Crazy for Crab by Fred Thompson

Four-color interior with 40 photographs $32.95/hardcover

Harvard Common Press, Boston, MA, March 2004

Reviewed by Lee Ann Palmer for Good Cooking, November, 2004

Good Cooking enjoyed the beautiful pictures and the quality of the publication. Even more impressive was the quality of the recipes.  Good Cooking recommends this book.


The Review---

This is an interesting, easy to read book - filled with everything you need to know to start enjoying crab, from information on the different species and the people who catch them, to the language you need to get what you want from your seafood market. Detailed instructions and drawings on how to clean and pick fresh crabs are accompanied by suggestions on when to substitute frozen or canned crabmeat. The recipes are versatile and sure to be a hit when entertaining - with 7 variations on crab dips and 12 different recipes for crab cakes. There are also many recipes and variations on crab chowders, crab salads, crab boils, crab legs, soft-shell crabs, and crabmeat stuffing. The book more than covers the crab basics, with a few creative twists on familiar recipes, like eggs benedict and spanakopita that include crab. If you love crab or live in an area with a bounty of fresh crab, this is the book for you. Aside from some quick recipes for tartar sauce and aioli accompaniments, crab is truly the star of the show.
While all of the recipes sound delicious, I decided to sample a crab cake and crabmeat stuffing, due to the more readily available canned crabmeat on supermarket shelves in November. I tried Fred's self-proclaimed "Pretty Darn Close to Perfect" crab cake recipe and found the name to ring true. The recipe reads as follows:

Ingredients:
2 large eggs 
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
2 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced 
2 T chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 T seeded and finely diced red bell pepper 
1 tsp Chesapeake Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp dry mustard
10 to 15 saltines, roughly crushed
1 pound crabmeat, lump or jumbo lump backfin preferred, picked over for shells and cartilage
2 T peanut or other neutral-tasting oil (not olive oil) 
2 T unsalted butter
Gravy flour (such as Wondra) or all-purpose flour as needed Tartar Sauce, homemade or store-bought

1. Lightly beat the eggs and buttermilk together in small bowl and set aside.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the onion, scallions, parsley, bell pepper, Bay seasoning, and mustard. Mix in the saltines. Add the egg mixture and stir to combine. Fold in the crabmeat gently, trying to not break up the lumps. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
3. Mold the crab mixture into 8 cakes and place on a baking sheet covered with waxed paper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. 
4. Preheat the oven to 350.
5. Heat the oil and butter together in a large sauce pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, sprinkle the tops of the crab cakes lightly with flour and place the cakes flour side down in the pan. Sprinkle the other side with flour. Cook until browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Carefully turn the crab cakes over. Place the pan in the oven and bake until heated through, 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Serve immediately, or turn off the oven and let sit in the oven for up to 30 minutes. Serve with tartar sauce on the side.

I have made and eaten my share of crab cakes with improper ratios of breading to crabmeat, and found these to be fabulous. The seasoning was just enough not to overwhelm the crab flavor. The technique of refrigeration and flouring was a success, as the crab cakes held together well. When paired with the simple Tartar Sauce recipe, they made a lovely first course. For the next course, I prepared crabmeat stuffing with the sole fillet option. The recipe is as follows:

Ingredients
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 T finely chopped shallots 
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
'/z cup roughly crushed butter crackers (such as Ritz) 
2 T chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
I T chopped fresh chives 
1 T fresh lemon juice
I pound crabmeat, lump preferred, picked over for shells and cartilage 
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When it stops foaming, add the shallots and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the crumbs, crackers, parsley, chives, and lemon juice. Gently fold in the crabmeat, salt, and pepper. Remove from the heat and refrigerate until ready to use.

For Fish: Flounder and sole fillets are great for stuffing. Cut each fillet lengthwise into 3 strips. Place 1 strip in a buttered baking dish, mound 1/4 to 1/3 cup crab stuffing in the middle, and lay the other 2 strips on each side of the stuffing. Bake or boil to your liking. You can also put a mound of stuffing on a single fillet, roll it up, place it in a buttered baking dish, pour 1 to 2 T sherry in the dish, and bake to your liking.
Again, I found the recipe to be delicious, with good moisture content, flavor, and the right ratio of crabmeat to breading. This recipe was a snap to prepare with an outcome that exceeded my expectations from something so simple. The format and instructions throughout this book are easy to follow, with color photographs and sketches. All of the recipes use only a handful of ingredients, all of which are readily available in supermarkets. This book is perfect for the crab fanatic, although with so many variations on popular recipes, there is sure to be something for everyone.

'2004 by Good Cooking, Inc.