February 4, 2013

Baltimore imitation crab cakes

If the day after Christmas is Boxing Day, the day after the Super Bowl needs to be Leftover Day. It could be the official date set aside for feasting on cold pizza, reheated chicken wings, stale chips and twice-grilled bratwurst.

Already, the 24 hours after the big game constitute the unrecognized day for recirculated goodies to make their trip down America's collective gullet. Take my experience: I opened the refrigerator to pull out something for dinner and found myself confronted with the culinary pleasure of day-old crab cakes.

Which reminds me ... I'm supposed to be sharing my experiences with said crab cakes. Well, there's no time like the present, is there?

Loyal readers will remember I planned to make Baltimore imitation crab cakes, Rice-A-Roni and  Zatarain's for the NFL's championship game, along with potato and scallion soup before it. Rundowns of the other foods will follow. Today I'm focused on the crab cakes.

I won't regurgitate the entire crab cake formula, as I trust my interested readers are smart enough to click on recipe hyperlinks like this one. Instead, I want to highlight one specific ingredient in yesterday's crab cakes, one that set them apart.

No, not the imitation crab. If you must know, the poser meat blended in fine. It didn't match the flavor or texture of genuine fresh crab, but I'm in landlocked Syracuse, so none of the crab I could get was going to be out-of-the-bay fresh. I stand by my decision to save $25.50 and go with the stand-in, thank you very much.

The most valuable ingredient in the Baltimore imitation crab cakes was the jalapeno pepper. It imparted a hearty crunch unmatched by the pushover chives and scallions that stand alone in lesser crab cakes. Oh, and you may have heard that jalapenos are spicy, too. So the pepper blessed the cakes with a blast of heat better than that behind the ball on a well-thrown slant route.

My recommendation is to eschew the measly half pepper called for in the linked recipe. Go with a full pepper, which is hardly overpowering. Anything less would just get lost amid the Old Bay seasoning and Dijon mustard.

Aside from the pepper and the imitation crab, I didn't deviate from the prescribed formula. Oh, I decided not to bother with the nonsense about lining a plate with lettuce, either. In retrospect, I wouldn't argue with anyone who did -- wrapping one of these bad boys in a lettuce leaf would have been a tasty take on a crab cake burrito.

To be honest, my crab cakes could have used a wrapper. They didn't reach the crumblage level of the 49ers first-half defense, but they didn't emerge from the frying pan with all their chunks intact, either. The recipe calls for chilling the cakes a minimum of 10 minutes, presumably to promote adhesion of the disparate parts. Take my word for it and double that. Actually, I doubled it and didn't exactly experience resounding success. Triple it. Quadruple it.

They don't look like much -- let's see you try to get a good golden finish on a cake falling apart like this -- but these Baltimore imitation crab cakes packed enough flavor to bring home a championship.
When I make these Baltimore imitation crab cakes in the future -- and I will -- I may also use more than one egg in an attempt to help hold the ingredients together. Or superglue. There has to be something out there that will work.

Even if there isn't, even if I'm doomed to a fate of fragmentation every time I make this recipe, I will turn to it time after time. The savory flavors mesh ever so well with the spicy pepper, and the meat/bread crumb balance is much better than the doughy messes restaurants try to serve to skimp on their imitation crab. I'll never order a restaurant crab cake again after these.

Unless, of course, the restaurant crab cake is made with genuine meat. Even though I won't be buying the stuff directly any time soon, it would be nice to try a Baltimore genuine crab cake someday.

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