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In Our Backyard: Seafood will earn a wave of approval

Eric Akis – Times Colonist

May 30, 2018

Buy a good-sized, live Dungeness crab and eight spot prawn tails, and you have the beginnings of a sumptuous, two-course B.C. seafood lunch or dinner that will serve four.

I cooked the crab, which I bought cleaned (top shell and innards removed), cooled it, then removed the meat from the shells. The meat was then used to make eight lovely crab cakes, coated in panko, cooked until golden and served with a smoky chili mayo.

I used the empty crab shells, and the shells from the prawns, to flavour the meal’s other course, rich and splendid bisque. The meat from the prawns was cut into smaller pieces, cooked, then set in soup bowls.

The bisque was poured in, sprinkled with chives, and it was ready to enjoy.

Serve the bisque as the starter, and the crab cakes as the main course, accompanied by a green salad lightly dressed with vinaigrette. The bisque and crab cakes take a bit of time to prepare, but both can be readied almost entirely in advance many hours before serving (see recipes for details.)

In my upcoming Sunday column, I’m going to keep the B.C. seafood recipe theme going and offer one for a West Coast-style seafood boil.

I will also be telling you about the B.C. Shellfish Festival, which takes place in and around Comox in June.

Dungeness Crab Cakes with Smoky Chili Mayo

These crab cakes are wonderfully flavourful because fresh, cooked-at-home crab meat is used to make them. They take a bit of time to make, but you can form the cakes many hours before you cook them.

Preparation time: 50 minutes, plus chilling time

Cooking time: About 15 minutes

Makes: Four servings (two crab cakes each)

For the smoky chili mayo

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
    1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
    1/4 tsp smoked paprika
    1 Tbsp lime juice

Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed below.

  • 1 (850 gram to 1 kilogram) live Dungeness crab, halved and cleaned (see Note)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 3 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup very thinly sliced green onion
  • 1/4 cup very finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp panko (divided)
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • lime slices, for garnish

Set the crab in a large bamboo or stainless steamer. Set over simmering water, cover and steam crab six to seven minutes, until cooked. Lift crab out of the steamer, set on a plate and cool to room temperature. Pull the legs off each half-crab and, with kitchen scissors and a seafood pick, cut them open, remove the meat and set it in a medium bowl.

Cut the crab body pieces from which you removed the legs, crosswise. Extract the meat from that part of the crab and set it in the bowl. You should end up with about 1 3/4 cups of crab meat, weighing about 200 grams. (If you’re planning to make today’s bisque recipe too, keep the empty crab shells in the refrigerator.)

Add the beaten egg, cornstarch, 2 Tbsp mayonnaise, green onions, bell pepper, cilantro (or parsley), lime juice, hot pepper sauce, paprika and 3 Tbsp of the panko to the crabmeat and mix well to combine. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the remaining 3/4 cup panko on another pan or on a sided plate.

Set eight, 1/4-cup amounts of the crab mixture on the panko. Now with your hands, shape, coat and form the crab mixture into eight cakes, each about 2 1/2 inches wide. Set cakes on the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Cover and refrigerate crab cakes at least one hour before cooking. This chilling time will soften the panko and help the cakes hold together better when cooked. (The crab cakes can be prepared many hours before cooking. Keep them refrigerated until ready to do so.)

To cook the crab cakes, heat the oil in a large skillet (mine was 12 inches wide) set over medium heat. Set in the crab cakes and cook three to four minutes per side, until golden on the outside, and very hot in the middle. Set two crab cakes on each of four plates, garnish with lime slices, and serve with the smoky chili mayo.

Note: Live Dungeness crab is sold at some supermarkets and at seafood stores. Ask the clerk to clean the crab. They will remove the top shell and the innards, and you will end up with two half pieces of crab to cook at home.

Crab and Spot Prawn Bisque

Crab and prawn shells, and a mix of vegetables and seasonings, divinely flavour the liquid used to make this rich and appealing seafood soup. Serve it with sliced baguette.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: about 45 minutes
Makes: Four servings

  • 8 spot prawn tails (see Eric options)
  • empty shells from one cleaned Dungeness crab (see crab cake recipe)
  • 2 Tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil or butter (divided)
  • 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 1 small carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 small celery rib, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white or wine
  • 3 cups chicken, fish or vegetable broth or stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • salt and white pepper, to taste
  • sniped chives or chopped fresh parsley, to taste

Peel prawns and place the shells in a small bowl. Cut prawn meat into half-inch or so pieces, set in another small bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed below.

Place 2 Tbsp. of the oil or butter in a medium pot set over medium, medium-high heat. When oil is hot, or butter is melted, add the crab and prawn shells, garlic, carrot, celery and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, five minutes. Mix the flour, tomato paste, tarragon and cayenne, and cook two minutes more. Slowly mix in the wine and cook until the mixture is thick.

Mix the stock and water into the pot and bring to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Adjust the heat as needed to maintain the simmer. Simmer 25 to 30 minutes, until the liquid has a nice crab/prawn flavour.
Set a fine strainer over a second pot. Strain the shell mixture through the strainer, pushing on it with the back of a ladle to extract as much liquid as you can. (You can make the bisque to this point up to a day before serving. Cool it to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until ready to reheat and serve.)

Return the bisque to a simmer. Heat the 1 tsp oil or butter in a small skillet set over medium-high. Add the prawn meat and cook one to two minutes, until just cooked through, then remove pan from the heat.

Mix the cream into the bisque and season with salt and pepper. Divide and set some prawn meat in each of four soup bowls. Ladle in the bisque, sprinkle with chives (or parsley) and serve.

Eric’s options: When spot prawns are not available, use another type of medium-sized wild, prawn in this recipe.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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