Fresh crab meat is a culinary gift from heaven

November 6, 2013 

Fresh lump crab meat harvested from our own salty waters has to be a culinary gift from heaven.

Crab's availability may be a bit sketchy and the price is up and down quite a bit, mostly up it seems, but for a special occasion, nothing beats sweet, succulent lumps of crab meat.

Crab meat is already cooked when you buy it from your fish seller, steamed and picked over at the factory, so the only problem when using fresh crab is to be sure not to overcook it, it really just needs warming.

Crab has a delicate flavor and does not need aggressive seasoning; a bit of white pepper, perhaps a squirt of lemon, but much more than that, and you will be masking the flavor you paid so much for.

There are at least six different types of fresh crab meat that can be purchased, excluding live and whole cooked, but claw, lump and jumbo lump are the most common. The price varies quite a bit, but recently you could buy a pound of jumbo lump locally for about $24. It seems high, but many people who don't have a fresh local supply nearby are reduced to buying it in the can, so we should count ourselves lucky because we can just go out in local waters and catch live blue crab.

CRAB CAKES

1 pound lump crabmeat

3/4 cup chopped red onion

1/3 cup chopped celery

1/3 cup chopped bell pepper

1/4 cup diced ham

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 egg

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

Black pepper

Red pepper flakes

1 pinch salt or Tony Chachere's Seasoning

Olive oil

Butter

Pick the crab over carefully, many people are disturbed to bit into a piece of crab shell. Season the ham with black pepper and red pepper flakes, then sauté in a little olive oil until well browned. Remove and set aside. Sauté the onions, celery and bell pepper in the same pan for about 10 minutes, season as needed. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Combine the ham, cooked vegetables,

Panko and the egg and mix well. Fold in the crab meat, being careful not to break the lumps into smaller pieces. Form into uniform size cakes and sauté in butter, over medium heat until well browned. Serve immediately. Pair with a zesty Sauvignon Blanc.

CRAB-STUFFED PASTA

1 pound lump or jumbo lump crab

12 large pasta shells

1 cup ricotta cheese

2-3 cloves chopped garlic

2-3 tablespoons chopped basil

2 cups homemade marinara sauce (see recipe to follow)

A dash of salt and pepper

A dash of red pepper flakes

Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the pasta according to package directions, but do not boil too briskly, as the shells will tear apart, when done drain and set aside. Sauté the garlic in a little olive oil, along with the red pepper flakes (heating the flakes in hot oil wakens them up quite a bit) for about 1 minute, remove from the heat and allow to cool. Combine the ricotta, basil and cooked garlic, then taste and season as necessary. Add the crab, but do not over mix as the crab lumps will break apart. Fill the shells with the mixture, using a small spoon. Add half the marinara to an oven proof pan, place the shells in the sauce and top with the remaining sauce. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until bubbly and hot. The same Sauvignon Blanc from above will do nicely with this recipe as well.

The Italians never add cheese to seafood, but if you want to top these shells with your favorite melting cheese, please do.

BASIC MARINARA SAUCE

The point of this sauce is that it is fresh and clean, not over complicated, so that it would distract one's palate from the delicate crab meat. If you like you can add a little heat with red pepper flakes, but that is optional.

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/4 cup finely chopped carrot

2-3 chopped cloves of garlic

2 (32 ounce) cans best-quality crushed tomatoes

2 bay leaves

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the onions, celery and carrot in a little olive oil for about 15 minutes, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, bring to a slow simmer and cook for 1 hour. Allow the sauce to rest for a few hours, over night is fine too, be sure to remove the bay leaves before serving.

CRAB CLAW SALAD

1 pound cooked crab claws

2 cups julienned daikon radish

2 pinches salt

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon mirin (rice wine)

Place the daikon in a colander and toss with the salt, allow to sit for 20 minutes. Rinse the salt off and dry thoroughly. Place the vinegar, sugar and mirin in a sauce pan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Cool and then toss the liquid with the daikon. Toss the daikon salad with the crab claws and refrigerate for at least one hour. This makes a great first course or midnight snack. If you are not a daikon fan, you can substitute a green salad or even slaw made with oil, not mayonnaise. Daikon is readily available at any Asian market.

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