I really didn't know what to make for New Year's Eve dinner. But it had to go well with champagne. Was tired of chicken. Meat? No. Didn't want smoked salmon.
Then, as we turned onto Court Street from Congress, to copy mounds of paperwork at the UPS store for our greencard interview, I saw Fish Tales. Ideas started to crystallize in the cold air. I wanted a fishcake. They are warm, easy, comforting. But they must be special fishcakes...
Halfway through the copying of documents the fishcakes turned into crabcakes, and, leaving Vince in line to pay, I trotted out, and into Fish Tales, and found their very last container of crab claw meat. $28. Phew. Well, it was a special occasion. I got 10 huge shrimp, too, throwing caution to the Arctic blast.
Now, what to do?
I wanted something fruity and tart to go with them - longing for Mrs Balls, a spicy-fruity chutney, and typical accompaniment for South African fishcakes made from smoked snoek or angelfish. My last bottle died halfway through the year and I was too stupid to replace. It is sold on Amazon now...
But: I had loads of mandarin oranges.
And so evolved the idea of the reduced juice sauce, fortified by the deeper sweetness of caramelized shallots.
After that it was a question of seeing what else was in the fridge. I didn't want to overwhelm the very good, sweet crab meat. Something to bind, to enhance texture, to act as a foil for the juice...
A very delicious thing was born. This is what I think of as Proper Cooking, and I don't do it very often, any more.
These measurements are approximations. I'll have to test again when we're feeling flush.
2 cups lump crab meat, super-fresh
Squeeze of lemon juice
1/4 cup (or a bit less) white breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
1/4 cup thick Greek yogurt, full fat, or well-drained natural yogurt - I used Fage
1/4 cup thinly sliced green part of scallions
1 tsp ground sumac
1/2 tsp hot red pepper
salt and pepper
Seasoned flour for dusting
In a bowl, lightly shred the lump pieces of crab. I use a fork in each hand for this. You don't want to kill the crab, just flake it into smaller pieces. Squeeze a little fresh lemon or lime juice over (no more than a tablespoon) and mix lightly. Now add your breadcrumbs, stir again, and then thick yogurt and scallions, stirring once more. Taste for seasoning, add some salt and pepper. Add the egg, stirring lightly to distribute it evenly, and give it a dusting of sumac powder and hot pepper. These are not meant to be spicy-hot crab cakes, so don't overdo the pepper.
Form the crab mixture into patties, four should work, and dip each one into flour, dusting off the excess, and put on a plate to chill in the fridge for about an hour
Caramelized shallot and mandarin sauce
5 mandarin oranges/clementines
1 large shallot, finely diced
Juice the mandarins, reserving the pulp. Saute the shallot in some olive oil until golden. Don't burn. Add the juice to the shallots and reduce until syrupy, about half an hour.
Strain the sauce and reserve to heat for the crabcakes when cooked.
Keep the shallots that have remained in the strainer, add them to the pulp for the mandarins and cook very slowly in a little oil, until completely caramelized. Reserve for garnishing the crabcakes.
To cook the crabcakes, heat olive oil over medium heat, add cakes one at a time, giving them a push as you put them in the pan (stops them from sticking). Cook on one side till golden, repeat. Have hot sauce waiting, put cakes into pool of sauce on warm plate, add relish...and be prepared for happiness.
P.S. Go and see Avatar. The Imax theatre's 3D made me as sick as a dog, and I should have seen it in a regular theatre (I'd never seen 3D before...), but you might not have that problem We were seated really low down too. Why on earth can one not reserve seats when booking tickets online? Barbaric. But the movie has rekindled the idea of Imagination in Movies. Lots of landscapes, plants and wonderful animals. Go.