If there was a throwdown for a dish that best characterizes our state, culinarily speaking, crabcakes, along with salmon and something-apple, would be primary contenders. What other dishes would be nominated?
People would gather around, supporting their favorite and Tom Douglas would be there for sure, rooting for the crabcakes. Or maybe not. He of all people might have a hard time choosing, as would I. Our state has apples, wheat, salmon and crab at its heart, but midwinter Dungeness Crab reigns. Dungeness are Pacific Ocean crabs harvested domestically along the coastlines of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California pretty much year round. Many insist that winter’s crab are healthier, therefore tastier.
My family takes its crab feasts seriously several times a year, including Christmas Day dinner. We gather in the kitchen and at the table, that would be 15 or 20 of us, depending, shelling crab, making our favorite dips – lemon mayo and cocktail sauce – preparing loaves of garlic bread and a big salad. Dinner is an homage to PNW crab and to my mother-in-law who started our crab dinner tradition years ago. It’s an easy way to put together a special meal for a bunch of people. I’m a fan of plain and simple crab, right out of the shell with lemon, maybe a favorite sauce or two. The next best way to eat Dungeness crab?
Crab bisque and Crab Mac & Cheese are amazing (recipes coming soon), but in my book Tom Douglas’ crabcakes take the cake. Normally, I wing it with a crabcake that more or less follows general crab-cake-making protocol, but this time I followed Douglas’ recipe and, duh, improvement. A couple of things. He believes in a lot of crab for sure, but also that fresh, soft bread crumbs contribute to a sublime cake. I think he’s right.
This might have been a dry run for a Valentine’s dinner at home. We think of crab cakes as special occasion food that we eat only in a restaurant, but making them at home is not so complicated. The making and serving of anything with crab in it is a special event, an expression of love, whether it’s January 10th or February 14th.
These are tender and luscious, full of crab and Douglas’ special mayonnaise – you make it from scratch – with his Green Cocktail Sauce on the side. Surprisingly, I found fresh Washington tomatillos at PCC the other day, horseradish in the backyard, so there was no excuse not to make some green sauce. Recipes follow.
From Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen cookbook. Small adjustments for taste, a little one way or the other, are fine. I added less mustard to the mayonnaise which was still delicious and mustardy, and set aside a few spoonfuls to use as a condiment along with the green cocktail sauce. This recipe makes eight crabcakes. I cut it in half and made four, good-sized. My 2# crab yielded 2 cups of crab, just right for the half recipe.
Dungeness Crabcakes Recipe, with Green Cocktail Sauce
Ingredients: 10 slices of soft, white bread/ 3/4 C chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley/ 1 large egg yolk/2 t fresh lemon juice/ 2 t Worcestershire sauce/ 1 1/2 t Tabasco sauce/ 7 t Dijon mustard/ 1/2 t paprika/ 1/2 t dried thyme/ 1/2 t celery seeds/ 1/4 t freshly ground black pepper/ 5 T olive oil/ 1 pound fresh cooked Dungeness crabmeat – check for bits of shell and keep pieces as whole as possible/ 1/4 C chopped onion/ 1/4 C each, seeded and chopped green and red bell pepper/ Unsalted butter for panfrying/ 4 – 8 lemon wedges.
1. Tear up the white bread and pulse the pieces in a food processor or blender to make fine, soft crumbs. About 6 cups. Mix with 1/2 C chopped parsley and reserve the other 1/4 C parsley. Set aside.
2. In a food processor or blender, combine egg yolk, lemon juice, Worcestershire, Tabasco, mustard, paprika, thyme, celery seeds, and black pepper. Pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly add oil in a steady stream until the mixture emulsifies and forms mayonnaise. Refrigerate.
3. Place crabmeat in a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a bowl. Pull the cheese-cloth tightly around the crabmeat and squeeze out as much juice as possible. Extract excess liquid from chopped peppers and onion in the same way.
4. In a large bowl combine chilled mayonnaise (I didn’t use quite all of it) with crabmeat, peppers and onion, and toss until just mixed. Add 1 C of the breadcrumbs with remaining parsley and stir the entire mixture, again very gently, trying to keep crab pieces whole, just until it’s all combined. Do not over mix.
5. Form 8 patties, try not to overwork them, and roll each one lightly in the remaining bread crumb-parsley mixture. Cover and leave crabcakes in the breadcrumb pan until it’s time to sauté. Best to chill for at least a few hours and can be held for up to one day. (All fluffy and white, they look more like a macaroon than a crabcake at this point!)
6. Preheat oven to 425º. Melt plenty of butter in a non-stick pan and sauté a few at a time until golden brown on both sides, turning them gently. Place on a baking sheet and finish in the oven, 5 to 8 minutes. Serve as an entree or appetizer along with Green Cocktail Sauce, (lemon mayonnaise or a red cocktail sauce).
7. The Green Cocktail Sauce is wonderfully light and flavorful, and quick to make. Quarter approximately 8 oz of tomatillos and place in food processor or blender and pulse until coarsely pureed. Remove puree to a sieve, drain and discard excess liquid. Combine with 2 T rice wine vinegar, 1 T sugar (or less), 2 t green Tabasco sauce, 1 t chopped garlic, 1 t toasted mustard seeds, 1 t peeled and grated fresh horseradish. Stir together. Serve with crabcakes. Together they make beautiful culinary music.
The Monterey Aquarium Bay Seafood Watch is the go-to guide these days for purchasing sustainable seafood. It describes Dungeness Crab as a ‘best choice’. This link takes you to their site and to their printable guide. Becky Selengut of Chef Reinvented blog co-authored a recently published book, Washington Local & Seasonal Cookbook. I wish I could be more specific – don’t own it yet, but an underlying theme is consuming food/seafood conscientiously and sustainably. Plus recipes. Should be a good one.
Winter’s Crab Salad, a previous MixedGreens post.