Keeping it local in the larder
I was out of town last weekend and missed the farmers’ market: How was I going to meet my weekly Eat Local Challenge goal? All I had left from the previous week’s market were a couple of bulbs of kohlrabi (a good keeper, fortunately), and that didn’t sound like much of a dinner.
Luckily, my pantry (and the big old freezer in my basement) usually contains a good supply of canned, bottled, frozen and dried foods of local origin. Jams and jellies, of course (but a person can only eat so much apple butter, as tasty as it is), but also dried fruits and wild mushrooms, frozen meat, locally produced sausages – and seafood.
OK, the coast is an hour and a half’s drive away, but I still consider it local, especially at the height of the fishing season. There’s no fish fresher than the fish you can buy right off the docks in Newport, for instance, headed and gutted (and if you sweet-talk the fisherman, sliced into filets or steaks) and packed in a cooler full of ice for the drive home.
But thanks to a growing number of entrepreneurial fisherfolk, some seasonal seafood is also available canned: Pacific albacore, brined or smoked, salmon (yes, even with this season’s harvest restrictions, some varieties of Pacific salmon are available) – and Dungeness crab.
Last winter, I splurged on a case of crab canned by my friend and former Oregon Sea Grant colleague Ginny Goblirsch and her fisherman husband Herb under their Oregon’s Choice label, which they sell on line and from select Newport markets. One of the things I appreciate about Herb and Ginny is that they’re committed to sustainable fishing practices; their albacore is caught with hook-and-line, a method certified as eco-friendly by the Marine Stewardship Council. The other seafood they can is caught by similarly sustainable methods, and when they decided to begin canning their own products, they worked closely with OSU seafood specialists to come up with production methods that follow “best practices” for both quality and safety.
The big canneries that used to dot the Oregon coast are pretty much history, but the boutique seafood canners who’ve emerged in recent years represent a real, local-food treasure. While much of their output gets sold in gift shops or shipped outside the region, there’s nothing to keep us from trying it, too, if we can get hold of it before the tourists do. The price may be premium, but so is the quality.
Most of that case of crab got used up last winter, in crab bisques, crab dip for holiday pot-lucks and crab salad. But I still have a few cans left, and when I happened on them tonight while foraging for dinner ideas, crab cakes came to mind.
Crab cakes can be an iffy thing; I’ve had way too many that were all cake and not much crab, like greasy wads of vaguely crab-flavored fried dough. Through trial and error – and tips from a couple of excellent restaurant chefs – I came up with a recipe that’s both easy and light, crisp, moist and very, very crab-by. They’re astonishingly good when made with fresh crab meat, but between you and me, when Dungeness crabs are in season I rarely bother making anything elaborate from them – I just boil them and eat them, armed with a nutcracker, a bowl of melted butter and a lot of napkins. Picking crabs to produce enough meat for a recipe is just too darned time-consuming when you could be eating crab.
So I let people like Ginny and Herb do the hard work, and I get to enjoy the results. And boy, did I enjoy tonight’s crab cakes, served with an improvised Asian-style slaw of kohlrabi I’d bought at the market the week before.
(This recipe uses one can of crab to make four modest crab cakes – more than enough for one person, or a light meal or appetizer for two. You can easily scale it up to make more).
- 1 Tbsp minced fresh Italian parsley; other fresh herbs, added sparingly, can be lovely, too.
- 1/2 tsp dry mustard
- 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 Tbsp real mayonnaise (do not, under pain of banishment from my blog, tell me that you used Miracle Whip or “lite” mayonnaise. Seriously.)
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 6 oz. can Dungeness crab meat
- 1/4 cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs), or other light, dry bread crumbs, plus extra for coating
- Salt and pepper if you want it. I never do.
- Equal parts butter and oil (I use canola) for frying
In a bowl, combine parsley, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, egg, mayonnaise and lemon juice and stir until well-blended. Lightly fold in the crab meat and bread crumbs until just mixed – try not to break up the crab too much.
Heat butter and oil in a skillet until fragrant and sizzling.
Spread extra bread crumbs on a plate. Using a large spoon, scoop up a fourth of the crab mixture (it will be quite wet) and press first one side, then the other into the crumbs. Transfer to hot skillet, flattening a bit to shape. Repeat to make four cakes.
Sautee until golden brown, turning once (3-4 minutes per side). Drain on paper towels and serve while still hot. No condiments required, although a dollop of mayonnaise with prepared wasabi mixed in can be tasty if you like that sort of thing.
Asian-style Kohlrabi slaw
(I don’t actually measure the ingredients for salad dressings – I work by the proportions-and-glugs method. This is my best estimation; feel free to taste and experiment)
- 1-2 kohlrabi, peeled, sliced and coarsely julienned
- Pickled sushi ginger, minced
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar. If you have seasoned sushi vinegar, use that and omit the following two ingredients)
- 1 tsp Mirin (sweet Japanese cooking wine) OR 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- Black sesame seeds
Mix the kohlrabi and pickled ginger. Whisk together the vinegar, Mirin (or sugar), salt and sesame oil and toss with the vegetables. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds. This is even better when it’s sat overnight in the refrigerator.