Key lime juice pushes crabcakes over the top

The Whole Dish podcast: Cooking live crabs precedes creamy casserole feast

Also looming large in my family’s seafood pantheon is crab — the South Coast’s native Dungeness.

Just as smoking salmon became a family tradition over the years, so did cooking live crabs wherever we happened to find ourselves. After we pulled our crab pots from Coos Bay, our cooking medium of choice was a kettle of bay water over a bonfire on the beach. If we instead purchase our crabs live from the Charleston docks, my dad sets up a portable propane burner in the driveway for the production.

It’s enough of a process that Dad wants a couple of leftover crab for his pains. After we’ve eaten our fill cracked right out of the shells and dipped in melted butter, maybe with a spritz of lemon, Dad usually stays at the table to crack the last two or three crustaceans and reserve the meat for our favorite family recipe: Creamy Crab and Egg Bake, aka “crab casserole.”

As I mentioned in a 2010 post, this dish effortlessly translates for breakfast or dinner and tops my list of most decadent brunch items. Dad asked for it on Easter morning, but my mom just couldn’t quite conscience preparing one more meal, when we had leftover ham from the long holiday weekend still to consume.

In such cases, I often find myself with crab to bring home. And because “crab casserole” is the predetermined dish in my parents’ company, I try to reinvent the shellfish a bit for my husband’s tastes.

Crabcakes often disappoint me in restaurants, where they suffer from too many fillers and binders and not enough crabmeat. But they are simple to make at home, with as many or as few additional ingredients as the cook desires.

Five years back, I posted a similar recipe with mustard sauce. The Key lime juice in this one scores extra points. And the sautéed vegetables make these crabcakes restaurant-worthy fare.

Tribune News Service photo

Crabcakes With Key Lime-Mustard Sauce

1 pound lump crabmeat

3 tablespoons chopped chives

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped cilantro

Pinch ground nutmeg

Scant 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

1/4 cup crushed Ritz crackers

1/4 cup mayonnaise

Scant 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 egg, beaten

Panko breadcrumbs, for dredging

Salt and pepper, if desired

Clarified butter or canola oil, for frying

1/2 cup julienned carrot, from about 1 carrot

1/2 cup julienned leeks, from about 1 leek (white or light-green parts only)

1/2 cup julienned red bell peppers, from about 1 pepper

1/2 cup julienned yellow bell peppers, from about 1 pepper

Key Lime-Mustard Sauce (recipe follows)

In a mixing bowl, combine the crabmeat (leave large lumps there), chives, cilantro, nutmeg, Old Bay seasoning, crackers, mayonnaise, mustard and egg, mixing well. Take a small amount of mixture and fry in butter to check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste if desired.

Refrigerate mixture for at least 1 hour to give flavors time to develop. Shape mixture into 4 crabcakes and coat well with panko breadcrumbs. Place crabcakes on a baking sheet or plate and chill for at least 1 hour, up to overnight, prior to cooking.

Heat oven to 350 F.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add enough of the butter or oil to form a thin layer of fat on bottom of pan, then add the julienned carrots, leeks and bell peppers. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are brightly colored and crisp-tender. Remove from heat and keep in a warm place.

Add more butter or oil as needed, and fry crabcakes until browned on both sides (this will need to be done in batches). Place cakes on a baking sheet and bake until cooked through, for 15 to 20 minutes.

Divide vegetables among 4 plates and top each serving with a crabcake. Serve with the Key lime-mustard sauce. Makes 4 servings.

KEY LIME-MUSTARD SAUCE: In a bowl, combine ½ cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons Key lime juice and salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve crabcakes.

Recipe adapted by the Los Angeles Times from a recipe from the Watercolour Grillhouse at the Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key, Fla.

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