Monday, January 4, 2010

Crabcakes with mandarin sauce

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.

Poor baby.

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 egg
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.


  1. Marie..those crabcakes look like the BEST ones I've ever seen...

    John LOVES them..and mine are never too good...but I think I'll give these a go......


  2. Oh Gees....crab cakes are my favorite...especially ones that look like that! Nothing worse than bready crab cakes. Sometimes you just have to go all out!

  3. Man that looks good! Are those crepes on the side? You've mentioned ground sumac before, and I'm wondering if I could use my foraged berries. Are you starting with dried sumac berries and grinding them yourself?

  4. Hey Kary - ooh, thank you. They were really, really good. Mostly to do with how fresh the crab was, but the orange sauce was so yummy with them.

    Thomas - Yes: Crabcakes I Have Known, the Memoir. Makes me want to go to the MD shore (Cantlers, outside Annapolis)and eat them on trays with little hammers and plastic cups of beer :-)

    Hey Ellen - yuz, crepes. I hadn't made them for so long. Need wider pan. I used to grind my own sumac, but I hadn't foraged it...I got it from Turkey. I buy powdered from Sahadi. But I have tasted the wild sumacs (I didn't make the association until this year!!!) and the berries taste just the same to me so yes, I would use yours, after dusting off the fuzz. It's a great seasoning for roast chicken, salad (parsley, onion, tomato, sumac, olive oil/or the same, subs. walnuts for tomato)...

  5. When you're talking sumac, are you talking about the bush-like plant that is related to poison oak (or is it ivy?). I have a sumac tree in my yard but never thought anything on it was for eating. These crab cakes look delicious! My husband is allergic to fish of any kind so I always have to wait until we go to a restaurant to order any. I'll have to look for crab cakes next time! My Mom used to make Salmon patties when I was a kid. They, too, were yummy.

  6. Hi Teri - glad you asked! Poison sumac...NO.

    Poison sumac (Rhus vernix) has white berries, which droop.

    Edible sumacs (Rhus typhina,R. glabra and others Staghorn and Smooth sumac, respec.) have upright berry clusters, quite distinctive, and fuzzy orange, making it easy to tell them apart.

    My husband came into contact with poison sumac in the summer, in a bog, and lived with the consequences for over a month. Awful.

    Now, your sumac. Are the berries white? Or orange and tightly clustered, and upright?

  7. Proper cooking indeed. Sadly, crabs have shells, therefore Dinah must not eat them :-(

  8. Dear me, girl, you think you don't do Proper Cooking any more? Think again. Your meals regularly put many of us to shame! Lively, interesting, home cooked food that always looks good on the plate and often involves ingredients that most of us have either never seen or couldn't identify so would be fearful of....

  9. i hate "me too" posts but: me, too! yum! gotta try this one.

  10. These crabcakes WERE one of the best things I've ever eaten, and the sauce sent them into the next dimension!

    Now, 'bout the end of your post...


  11. Wow, those crab cakes sound scrumptious. And, you make it all sound so easy to make. I'll have to give those a try soon.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe.


  12. That's it - I'm coming over to YOURS for my next special occasion!! I love crabcakes, but never seem to make them. Hmmm, the price of crab meat might have something to do with that!


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