Most of the nation celebrates Thanksgiving with a traditional turkey feast, but not so on in Florida. Admittedly, many people here will roast a turkey, but many more will offer up their thanks with a table loaded with good things from the salty waters of the gulf.
"The Picayune Creole Cookbook," first published in 1901, and considered by some as one of the most important American cookbooks, suggests a Thanksgiving dinner with 10 courses. Author Madame Begue also advises a more economical dinner can be had by serving oysters on the half shell, shrimp gumbo, roast turkey with oyster dressing, and a half a dozen other delicacies. She also suggests oysters on toast for breakfast. But times do change, don't they?
In this day and age gumbo, jambalaya and oyster dressing may be mainstays on many tables, but there is no reason we can't venture forth, in a culinary way, and choose something a little different this year. The seafood that we can buy at our local fish sellers is fresh and not terribly expensive, especially when compared with exotics such as a standing rib roast or rack of lamb. But there isn't any reason to try fish from other waters as well; fresh tuna or salmon can make for spectacular presentation and a very delicious treat for your family.
Crab cakes may be more traditional, but it is really hard to go wrong if a little care is taken to prepare them correctly. Crab cakes can make for a great main course, but they are indeed expensive, but this is a time of celebration, right?
KILLER CRAB CAKES
The fundamental trick to making good crab cakes is the crab. If you fill your cakes with bread crumbs or over spice them, you will cover up and miss the delicious and delicate flavor of crab. Apologies to those who have a different opinion, but jumbo lump crab is the way to go. It is far more flavorful and the big pieces add so much texture to the cakes. If your finances are strained, then, if you must, buy what crab you can afford.
1 pound crab meat
2/3 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 chopped cloves of garlic
1 strip of smoked bacon
Chopped green onion
2 whole farm fresh eggs
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
Red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
Chop the bacon into 1/2-inch pieces and sauté until crispy. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel, but leave the drippings in the pan. Add the onion and celery, season well with the black and red pepper and cook over medium low heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. In a large bowl add the cooked vegetables (cooled), the bacon, panko, green onion and the eggs, mix well and season again if necessary. Add the crab meat and mix carefully. You do not want to break up those big, beautiful lumps of crab meat you paid so dearly for. Form into cakes and sauté in butter over a medium flame until browned. If your cakes come apart when you turn them, it is no big deal, they will still be delicious. Serve on a bed of greens for presentation.
For a simple and delicious sauce for your crab cakes add one cup of best quality mayonnaise, the flesh of one avocado, the juice of one half a lemon, a pinch of Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning and mix well in a blender. Serve chilled.
Serve a dry and not too sweet German Riesling with your crab cakes, or if you have a few extra dollars, or a very well appointed wine cellar, try a white French Burgundy. A good, crisp sparkling wine would do nicely as well.
ROASTED SALMON WITH BRAISED RED CABBAGE AND WHOLE GRAIN MUSTARD SAUCE
Recipe courtesy of Chef Alex Perry
1. Season 7 ounces salmon filet with salt and let sit for 5 minutes.
2. Heat a pan with canola oil over medium high heat until oil starts to lightly smoke. Add salmon skin side up and cook till the brown and crispy.
3. Flip the salmon carefully and finish in a 400-degree oven until desired done-ness is reached. About 2-3 minutes for medium rare.
4. Remove from oven and let rest for 2 minutes.
BRAISED RED CABBAGE
1. Core and thinly slice 1 head of red cabbage and 1 yellow onion.
2. Heat duck fat or canola oil on medium heat in braiser. Sauté onion till translucent then add sliced cabbage. Cook slightly.
3. Add red wine and red wine vinegar to almost cover the cabbage. Stir in salt and honey to taste. Bring to a simmer.
4. Cover and place in a 250-degree oven until cabbage is tender, about 2 hours.
WHOLE GRAIN MUSTARD SAUCE
1. Soak yellow mustard seeds in white wine overnight. Blend together with sugar, salt, water, white wine vinegar, and additional white wine to make a thick, smooth mustard. Refrigerate overnight.
2. Cook yellow mustard seeds in a mixture of apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, and salt until tender, about 1.5 hours. Add water as needed to keep the seeds moist until finished. Allow to cool.
3. Combine 1 whole egg, a small amount of mustard from step 1, apple cider vinegar, salt, and sugar in a blender. Blend till combined, then slowly drizzle in canola oil till a light sauce consistency is reached.
4. Combine the pickled mustard seeds, sauce from step 3, and additional mustard from step 1 to create desired strength in the sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and sugar.
OYSTERS ON THE HALF SHELL
Many people might think this recipe is hardly worth talking about. What more to it is there than opening an oyster, adding a topping and just eating? But a wise word is necessary: there is no delicacy from the salty sea that is more sublime than a freshly opened oyster. It does not require a heavy sauce or aggressive seasoning. A simple cold oyster, swimming in its own liquor is, to the well-informed foodie, simply one of the best things in this world to eat.
12 freshly shucked oysters along with their liquor
1/2 cup store-bought cocktail sauce
1 lemon cut into wedges
Can you envision the food snobs rolling their eyes at this recipe? No apologies will be offered, because this recipe is just delicious. Open the oysters and present in the half shell on a tray, filled with a bed of ice. Make sure each oyster has enough liquor in the shell. Place the tiniest amount of the sauce on the oyster, just the smallest squirt of lemon juice and then, eyes closed, put the shell to your mouth and, enjoy. Repeat the process, but don't forget the crackers.
If you just can't bring yourself to buy store bought cocktail sauce make your own by combining chili sauce, ketchup, horseradish, Sriracha sauce and lemon juice. Play with the proportions until you get a sauce to your liking.