As the crow flies, it is 430 miles from my house to Crisfield, Maryland, epicenter of the Chesapeake Bay crab world.
In 2007, Crisfield will host the 16th annual Soft Shell Spring Fair (May), the 31st annual Crab and Clam Bake (July), and the 60th annual National Hard Crab Derby (September). In fact, nearly every weekend from May through October, there's a crab festival (with or without jazz, with or without oysters, with or without crab racing) somewhere along the bay coast.
Nothing says "regional American cooking" more than Old Bay seasoning, born of the Bay area in the 1940s, popular from the Chesapeake to the Gulf Coast in crab and shrimp boils. Developed by a German immigrant, Gustav Brunn, it's now marketed by McCormick & Company, but the formula hasn't changed a bit.
Old Bay contains celery salt, mustard, red pepper, black pepper, bay leaves, cloves, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon and paprika. Of course it's great in crab dip and crab cakes, but it also gives a flavor boost to meatloaf, gumbo, steak fries, rice, and bloody marys.
As is true for all spice blends, you can make your own, but you'll miss seeing the famous yellow, blue and red tin on your spice rack.
Florida crab cakes
Chef Eve Ornstedt adapted a recipe from Miami Spice, by Steven Raichlen, for a Ninecooks class last year, and I've adapted Eve's recipe. Of course, these crab cakes taste just as good outside Florida! We tried them with turkey bacon, but I didn't like the off-taste, so please use the real thing. Makes 4 large or 8 small crab cakes.
1 lb lump crab meat
2 strips of bacon, finely chopped
2 Tbsp minced shallots
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced parsley
3-4 Tbsp fine cracker or bread crumbs (low salt)
1-1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Pinch of cayenne
1 egg, beaten
1-2 Tbsp heavy cream
2 Tbsp melted butter plus 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
Check through crabmeat, removing any bits of shell (and any extra moisture, while being careful not to break it up too much). Fry bacon in a frying pan until lightly browned. Add shallots, celery and garlic and cook until soft but not brown, about 2 minutes more. Transfer to a mixing bowl and let cool.
Stir in crab, herbs, cracker crumbs, Old Bay, salt, pepper and cayenne. Fold in the egg and enough cream to obtain a moist but firm consistency. If it is too wet, add a few more crumbs. Wet your hands with water and form the crab mixture into 4 large or 8 small cakes, and place on a plate. Wrap the plate wax paper and refrigerate for 30+ minutes.
Just before serving, heat the butter and oil in a nonstick pan. Pan-fry the cakes until crusty and golden, about 3 minutes per side (longer for larger cakes). OR, cook under the broiler for 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and serve with tartar sauce.
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