THE SASSY DIETITIAN"S KITCHEN
A Summer Crab Feast
Ah, it’s almost summertime and that means shorts, sunglasses and seafood. Did I have you until the seafood bit? This summer I want to shed some light on a food group that is near and dear to my heart and that does not get nearly enough press. Seafood. Okay, more importantly, crab.
Growing up in Maryland meant that every summer we would have crabs on our table at least once per week. I mean, it was once quoted in the movie Wedding Crashers, “Crab cakes and football, that’s what Maryland does,” so it is fitting that my family enjoyed our fair share of crabs and crab cakes each year, even though technically we were from Philadelphia, but who is keeping track anyway?
Imagine my sadness when I moved to upstate New York and realized no one had any idea what I was talking about when I said I wanted Maryland crab and a big ol’ crab feast. Sure, some people acknowledged that they had had crab cakes and soft-shell crab before, but I sure turned heads when I mentioned that I loved spreading out newspaper on a large picnic table with some wooden hammers and perhaps a cocktail or two and getting to work.
Everyone seemed to prefer a clambake or a lobster tail, and do not get me wrong, I love those darling shellfish as well. However, a crab feast is a beast of its own and deserves an introduction to the Capital District. Not to mention, Old Bay Seasoning may just be its own food group. I know, I am a dietitian, and believe me when I say sometimes you need to feed your soul. Old Bay does just that. It goes well on everything: eggs, popcorn, vegetables and, of course, crab.
There is more to health and nutrition than just food. The act of eating is a big deal. When we eat with family and friends we get so much more than just vitamins and minerals out of the meal; we get love, laughter and joy, along with nourishment.
Let’s get down to it, what are crabs, why are they healthy, and how can we have a sassy crab feast this summer in our own backyard?
Types of Crab
There are many types of crab, so when I say “crab feast” it may be an overgeneralization. The type of crab I am mainly talking about is blue crab, but all crabs are welcome. Blue crabs are mostly found in the Atlantic Ocean and mainly come from the Chesapeake Bay Area, hence my Maryland exposure to them. Blue crab can usually be found year round but is wildly popular and abundant in the summer.
Two other types of crabs that are also popular, and my personal favorites are soft-shell crabs and Alaskan king crabs. Soft-shell crabs tend to be more popular in the Capital District, but they are nothing more than a blue crab without its shell, which makes them less intimidating because the whole crab can be eaten. Soft-shell crabs are generally available late April until early July.
King crab, on the other hand, comes from the other side of the country in Alaska. The legs are the main attraction and a decadent treat. They are in a league of their own and are much harder to come by. Once again, they tend to be easy to consume because you can buy the legs and just dig into the meat.
Health Benefits of Crab
Now, I know I mentioned that a crab feast is healthy for the soul, but would I ever recommend something that was devoid of nutrition? Of course not! Crabs are a rich source of protein, which help to support the lean body mass in your body, like your bones and muscles. Crabs are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to reduce the inflammation in your body brought on by any stress you have from life, exercise, diet and more.
While you do not sit down to a crab feast for vitamins and minerals, you will be treated with plenty when you enjoy the buttery meat from the crab, namely vitamin B12 and selenium. Vitamin B12 is needed for the proper function of your brain, nerves, blood cells and much more. Selenium helps with proper metabolism and thyroid function. Sounds pretty great, right?
To save you from a long, drawn-out nutrition lesson, just know that while crabs may get a bad reputation because they are rich in cholesterol, they are rich in other vitamins and minerals and can be a part of a healthy lifestyle if enjoyed occasionally. Summer seems like the perfect time to me.
Where to Find Crab in the Capital District
You might think that you have to settle for crabs only when you travel. However, we are lucky enough to have a fishmonger at our fingertips in the Capital District. That’s right; owners Peter Kenyon and Dora Swan have provided us with the freshest seafood at their storefront known as fin-your fishmonger in Star Plaza, located in Guilderland, New York.
I popped in to discuss crab with the two owners one day because I was curious as to what they had to offer and if blue crab was ever a possibility. The two are extremely passionate about their business and believe in providing the most sustainable seafood they can to the Capital District. It was quite refreshing to speak with people who understand that food quality and sustainability matter.
Peter and Dora were excited when I said I love crab and would eat it year round. They bring in seafood fresh from Boston two times per week to their storefront in Guilderland and to two Phillips Hardware parking lots, on Delaware Avenue in Delmar on Thursdays from 5 to 7pm and on Union Street in Niskayuna on Wednesdays from 5 to 7pm. If you want a midweek seafood fix, they are also vending cooked lunch in Empire State Plaza by the reflecting pools on Wednesdays from 11am to 2pm. They stock their fish counter with all kinds of raw and prepared seafood. Their crab selection year round includes crab cakes with a spicy remoulade, lump crab, claw meat and Alaskan king crab legs stocked in their refrigerator and freezers.
Quality and sustainability are their motivational drivers and it shows. I used their lump crabmeat for my crab cakes and I thought I was tasting fresh blue crab from Maryland, no fishy or watery taste, just lump crab.
They also carry soft-shell crab for a good portion of the summer, and they say it flies out of their store. Stop by fin–your fishmonger Tuesday through Saturday for any of your crab needs. If you have no idea how to cook them, the shop will guide you in the right direction. I think we may have even agreed upon trying a Maryland-style crab feast this summer to introduce blue crab to the Capital District, so stay tuned.
A Sassy Crab Feast
Summer, in my opinion, would not be complete without a proper crab feast. What is a crab feast you ask? It is a gathering of friends and family on a summer day or evening where bushels of blue crab are shared and cracked open.
At the feast, the tables are strewn with old newspapers, wooden mallets and blue crabs that have been steamed until cooked to a deep-red color and tossed with plenty of Old Bay Seasoning. Everyone has a drink by their side, a pile of crabs in front of them, and laughter can be heard from miles away. It is a food-for-the-soul event and crabs are the main attraction. The dietitian in me also loves to bring along corn, tomatoes and any vegetables lying around to scoop up the excess Old Bay and accompany the blue crab.
Once the crab feast has settled and you have leftovers, or if you are too nervous or rushed to fish out the crabmeat on your own and you find some crab meat in your local fishmonger’s refrigerator, take on the crab cake. You will find the Maryland crab cake on menus across the world. It is simple yet unique. There are many variations and you can add your own flare. I encourage you to make your own mayonnaise as it will taste much better and will be far better for your health. All you need is an egg yolk, lemon juice, light olive oil and a blender.
A Maryland crab cake is mostly crab. Many spin-offs have more bread crumbs than crab, and that should be a crime. So, I decided to share with you my favorite way to enjoy leftover crab, a Maryland-style crab cake with a sassy spin.
Maryland-style Crab Cakes with a Spicy Remoulade
Before mixing in the crab, make sure to separate it, gently looking for a shell here or there. Do not mash, otherwise the lump of the crab will become flat, and believe me, you want that lump! You can also pan fry these with a teaspoon or two of olive oil over medium heat, 4 minutes per side.
For the Crab Cakes:
1 pound lump crabmeat
1 cup crushed saltine crackers or bread crumbs
½ cup homemade mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, diced (approximately ¼ cup)
1 large jalapeño, diced and seeds removed (approximately ¼ cup)
1 egg, beaten
Juice from ½ lemon
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
2 teaspoons fresh parsley, minced
2 teaspoons fresh chives, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon hot sauce
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground black pepper
In a large bowl, add all ingredients except crab and saltines, mix well. Add crab and lightly mix so as not to mash crab.
Add saltines and gently stir to combine. Place in refrigerator for 1 hour to set. (This would be a good time to prepare the remoulade at right.) Once set, preheat oven to broil and grease a baking sheet or broiler pan.
Form crab mixture into 12 patties and place on baking sheet / broiler pan. Place in oven for 8 minutes, turn and then broil for an additional 6 to 8 minutes until golden brown and heated through.
Serve topped with Remoulade.
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon hot sauce
½ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon capers
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Place in refrigerator until ready to serve.