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I Pinch

I’m hanging out in the kitchen at work talking about upcoming weekend plans when someone mentions that we have Friday off for the holiday. After a little bit of confusion we determine that the holiday in question is Good Friday. Needless to say, this was a few weeks ago. What was I to do for my day off? Crab cakes and mussels.

I decide that crab cakes can’t be that hard. Toss some breadcrumbs and crabs together, add some butter to make it stick and some veggies for taste. Voilà! Here’s a little foreshadowing for you: I never quite made it to voilà.

This is how it played out. I get home with half a dozen blue shell crabs and toss them in boiling water. While that’s going I start slicing my carrots, celery, and onion and slowly sauté them in butter. I figure I’ll make stuffing (a favorite with the wife) on Saturday, so I make more than I need. I grab bread, a nice crusty loaf, and toss it into my food processor to make crumbs. These are then laid out on a cookie sheet and put into the oven to dry out. I was going to add some frozen chives from my freezer. Prep accomplished.

Now for the instant replay with commentary. First off, my plan of making stuffing the next day backfired a little bit. I cut my veggies to an appropriate size for stuffing, which turns out to be too big for crab cakes. Then there were the breadcrumbs. Because the bread was so crusty and moist, the food processor had a hard time turning it into crumbs. Maybe I should have toasted them a bit first to dry them out? Plain old American white bread would have probably served me better in this instance. Those two mistakes were not terribly damaging, jus things to keep in mind for the next time.

The really damaging mistake was the crabs themselves. I had never bought or cooked crabs before, so I was sort of winging it. I took them out of the pot and poured ice-cold water on them to cool them so I could start getting the meat out. But how? I had only eaten crabs once before, and my order came with a mallet. Not similarly armed, I picked up my first victim, looking for joints and other weaknesses in the armor. The first things to go were the legs, then the claws. Flipping the crab over, I could see the joint in the shell. Maybe I can pry this off? Success. Five minutes later, the rest of the crabs were similarly disassembled. But I still didn’t get any of the meat out.

Picking over a crab body, I started to see some things that could be crabmeat. Only one way to find out. After trying to eat several edible and inedible crab parts, I found the meat. I continued picking through the cartilage prying out small pockets of meat. After twenty minutes, I was left with a modest pile of crabmeat. One down, five to go.

You would think that after six attempts at this I would have it down to a systematic approach that could be accomplished faster and faster each time. Sadly, that was not the case. With only two crabs left to go, The Girl comes home from a long day at work looking forward to her seafood feast. I hadn’t even started on the mussels yet.

Once I am finally through with the crabs, I have a good-sized pile of sweet crabmeat in front of me. At this point I should have tossed in some mayo and the veggies from earlier and turned my failing crab cakes into crab salad. Dinner would be on the table in moments. But I felt as if I was almost there, so I persevered.

Next, I switched my concentration to the mussels. I put some of the mirepoix from earlier into a pot with some diced pancetta I had in my freezer. Once the fat started to render I poured in half a bottle of white wine and my cleaned mussels. Turns out that half a bottle wasn’t enough to cover the mussels, so I now added some more wine and some of the crab water to top it off. The mussels cooked quickly and I added a splash of cream at the end to finish it off. This all happened in the background while I formed my crab cakes.

I mixed my breadcrumbs, veggies and crabs into a bowl. Immediately, I noticed two problems: I didn’t have enough breadcrumbs and the mixture was not sticky enough. Easy enough to fix right? Throwing in some store-bought breadcrumbs shouldn’t hurt the consistency and a little olive oil should be enough to bind the mixture together. These two additions wound up making the crab cakes dense and thick. And they were still falling apart. I had added too much dry bread crumbs which just soaked up all the moisture from the mixture. Perhaps mayonnaise or mustard would have been a better addition than the oil. Once I fried them up, I had crumbly crab bricks on my hands, not tender crab cakes.

Now for the moment of truth. What does a hungry wife think about the dishes? Surprisingly she thought the crab cakes were ok – not great, but edible – while the mussels served in their broth were a bit bland. Obviously, I think the crab cakes were a complete waste, barely getting through half of mine. I thoroughly enjoyed the mussels. With all that wine, bacon, and cream, I didn’t agree that they were bland at all. She prefers mussels served in a tomato based sauce.

Overall, I’d say that the crab cakes were a failure. All the work that went into them and only about two and a half were eaten. Next time I will make sure to have more fresh breadcrumbs on hand. I will also experiment in smaller batches so if I ruin one batch, I can still eat something. And, oh yeah, I’ll just use canned crabmeat instead. I’m fairly certain I’ll be able t get the meat out of the can in less than two hours.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: ,
  1. Joleen Perry
    May 18th, 2009 at 09:40 | #1

    Suggestion, try an egg to help bind it next time. Would the “fish monguer” have fresh crab meat already out of the shell? I would go with that and use maybe store bought bread crumbs over canned crab. I’ve only made crab cakes once and I think I cheated with everything. They are definalty better homemade then frozen though. And I would have to agree with “The Girl” about the mussels with the tomato. Although I wouldn’t complain about any of it if I ever came home to my “Guy” cooking me anything but a frozen meal.

  2. Josh
    May 18th, 2009 at 10:23 | #2

    Egg is a good idea. that will definitely bind them. I’m hoping to be able to make a batch this weekend. I’ll let you know how they come out.

  1. May 26th, 2009 at 05:18 | #1
  2. May 27th, 2009 at 01:40 | #2