never use imitation. Always make sure to gently pick through the meat ahead of time just to make sure there are no shells (it’s a great way to crack a tooth and ruin a meal).
For this one I take a basic crab stuffing and head off to the Greek Islands for the day.
Crab stuffed Piquillo Peppers with Grilled Halloumi Cheese and Tomato Couscous
For the Crab mix:
8oz Maryland blue lump crab meat, picked through
1 large organic egg
1/2 red pepper, seeds and pith removed, small (fine) dice
1/2 rib celery, small (fine) dice
1 shallot, small (fine)dice
1 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 bunch chives, minced
1/2 bunch parsley, fine chop
1/4 cup prepared mayonnaise
1 tbsp old bay seasoning
2 pieces white bread, crust removed, pulsed in a food processor until crumbs
panko bread crumbs
For the Peppers:
1 can roasted piquillo peppers (gourmet market carry this)
1/2 bunch basil
4 oz halloumi cheese
For the couscous:
1 cup Israeli couscous (the large type)
2 cups tomato juice
extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs oregano, leaves only, minced
For the crab mix:
Place everything except the salt and panko in a bowl. Gently fold the ingredients together as to not shred the crab. Add a good pinch of salt. Add panko as needed until the mix holds together like a meatball. If you want to check the seasoning but don’t want to eat it raw, make a little test cake and saute it. Re-season as necessary.
For the peppers:
Gently, without tearing the peppers, stuff as much crab mix inside the pepper as possible. Line the peppers on a well oiled baking pan.
For the couscous:
Bring the tomato, shallots and garlic to a boil in a small sauce pot. Add the couscous, turn heat to low, cover tightly and cook for about 10 minutes. Add a little chicken stock or water if it needs more liquid (it shouldn’t). Fluff with a fork and let sit for another 10 minutes off the heat. Mix in the oregano and a little olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Reserve, holding warm.
Heat an oven to 400 degrees. Have a hot grill ready. Place the stuffed peppers in the oven and roast for about 10 minutes until crab mix is cooked through and the exposed ends are slightly browned. While this is cooking, grill the cheese with a little olive oil until slightly golden brown. Let cool and cut the cheese into little cubes
Finely chiffonade the basil.
In a shallow platter, mound the couscous in the very center, leaving the rims clean. Gently place the stuffed peppers on top of the couscous. Sprinkle the basil and cheese over the top as a garnish, with a little additional black pepper and maybe a drizzle of olive oil.
Serve right away.
Again, this mix is a basic crab cake mix. Want to keep it simple, just for the mix into patties, coat with additional panko and pan fry until done. I love stuffing this into tomatoes, filet of sole, hollowed out zucchini, squash blossoms, artichokes, mushrooms, etc. You could even stuff a small chicken. It’s surprisingly delicious, versatile and simple, and is sure to make a great meal.