In probably what is the smallest kitchen we’ve ever seen, we’ve witnessed some close-to-God miracles come out of Nichelle’s oven. For our first Foodie, our resident Martha Stewart breaks down one of the classics.
Iâ€™m originally from Washington D.C., a town most people donâ€™t associate with the South but let me disabuse you of any idea that it is not. It is firmly below the Mason Dixon and though its regional character may be obscured by a homogenizing national importance, it is at heart a Southern coastal town with a river running through it. And just beyond the Northeastern borders of the town lies the Chesapeake Bay, and this is where I want to start.
Iâ€™ll get to the more traditional Southern fare in later posts but I wanted to start with my comfort food. Iâ€™ve told a few people this but only those with a little Chesapeake in them know what Iâ€™m talking about. After a really long hard day, week or meeting, I go to the grocery store and get a few pounds of crab legs and two Budweiserâ€™s. I steam the crab legs in one beer and drink the other while sitting in front of the TV cracking crabs for a couple of hours. There is just something alchemical about the combination of a Bud, Old Bay seasoning, butter and crab that makes it all better.
My first memories of this food are from childhood. It was a casual luxury that was the reward for an hour in the car or an afternoon on a family friendâ€™s boat, eaten in a sandy bay cove restaurant only accessible by water. It was sun, salt, comfort and adventure all in one.
The menus were always simple, consisting of local fish, bushels of crab, crab imperial or crab cakes with sides of cole slaw, baked potatoes or ears of corn. And that was it. No frills. Just a picnic table covered with newspaper. Perfection.
Now this brings me to the New York City crab cake. At best, it is like a preening teenage girl looking for attention or at worst a crab-flavored bread puck. Donâ€™t get me wrong, Iâ€™m all for food experimentation but Iâ€™m notorious with my friends for ordering crab cakes at restaurants and having my meal ruined by such offending ingredients as tamarind sauce, green pepper, red pepper, jalapeno, scallions and bread cubes. Sure, these are ingredients that are generally wonderful in other dishes but not in crab cakes, dammit!
I am admittedly a classicist on this one, so I usually defer to that tried and true recipe on the back of the Old Bay seasonings box. Martha Stewart, as much as I love her, once said that a self-respecting person doesnâ€™t keep Old Bay year around, but I vociferously beg to differ. This girl is in the Old Bay all the time camp.
Try the following recipe with a good fresh backfin or lump crab. Donâ€™t use claw meat because the quality and texture isnâ€™t good enough. However, if youâ€™re doubling the recipe, stretching the backfin with a pound of claw will work. For most parts of the country, true fresh crab is rarely available so use the refrigerated, pasteurized variety. Itâ€™s very high quality and will come close to the taste of fresh.
2 slices white bread, crusts removed and crumbled
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons OLD BAYÂ® Seasoning
2 teaspoons McCormickÂ® Parsley Flakes
1/2 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
1 egg, beaten
1 pound lump crabmeat
1. Mix bread, mayonnaise, Old Bay, parsley, mustard and egg in large bowl until well blended. Gently stir in crabmeat. Shape into 4 patties.
2. Broil 10 minutes without turning or fry until golden brown on both sides. Sprinkle with additional Old Bay, if desired.
Also, I generally add a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce and up the amount of mayo to give the cakes a strong hold.
Enjoy and tell me how yours turns out!
Nichelle Sanders is a good D.C. girl based in South Brooklyn for the last eight years where she enjoys cozy bistros, human-scaled architecture, minimal irony and works at an indie rock record label. If you ever meet her mother, she will tell you that Nichelle is a great cook and not because she is biased.