COOKING ADVENTURES #8: Caribbean Grilled Crab Cakes with Mango Salsa
Folks, I am crying. Contrary to what you might be thinking, I am not crying because of injury. I’m not crying because the recipe was disastrous and I’m not crying because I burned my tongue. It’s the onion. The blasted onion. And it’s not even a whole one either. I should also mention that I finished eating my crab cakes about forty-five minutes ago. I’m in my living room far away from the kitchen and whatever onion fumes may still linger there. I can still taste it though. Like the ghost of onion’s past, it’s going to haunt me and remind me of how bad an idea it was to include it in the recipe, even if the recipe called for it. Of all the times I decided not to take my own advice… grumble, grumble…
With the rush of warm spring-like weather we’ve had in the past week, I was craving something different. I hadn’t used my grill pan in several months and the idea of grilling something sounded fun and summery. I decided to pick something that I’ve made before but a recipe with a bit more flair to it. Hence, I found one for Caribbean Grilled Crab Cakes with Mango Salsa. I had at first thought about a Cajun inspired dish for Mardi Gras. But seeing as how I’d attempted a Cajun recipe a couple weeks ago and it failed, I wasn’t about to try another too soon. Plus Caribbean sounds like more fun. The thoughts of a warm tropical climate, chilled cocktails and sandy beaches filled my mind with the recipe.
Now, like I’d said, I’ve made crab cakes before. They turned out awful. I think it’s because I used the cheap crab meat from the two dollar cans, the mushy pink stuff that never quite takes a solid shape no matter how many bread crumbs you add to it. They would always fall apart in the pan. I tried the white crab meat and the same thing happened too. This time, I was sure I wouldn’t make that same mistake. I went to the seafood department at Shaws and found a large can of premium crab claw meat. $10 a can. It was steep for me. But I wanted this to turn out right. And I was expecting to have some left overs.
The start of the recipe has me using 3/4 lbs. of the crab meat. I cut open the can and dumped out most of the contents into my mixing bowl. This crab meat looked ten times better than what I was used to seeing. I was already excited. Next, I mixed in the cup of bread crumbs, the 3/4 cup of mayo, one egg, and salt and pepper to taste. It had told me to use green onion. Once again, I’d tried searching my grocery store for the elusive green onion but came up empty handed. I used some chives instead to add some color to the mix. Once everything was properly stirred together, I took two spoons and made little crab cake balls on a sheet pan. The recipe said it would yield 16 patties. Maybe if they were the size of marbles, I could have had that many. But I ended up with 8. I shoved the pan into the fridge for 30 minutes.
After the time was up, I hefted my grill pan from the cupboard and landed it on the stove top with a bang. The grill pan is a Le Creuset. It probably weights the same as a bowling ball and is the most ridiculous thing to clean. However, it cooks things very well. I dribbled some oil into it and turned up the heat to medium on the front burner. At this time, I decided rather dumbly that I could make the salsa while cooking the crab cakes. You see where I’m going with this, right?
I pulled out the mango and set it on the counter. I’ve been dreading this all week. I’ve heard tales on how difficult it can be to cut a mango because it has a ginormous stone inside. To prepare myself, I pulled up youtube and watched some chef who’d written a book about cutting mangos perform the epic feat. And I’m sorry, but if you’ve written a book, a LONG book about just cutting mangos, then there is really something wrong with you. Anyway, in his perky way, he sliced and diced up two mangos, making them look pretty and fun. Oh, goodie.
First you’re supposed to slice off the two “cheeks” of the mango on either side of the stone. This would have been easier if my santoku knife was actually sharp. Ever seen a mango bend under a knife? This one did. Finally, I pulled out my tomato knife and sawed at it until each side was off. Then I cut the flesh along the stone to get two “finger” pieces off. As I reminisced on the chef’s instructions, I suddenly realized he’d used allot of body part names. My mind ran away with me at this point, trying to imagine his double life as a serial killer or a mortician and thought, Maybe his book parallels the two activities. Perhaps he practices on the mangos…
At this point, my crab cakes were burning in the pan. I tried to flip them over with a fork which was just dumb. One cake fell apart. I snagged a spatula out of the drawer and succeeded in turning the others over without any damage. Back to the mango. Taking my paring knife, I cut lines through the mango flesh on each cheek (now I can’t help but think of morbid things…) and then flexed the skin back. Actually, quite pretty looking. The perky chef had a point. It would be kind of neat to use the display idea for a party. I sliced the pieces out and preceded to do the same with the other cheek and then diced up the “finger portions”. I placed those in a bowl and removed the first four crab cakes from the pan. They smelled amazing!
I put the next four in and with the comforting sizzle behind me, I returned my attention to the salsa. Next the directions told me to use a whole red onion. I’d already read the reviews for the recipe and found a bunch of people had complained that the recipe had too much onion in it. I decided to cut it down and just use half. I had a moment when a clear bright beautiful thought struck my brain. Did I have to use onion at all? Was it truly necessary? But the recipe calls for it… Bah. I sliced the onion in half, diced part of it up and added it to the mango. The directions say to add pepper, cilantro, and basil. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy basil or cilantro at the store. The cilantro was because I had invited my mom for dinner and I knew she didn’t like it. I didn’t buy basil because it was $5 a bottle and I’m cheap with my spices. To make up for no spices in the salsa, I sprinkled some Italian seasoning. I look back at that now and shake my head. From the fridge, I snagged a lime, cut it in half and squeezed the juice over the concoction. Then I took a spoon to it and swirled everything around.
Time to flip the crab cakes. They all turned over without trouble. I stared at the salsa for a long time. I wasn’t satisfied with how it looked. I felt it needed to be mixed further. I’d read that one woman had put everything in her food processor. And so, out came the Magic Bullet, the chainsaw of the kitchen. I dumped the salsa into the cup, twisted it onto the blades and pressed the container into the apparatus. With a strong whir, the machine buzzed to life. And what to my wondering eyes should appear when I twist off the blades at the end? Oh god. Something that looks vaguely like applesauce but not as… nice looking. I smelled it and felt my head swim with the stench of onion. Was there any mango in there? Had it evaporated?
I flipped the last four crab cakes out of the pan and onto the plate. Then I selected two and put a couple dollops of the salsa on top. Out of hope that I could at least make it look appetizing, I placed a couple sprigs of chives on it but even those couldn’t save it. Now all that was left was to take a bite.
I did. And instantly, my eyes were drowned with tears. The salsa was so powerful that I could feel every atom of it’s scent purging my sinuses. Every bite I ate burned in my mouth and nose. At long last, I scraped most of the salsa off and ate just the crab cakes, which tasted absolutely divine on their own. After I’d finished my meal, I promptly returned to the kitchen and dumped the salsa in the trash. When I take it out to the bin, I wouldn’t be surprised if it made stray cats and squirrels vacate a 300 foot radius around it.
Next week, as a salute to the end of season 2 of Downton Abbey, I’ve found two quirky fun little recipes from a 1918 recipe book “Foods That Will Win The War and How To Cook Them.” by C. Houston Goudiss and Alberta M. Goudiss. The recipes are Apple Porcupines (Yup, you read that correctly) and Soft Cinnamon Cookies. They’re not overly involved recipes and they both sound like fun. I only hope I don’t screw them up.