So if anybody wants to get me something, get me 60 crabs – one for each year. I don’t want no diamonds, I don’t want no shoes, I don’t want no party. I want some crabs.– Patti LaBelle
Maryland is known for many things like our own Baltimore based baseball team (Orioles), our own football team (Ravens), hot steamy humidity, horse racing, beautiful golf courses and much much more like our Baltimore Flamingos Rugby Team along with Baltimore’s own Beehive Hon ladies. We may be challenged, but no one can challenge us for having awesome Maryland crabs.
A crab is a crustacean with a broad carapace, stalked eyes, and five pairs of legs, the first pair of which are modified as pincers. They may be abundant on many shores especially in the tropics where some have become adapted to life on land.
There is nothing better than fresh Maryland crabmeat. It’s the premier crabmeat in the world – it’s a great product. The problem is, there’s just not enough of it anymore.”
Those of us who grew up in the metropolitan area are accustomed to the culinary tiresome complaints of the transients. So accustomed that most of the time we don’t even bother coming up with a proper refutation. We lack good pizza. The bagels are subpar. There’s no distinctive sandwich to call our own – no cheesesteak, no hoagie, no Chicago hot dog. (The half-smoke? Please.) But with regards to Maryland crab, we locals have always been proprietary. It’s one of the few things in this fractured metropolis that binds us together, gives us pride in ourselves.
Crabs don’t look anything alike. For example, Asian crabs are not blue and gray and smooth but white and spiny and spotted with thicker claws and a noticeably fuller body.
According to the Encyclopedia Americana (1995 edition) there are approximately 4,500 different species of crabs living on Earth. It is probably impossible to tell for sure who (much less where!) ate the first crabs. Food historians tell us crabs were known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and were not eaten enthusiastically by these Mediterranean people as food. Because of the labor-intensive effort of harvesting crabs in colonial times the meat was used in small amounts (as was most shellfish) in soups, stews, sauces, and like other flaked fish, in small fried cakes. Some recipes suggested that other shellfish could be substituted for crab.
Blue Crabs ranges from Delaware to Florida but those that come from Chesapeake Bay are the most famous
Snow Crabs, sometimes called Queen Crab from the colder waters of the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, appeared on the market in the 1960s
Alaska King Crabs are highly prized for their large meaty claws and legs
Dungeness Crabs are found on the Pacific coast, from Mexico to Alaska.
Rock Crabs range from Labrador, Canada, to Florida.
Other crabs include Hermit Crabs, King Crabs, Porcelain Crabs, and Horseshoe Crabs. No two crabs taste alike. The flavor of the meat from the Asian Swimming Crab doesn’t begin to approach the distinctiveness of the meat from the Chesapeake Bay’s Blue Crab, lacking the latter’s sweet, musky succulence.
Antebellum cooks would stew them in white wine lace with vinegar with a seasoning of nutmeg and anchovy. Cooks would heat the crab with a good deal of butter and egg yolks, serving it on a large crab shell as a second course. Whatever way it came from the kitchen, crab meat moves inventive cooks to improvise and sometimes to include extenders among the ingredients for a crab dish.
The phrase “crab cake” appears to be a 20th century appellation. The term dates in print to 1939 to Crosby Gaige’s New York World’s Fair Cook Book, where they are called “Baltimore Crab Cakes,” suggesting they have long been known in the South.
They are basically a fried lump of crabmeat, held together with a minimum of filler. Delicious! Fillers such as bread and spices came about for two reasons: taste and economy.
A traditional Baltimore crab cake generally consists of steamed Blue Crab backfin meat, egg, mayonnaise, Baltimore’s popular Old Bay seafood seasoning, cracker crumbs, and mustard. It’s prepared by either broiling or frying. I highly recommend sautéing with just butter. You won’t get any hard crust on the surface of the crab cake from broiling and no grease from frying. Baltimoreans typically do not use tartar sauce on their crab cakes; most either eat them plain, or with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and often on saltine crackers. As for me, I like a few squirts from a lemon slice on top savoring the true taste from the meat.
Crab cakes, as we Americans know them today, are considered a popular traditional specialty. Crab feasts are common enough from Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Baltimore. Live hard shell crabs are being forced into a makeshift container, steamed in hot spiced vinegar vapor, beer with Old Bay seasoning.
Have you ever noticed how restaurants claim they are number one for the best crab cakes around? Not everyone can be number one. At Grill Art Cafe we took every recipe and tossed it around until it was the best including our own crab cakes. We kept it simple with very few fillers so you’ll still taste the sweet meat. We added some finely chopped curly parsley just for color which did not affect the taste. As far as number one best crab cake, we claimed we were number two and our customers were never discouraged.
GRILL ART CAFE CRAB CAKES
• Preparation time: three hours and 30 minutes
• Cooks in six minutes
• Makes nine
• Lasts seven days in the refrigerator
3 pounds super-lump crabmeat
3 whole eggs
1-1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
6 tablespoon curly parsley, finely minced
3 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
• Remove any shells from crabmeat (if any) and be careful not to break up the lumps. Place on a tray.
• Sprinkle bread crumbs on top of crabmeat.
• Carefully fold in the bread crumbs. Set aside.
• In another bowl beat eggs Add mayonnaise and beat well.
• Add parsley, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, and Old Bay. Mix well.
• Pour egg mixture on top of the crab meat. Gently and carefully mix together. Keep lumps whole.
• Weigh crab cakes (six ounces each) and lightly press into round patties. Do not squeeze.
• Cover cakes in foil and refrigerate for three hours.
How can you know anymore if you’re getting local crabmeat when you go out to a restaurant? Famous Phillips crab restaurant may be offering “Martyland-style” crabmeat recipes, but it is no longer selling Maryland crabmeat.
Answer: You can’t. Your chances of getting regional crabmeat? Depends on where you’re eating out. These days, all you can be sure of is that it’s still going to cost you. When you order them ask which waters the crabs came from.
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