Summer has arrived here in South Carolina in all its humid glory. While I am not too keen on 60%+ humidity, the warm tropical temps do have at least one very positive effect – male blue crabs are getting plumper as they fill up the local saltwater marshes. Catching blue crabs by hand off the dock is a summer pastime I learned on weekend jaunts to my aunt’s beach house in Garden City, SC.
That beach house saw a lot in its time, many fish stories told, re-enacted and perpetuated by members of my family. Everyone I know has at least one to tell, even if it they weren’t witness to the actual fish-story generating event.
My personal favorite involves a 30-gallon trash can full of shrimp and some wily blue crabs caught by my Dad, uncle and older cousins in a large seine net in the creeks around our beach house. I’ll never forget almost losing my finger to one of those testy crabs when I reached into the shrimp container and then made the belated realization that I had made a very poor choice! Instantaneously, I felt panic and pain as that voracious blue caught hold of my finger. My ensuing scream heard ‘round Garden City Beach’ was followed by howls of laughter from my brother as I flung the crab across the dock where it landed squarely at my Mother’s feet. I’ll admit that it took a couple of summers to participate in catching blues again following the “crab incident”. However, these days I do take great pleasure (revenge?) in every crab crack, crab cake and crab casserole set in front of me.
Now I know you may think, 30-gallon trash cans full of shrimp and crabs? We need a fact check here. But yes, the waters along the entire coast of South Carolina are brimming with blue crabs, shrimp, oysters and flounder for the taking. Back in the day (the ‘70’s in my case) all you needed was a permit, the right equipment and some local insider knowledge to catch the limit. Today, while you may not be up for pulling a net through 3 feet of pluff mud or setting crab pots you can visit your own local seafood market. Look for a product that was caught as close to your own town/state/area of the country as possible. I was recently informed that there are no commercial crab packing facilities in SC any longer – although there are plenty of commercial “crab men” – the picking and packing is done in NC. So you may have to ask where the crab was caught, but do ask, as any good seafood market would be happy to oblige. (If they do not, I would propose buying from a different source.)
Here’s my standby recipe for crab cakes. No real secrets involved, however, I will suggest using your own freshly made breadcrumbs as well as fresh lemon juice and parsley. Here I topped them with a cold lemon dill sauce – recipe below. You can even freeze them for up to a week, so it’s a delectable, do-ahead appetizer for a party. Just freeze them on a lined cookie sheet and transfer to a large bag or plastic container (with a good sealing lid) after they harden and freeze. Easy, peasy!
- 1 lb. of crabmeat
- 2/3 cup + extra, fine breadcrumbs
- ½ cup sweet bell pepper, finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. dry mustard
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tbl. fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbl. butter
- hot sauce, like Tabasco or Crystal, to your taste
In a medium bowl lightly whisk the eggs and all the other ingredients except the butter. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Shape into crab cakes: 18-20 bite-size or 8 meal size. Coat each in extra fine bread crumbs lightly and place on a wax paper-lined sheet pan. Chill another hour in the refrigerator (or pop into the freezer if you want to bake* them later).
Meanwhile preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a cookie sheet to coat. Place crab cakes on the cookie sheet and bake for 2-3 minutes for mini crab cakes and 8 minutes for large crab cakes. Turn crab cakes over once and bake another 2-3 minutes for minis and 8 minutes for large ones. Serve immediately with rémoulade, tartar or my favorite, cold lemon dill sauce.
Lemon dill sauce: Mix ½ cup mayo with 1 heaping tablespoon chopped dill weed (fresh or “Gourmet Garden” type) and juice of ½ a lemon. Chill until ready to serve.
* Frozen crab cakes will take a bit longer to bake, 1 more minute per side for the minis and 2 more minutes per side for the large.