I am so backed up with posts that I might explode. Just because the Zealot isn’t writing a lot, doesn’t mean my world still doesn’t revolve around food. Au Contraire, Mon Fraire! But I struggle with where to being again. How do I separate the wheat from the chaff?
I think the best place to start, and the biggest disservice I did to you, was to leave you high and dry at Thanksgiving. I’ll make up for it. I’ve got some doozies. Thanksgiving is my holiday, bitches. That’s right, I said it. I own it. I consider it a personal challenge to remain inventive in the face of honoring traditions and meeting (or exceeding) expectations from TDays past. Plus, I am working to let go of my obsessive control and include others in the process. Add all of this up and the fact that I am often drunk (see below) mid-way through the evening and it is a herculean effort to rock TDay.
This year I’ve got two standout dishes that I’ll share. Today it’s my crab cakes. Later on I’ll share the sweet potato gnocchi dish I unveiled this year. Let me start by explaining my two most important TDay traditions. First, the middle of November is the start of dungeness crab season in Northern California. Some years the first crab I taste is on Thanksgiving. This year I had a week or so to revisit my sweet meat before popping out some cakes for the holiday.
My other tradition is tequila. It’s a convoluted path to tequila but ultimately I owe Uncle Lou thanks. You see, when I lived in Colorado my Aunt and Uncle (Lou’s brother-in-law) had recently moved from the east coast to Colorado springs so they could opt out of the rat race and smoke a lot of dope. Lou was a tour guide of sorts to the laid-back Colorado mountain life. He was an animated character and over-the-top personality that ultimately turned out to be scumbag. But Lou gave us tequila at Thanksgiving. Nobody was spared a shot and it really amped up the festivities.
Back to the crab. Those unfamiliar with dungeness might not appreciate the stringy texture (compared to your average lump meat or Maryland claws). It is incredibly laborious pickings, but the effort rewards you with sweetness and a fresh sea flavor that I love. My journey starts with a call to the docks – Larry of the “Genesis” and Crabs Ahoy (408) 489-4808 or Bill of “Cricket” (925) 757-8615. The past few years have been slow for the crab fishermen so it’s best to call down to one or more of the boatmen to see if they have some catch. Then we hop in the car and drive 30 minutes to Pillar Point Harbor, outside of Half Moon Bay to buy some buggers fresh off the boat.
Back at the homestead we boil a monster pot of water with bay leaf and peppercorns and drop our friends in for 12-14 minutes. I leave them in a sink to cool down before the long task of cleaning and cracking and picking. There is an art to this and if you’re a newbie, you’ll want to google some instructions. At the end you’ll have a big pile of crab meat. I got about 30 crab balls out of six crabs. You do the math.
At last we make the cakes. But I said balls. What gives? I’ve discovered this year that I think I prefer a round crab cake in a ball over the traditional form. It looks better and the pent up steam inside billows as you cut into them. Moreover, the crust to crab ratio seems ideal. Here’s the drill:
In a large bowl toss your crabmeat gently (you don’t want to break it up too much so you get big hunks of claw meat in every bite) with enough good mayo and a little sour cream (this year I tried Greek Yogurt instead and it was AMAZING) to wet the crab but not drown it. Add a few dashes of worchestershire and tabasco (enough to taste but not overpower). Then some dijon mustard (a spoonful or more, depending on your preference, but again don’t overpower). Next throw in some chopped green onions, a lot of them – don’t be shy here. This is the best contrast flavor to the crab. If you are making more than a crab’s worth, I would add about an egg for every two crabs. The binding becomes necessary when cooking in quantity. Then, add some panko breadcrumbs, enough to give the batter some stick to it. It should hold it’s shape for frying. Salt and pepper to taste.
I like to use a butter and oil blend. Olive oil alone would be fine. Form the cakes into golf balls. Then roll them in panko to create a crust. Cook them over medium high flame until the brown and rotate them multiple times to get all sides brown. Handle them carefully as they will fall apart without much effort. Because you are cooking on multiple sides, as opposed to two with a traditional cake, I feel the insides cook better and have a steamy quality.
I served this year’s cakes on a strip of pureed red pepper and horseradish sauce. You can do whatever suits you. Make sure to have a citrus (lemon or lime) wedge. Serve em hot. At least a half dozen of our guests this year said these were the best crab cakes they ever ate. It might have been the freshness. Perhaps the recipe is that good. Maybe they were just too damn drunk to know. So, the moral of the story is to serve tequila with your crab and you too might be the star of the night!