Monday, October 4, 2010

Crab Cakes: Chesapeake Bay Style from The Tides Inn

Chef Flynn's pan-fried crab cakes over buttery succotash w/ shrimp

So, let me start off by asking, who doesn't like a good crab cake?  Other than those poor souls bearing shellfish allergies, most folks turn into the human version of Pavlov's dog at the mere mention of the words: "crab" and  "cake". 
And let's face it.  Crab cakes are frightfully good.  From sandwiching one in-between two butter-brushed buns with crisp lettuce and homemade tartar to nesting a couple of fresh-fried cakes in pool of chive infused buerre blanc, the ubiquitous crab cake has stood the test of time to become one the most popular menu items featured in restaurants from coast to coast.
This past weekend, I was rewarded with a crab (and oyster, lamb, and local wine) adventure of epic proportions while visiting The Tides Inn  in historic Irvington, Virginia.  The Tides is a magical place located along the Chesapeake Bay with gorgeous water frontage right on Carter's Creek.
It's an Inn that boasts an incredible history.  From its opening day in 1947, where the first dining room menu proudly offered its guests, "Native Soft Shell Crabs Saute in Almond Butter" and "Baked Filet of Rappahannock Trout in Lemon Butter" to today, where Executive Chef T.V. Flynn surprises with "Cedar Roasted Lamb Porterhouses topped with Garden Fresh Mint Pesto" and "Virginia Coast Diver Scallops with Oven-Roasted Cauliflower and Farmer's Market Butternut Squash Puree", The Tides Inn has consistently remained a culinary retreat offering some of the best of what the Chesapeake region of Virginia has to offer.

Many of the ingredients served at the Inn's restaurant are culled locally, either from the local Irvington Farmer's Market or from General Manager, Gordon Slatford's extensive personal gardens, where he grows everything from tomatoes and peppers to his own luffa sponges.  Naturally, seafood follows suit with local delicacies such as oysters, clams and rockfish (a true Virginia specialty) being drawn from the waters right outside the Inn's back door.

On the evening of our final night at the Inn, it was all about the crab cake.  All lump with very little filler, we scarfed these guys down in two quick bites and fought for more.  Chef Flynn served his crab-laden creation atop a buttery succotash accented with fresh, local butter beans and a lone sweet shrimp.  And, as if these small plate goodies weren't enough on their own, the Chef then grilled up a couple dozen local Rappahannock oysters just as the sun was beginning to set over the creek.
The oysters, after being drizzled in a little butter were beautifully accented by the Chef's homemade pickled watermelon rind, making these one-slurp wonders an immaculate combination of zing and brininess.  Once paired with a glass of Virginia's own Ingleside Pinot Grigio, it became clear that the food gods were shining down on Carter's Creek that final evening. What a send-off it was....

My first inclination is to suggest, that in order to properly relive this seafood extravaganza, you must book a weekend at The Tides ASAP.  Yet, for some folks, especially those on temporary vacation hold, this may not be immediately possible. For you, the Chef has agreed to generously share his virtually-no-filler recipe for crab cakes, Chesapeake Bay style, so you too, can experience a little taste of The Tides Inn when making these fried gems within the comfort of your own home.
But first, a couple of pointers on creating swoon-worthy crab cakes that every home cook should know.
It goes without saying that jumbo lump is where it's at, so it's worth every penny to invest in the good stuff, and that means, no cheating with backfin.  Also, we lover's of the Chesapeake Bay must recommend our own blue crab as the almighty best.  
When it comes to picking the shell bits out of your crab meat, which are almost always there, be gentle.  While you might be in a hurry, it's important not to crush the crab meat, especially the lumps.  You want those in there.  Hence, the words "jumbo lump".

When it comes to seasoning, less is most definitely more.  Go easy on the mayo, breadcrumbs etc....  If you find you're having trouble with your cakes falling apart when frying due to minimal binder, after shaping them, pop them in the fridge for about 30 minutes so they'll set up a bit.  And, speaking of frying, it's always best to fry in small batches.  Avoid crowding your cakes or they'll steam and not develop that crispy outer coating we all know and love.

When it comes to oil and pans, I'm a cast-iron and peanut oil gal myself.   However, you can just as easily fry in nonstick with vegetable oil or a combination of butter and oil if you're feeling decadent.  To serve, all you may need is a dollop of tartar, but if you want to emulate the Chef's dish, you can serve your crab cakes atop a pile of succotash or my recipe for sauteed butter beans with bacon.

Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes  

Courtesy of  Executive Chef T.V. Flynn of The Tides Inn

2 pounds jumbo lump crabmeat
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
½ cup cracker crumbs
2 eggs
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Worcestershire
½ teaspoon Tabasco
Salt and Pepper
Cooking oil, for shallow frying (about a 1/4 cup)
Pick through the crabmeat to check for shell pieces, being careful not to break up the lumps.
Place crabmeat in a large bowl and add the Old Bay, dry mustard, parsley and cracker crumbs.  Gently mix.
In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Whisk to mix and pour over the crabmeat mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Mix lightly and portion in cakes. 

Preheat a cast iron pan or skillet to medium-high and add the oil. When it's shimmering, fry your crab cakes in batches.  Drain well and serve hot.

Serves 8-10

Note: This recipe is easy to halve.

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  1. I'll just be lazy and go there. I love Tides Inn.

  2. Yes this is an amazing dish. Funny I was looking at Jumbo Lump in the store a couple of weeks ago cause I had a hankering. $24.99 a pound! Yikes, I think we settled on a roast. Nothing like cold roast beef sandwiches with a horseradish mayo the next day for lunch!

  3. I know! It's so pricey, but also so worth it. Melt in your mouth sweetness that can't be beat. Oh, and I agree about the roast. Now, that's a good sammy.

  4. These crab cakes look absolutely perfect!!!

  5. Thanks 5 Star, and I have to say, the photo of the blintz on your blog was killing me this morning. All I had was yogurt and coffee.

    p.s. Thanks for bringing attention to the Chesapeake Bay ray!

  6. I was 5 years old the first time I ate at The Tides Inn. I ordered the soft shell crab and, well, that was that. I was a Californian converted to a Bay rat in a split second. I still remember it.

    Thanks for sharing this amazing recipe and bringing back some wonderful memories from my childhood. :)


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