Proceed to Rte 2. Proceed to Rte 2.
Until recently, I had traveled the old-fashioned way: Jotting down directions on a piece of paper which I figured out using a map. This past year, however, my father gave us a GPS, which I have been using whenever I’m going someplace new.
For the most part, the GPS has been very helpful. I enjoy no longer trying to look at written directions and drive at the same time. I appreciate that the “woman who lives in the GPS” tells me exactly when to turn and in which direction. I have fun with the kids as we laugh when the GPS tries to phonetically pronounce New England towns which are never pronounced as they are spelled.
The other day, though, I was driving to a new destination which I knew I’d need to take Rte 2 to find. The GPS, however, seemed to believe I wasn’t actually on Rte 2 itself. The little arrow which indicates where you are had me off to the side of Rte 2. So, for the next ten minutes, I listened as the poor woman in the GPS valiantly tried to get me onto Rte 2. At every intersecting road, she would tell me to turn in a direction which would supposedly get me back to Rte 2. Finally, as those intersections ceased to exist, the poor GPS simply continued to say over and over again, “Proceed to Rte 2. Proceed to Rte 2.”
I confess, I was torn between feeling quite sorry for the machine and being frustrated with the absurdity of technology. On the one hand, the machine was only doing what it was programmed to do – get me onto the correct route. On the other hand, with all our technological advances, someone hasn’t figured out how to correctly input the longitude and latitude of Rte 2?
These similar feelings were aroused when a friend of mine called last week about her crab cakes. She wanted to impress some dinner company, and the recipe she had found online wasn’t working. On the one hand, I felt terrible for my friend who was doing her best to make a nice dinner. On the other hand, I was frustrated by the number of recipes which are published which don’t actually work well.
So, for this post of our continuing adventures in cooking techniques, we are going to focus on crab cakes. I realize some folks will have shellfish allergies and never actually make crab cakes, but the fundamental principles also apply if you want to make a vegetable panccake instead.
Some problems with crab cakes:
1. If you try to make crab cakes, you quickly realize that trying to keep the crab in an actual cake or patty shape without the crab cakes falling apart as they cook can be difficult. So, the key to helping with this problem is in how you make the crab cakes.
I have found that doing two things in conjunction with each other works best. First, mix all your binding ingredients together before adding them to the crab. Whatever you’re using – cracker crumbs, bread crumbs, cornmeal – mix that up with your eggs and herbs and liquids first and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, mix the binder into your crab pieces. You’ll need to take a few minutes to incorporate the binder well, but it’s worth those few extra minutes to do so.
The second thing to be done is to chill your crab cake mixture before forming the crab cake patties. Chilling allows the ingredients to better meld with another so that when you form the patties, they’ll hold together better. So, after you make your crab cake mixture, cover it well with plastic wrap or foil and let it rest in the fridge for a little bit. I find that fifteen minutes is really the minimum you should keep it in the fridge. I usually opt for about 30 minutes. You will find recipes that suggest an hour or two.
2. Another potential problem with crab cakes is the taste. People differ on their expectations about crab cakes. Some folks like the cakes to have a strong flavor of something other than crab so you’ll find recipes which use mayonnaise and mustard which make for a heavier taste. Other folks prefer the taste of the crab to come through and would rather use just some herbs. For my friend, the recipe she found was heavy on the mayonnaise, and she didn’t really like it. If you’re trying to compromise, you can do what I do which is to make a lighter crab cake with lemon juice and herbs and accompany it with a nice remoulade sauce which is essentially mayonnaise with herbs and seasonings.
Folks also differ about the type of crab to use. Fresh is said to be the best, and I would agree. Unfortunately budget limitations and availability of fresh crab can limit the opportunity to use fresh. I personally use frozen or canned crab meat. This time of year (winter) it’s usually canned. While you lose some of the texture and taste of fresh crab, you can still have great tasting crab cakes, so do what works for your budget and what’s available for you to purchase.
If using frozen, though, make sure thaw the crab pieces first, and if using canned, be sure to drain the crab pieces.
3. The final potential issue with making crab cakes is how you cook them. Recipes vary from deep frying to cooking them in the oven. It really comes down to preference and health issues. If you are trying to eat healthy, then baking the cakes in the oven is the best, but you will find that the flavor is lacking a bit. What I do is to put a teaspoon or two of olive oil in a bowl and lightly brush the olive oil on the top of the crab cake; then halfway through the cooking time, flip the cakes and do the same with the other side.
For my preference for cooking crab cakes, I cook them on top of the stove in a pan lightly coated with olive oil. This works well and is quicker than cooking the crab cakes in the oven.
If you do choose to deep fry the crab cakes, the key is to have hot oil, 350 to 375 degrees, so you can fry them quickly which reduces the amount of oil the cakes absorb.
So, for a recipe that I use:
1 tbsp dried dill
2 tbsp chopped chives (dried or fresh)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup liquid egg whites
3/4 cup gluten free bread crumbs (whatever you’d prefer)
24 ounces of crabmeat (six 6 oz cans will give you 24 oz of meat)
1. Whisk the dill, chives, lemon juice, black pepper and egg whites together.
2. Add the bread crumbs and mix well. Let sit for a few minutes.
3. Drain the crabmeat and put into a bowl. Add the breadcrumb mixture and combine well.
4. Cover the crabmeat and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, 30 if you have the time.
5. Form the crabmeat mixture into patties. (I use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop out the crabmeat so my patties are uniform.) Loosely and lightly pat the crab cakes into shape.
6. Coat the bottom of a nonstick skillet with about 1 tsp of olive oil. Heat to medium-low.
7. Place the patties onto the skillet and slightly flatten them. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until the side is browned.
8. Flip the crab cakes and again slightly flatten. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until the second side is browned.
9. Serve with remoulade sauce.
Remoulade sauce: Mix 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I like to use a reduce fat olive oil mayonnaise.) with 2 tbsp finely chopped green onions, 1/2 tsp ground mustard, and 1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning. Add lemon juice until the sauce is at the consistancy and lemony flavor you like. (I usually use about 3 tbsp.) Put it into the fridge for the flavors to meld while you’re cooking the crab cakes.