Everyone loves a good crab cake. And even if everyone doesn't love a good crab cake, I do. Which is really all that matters when I set out to cook something for myself. There are certain moments when I just have to focus in on what I want and make it happen. I'm sure everyone has had one of those moments when you absolutely have to have that certain something. You can't satisfy a true craving with a pale imitation of what you want. Today I'm craving crab cakes and so I'm mentally planning ahead for tomorrow. It's a plan worth sharing.
Now I'm the first to admit that these crab cakes are going to require a bit of work. The crab meat must be sourced from a reputable fishmonger and if I have to grit my teeth at the prices, I'll just remind myself that these cakes will be better and exponentially less expensive than what I can get in a restaurant. For four large crab cakes or eight smaller ones I'll pick up a half a pound of jumbo lump crab for its meaty texture and a half a pound of Peekytoe for its flavor. I also plan to pick up some organic arugula, good bacon, a baguette, a couple of russet potatoes, sour cream, and tomatoes--fresh if they're nice otherwise I'll get the plump, chewy, sun dried variety.
A couple of hours before dinner time I'll turn on the oven to 375-degrees, scrub the potatoes, pierce them and put them in to bake. While they're in the oven, I'll pick through the crab to eliminate any remaining shells. Then I'll slice four pieces of bacon into 1/4-inch matchsticks and put them in a small pan over a low flame with a splash of cold water to render, stirring it occasionally until they are are crisp. While that's in the pan I'll dice an onion from the pantry, clean the arugula, slice and salt the tomatoes if they're fresh and julienne them if they're dried, and use about a third of the baguette to make some fresh bread crumbs in the food processor with a dash of cayenne and a clove of garlic. I'll remove the crisp bacon the pan to drain and pour away all but a tablespoon of the fat. I'll use this for the salad dressing. Once the potatoes are fully cooked and tender, I'll dice up a couple ounces of cold butter and pull out some hot sauce (I like Matouks and Crystal) and the sour cream. Working rapidly, I'll take one potato out of the oven, using a dish towel to hold it, split it down the middle, squeeze it, and scrape the hot potato out of its jacket into a medium sized bowl. Then I'll discard the skin and repeat with the other potato. Add the butter and a generous dusting of salt and mash this with a fork. Then add a couple splashes of hot sauce (a large splash of Crystal and a small splash of Matouks) and a large tablespoon or two of sour cream. The potato mixture should be slightly chunky, creamy and well seasoned. To this mixture I will add the picked crab meat, and a lightly beaten egg. Fold the mixture together with a rubber spatula, gently and thoroughly. I'll form this mixture into cakes, four large or eight smaller ones. Dip the cakes in a basic egg wash and roll them in the seasoned bread crumbs. Place them in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to set up. This is the perfect time for a drink to relax before the meal.
When I'm ready to get dinner on the table, I'll melt a couple of tablespoons of butter and line a sheet tray with foil. I'll brush the crab cakes with butter on both sides and set them under a low broiler. They will take 5-7 minutes on each side to become golden brown and cooked through. While they cook, I'll add the diced onion to the saute pan with the remaining tablespoon of bacon fat and fry until golden brown. Then I'll add the rendered bacon and let it re-crisp a bit. While the bacon and onions are cooking, I'll dress the arugula and tomatoes with salt and a splash of balsamic vinegar. When the bacon is hot I'll add it to the salad, tossing well to blend everything together. I'll serve crab cakes with the salad, the rest of the baguette, and some good butter. The potatoes will make the filling creamy and moist while still allowing the crab to shine, the salad will provide acid and crunch, and the bread is there to sop up all of the juices. It's a simple yet indulgent supper and there are no major pans to clean up. Add a bottle of good wine and even better company and I've got something truly special to look forward to.