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By the Book: John Currence’s Maryland-style crabcakes and green apple-celery salad

July 19th 03:07pm, 2014



John Currence is a Mississippi culinary legend. A lifetime of food appreciation – first in New Orleans, then Europe, then back South – led him to open City Grocery, Snackbar, Big Bad Breakfast and Oxford Boure. He was named the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South in 2009 and has received numerous accolades from Southern food organizations. To put it simply, Currence knows his stuff. So when I started reading Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups (And Then Some), I was hooked.

Currence is obsessed with technique, something that’s obvious when you see how his book is divided. First comes his manifesto, laying out his rules for quality tools, ingredients and passion for cooking, then chapters dedicated to “Stirring, Shaking & Muddling,” “Pickling & Canning,” “Frying (Pan & Deep),” “Brining & Smoking,” and more. Pages of beautiful dishes, preserves, roasts and more set my mouth watering.




But for all the stunning images and elaborate dishes, the recipe I tried needed another round of editing. My Maryland-style crabcakes required me to whisk egg yolks, cream, spicy mustard and more into a small bowl, then, in a separate bowl, season a full pound of crabmeat with salt and pepper before adding lemon juice and zest… Hold up. I scanned the ingredient list and sure enough, there was no mention of lemon zest.  I was then instructed to refrigerate everything for 30 to 45 minutes – except the recipe skipped the part where I actually added my spice mixture to the crab. Thank goodness for common sense.




While the crab mixture chilled, I worked on the green apple-celery salad (which turned into a green apple-romaine salad since I was unable to find any celery with its leaves still intact that night). This was simple enough, and my knife skills got a great workout while I attempted to uniformly julienne apples.




I also ran into problems during the breading process. One of my first two crudely shaped “hockey pucks” fell apart in the flour, and the survivor met its doom in the egg wash. No one likes a bready crabcake, but just a half-cup of breadcrumbs was not enough for one pound of crab. Currence did say to add more, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the cakes just barely hold together. Another half-cup later, mine finally made it to the final crumb coating intact.




Many of Currence’s dishes reference his list of Basic Recipes at the front of the book. To bread the crabcakes, I needed to consult a separate page for Seasoned Flour (all-purpose flour doctored with spices), another for Egg Wash (eggs beaten with milk, cream and hot sauce) and another for Clarified Butter (I drew the line there. I didn’t have the time to spend another 30 minutes clarifying butter; milk solids never hurt anybody.). By the time I got to the suggested New Orleans-Style Remoulade (see page 106), I threw up my hands, grabbed a jar of my own homemade mayonnaise, beat some Dijon mustard, and declared it close enough.

Despite my struggle with the recipe itself, the result was pretty spectacular. The outside was perfectly crisp and the interior was deliciously spiced with creamy crabmeat. The green apple provided a great textural element and lightened up what would have otherwise been a very heavy meal. Novice cooks may have trouble with this book, but more experienced home cooks can rely on their common sense to create fantastic results.




Maryland-Style Crabcakes with Green Apple-Celery Salad
6 servings

2 large egg yolks
3 Tbsp. heavy cream
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. Creole mustard (or grainy French)
2 Tbsp. minced shallots
3 Tbsp. very small dice red bell peppers
3 tsp. Sriracha sauce
1 lb. lump blue crabmeat
2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup toasted breadcrumbs, plus more to coat crabcakes
3 cups Seasoned Flour (Recipe follows.)
3 cups egg wash
¼ cup clarified unsalted butter

• To make the crabcakes: in a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cream, mustard, shallots, red bell peppers and Sriracha. In a separate bowl, season the crabmeat with the salt and pepper and blend to combine well. Stir in the lemon juice and zest and breadcrumbs, cover and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes. This will give the mixture a chance to tighten up and it will be much easier to handle.
• When removed from the refrigerator, the crab mixture should be moist but not runny. If more bread crumbs are needed, add them 1 tablespoon at a time, until the crabcake mix just holds together.
• Scoop the mixtures by the ¼ cup into the seasoned flour (you want 12 crabcakes). Form crudely into small hockey pucks. Knock off excess flour and dip in the egg wash. Turn the cakes in the bread crumbs until fully coated. At this point the cakes can be cooked immediately or returned to the refrigerator, covered, to cool again, or they can be frozen.
• To cook the crabcakes: Heat the clarified butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the butter begins to shimmer. Carefully place the crabcakes in the pan, decrease the heat to medium-low, and allow the cakes to brown on the bottom side, about 3 minutes. Move them slightly from time to time with a spatula to keep them from sticking. Once browned, carefully flip them over to brown on the second side for an additional 3 to 4 minutes.
• Place some apple-celery salad in the center of each place and top with 2 cakes per serving.

Green Apple-Celery Salad
6 servings

4 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Champagne vinegar
½ cup whole celery leaves
½ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp. celery seeds
1 cup peeled and julienned green apples

• Mix together the oil, mustard, vinegar, celery leaves, sugar, salt, pepper, and celery seeds in a medium stainless-steel bowl. Add the apples and toss together well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Seasoned Flour
Makes 3 cups

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1½ tsp. garlic powder
1½ tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. cayenne

• Toss the flour, salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic and onion powders and cayenne in a stainless-steel bowl and combine well. Store in an airtight container until needed.

What’s the best crab dish you ever had? Tell us about it below for a chance to win a copy of Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey. We’ll email the winner! 

By Catherine Klene

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15 Responses to “By the Book: John Currence’s Maryland-style crabcakes and green apple-celery salad”

  1. Sylvia Says:
    July 20th, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    The best I’ve had were at Cafe Seville in San Diego and served with a fig chutney.

  2. Joe Says:
    July 21st, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    I always dig getting the crab balls at Dim Sum restaurants, it comes with the nce crab claw handle which makes for easy eating!

  3. Katie Says:
    July 22nd, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Fresh steamed crab straight off the boat. Why mess with perfection by adding other ingredients?

  4. Jennifer Carter Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Actually my best crab has been
    Eaten freshly steamed on the Oregon coast.

  5. Zach King Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Interestingly enough the best crab cakes I have had was at a whiskey steak house in STL called J’Gilberts. They are so fresh and light, they done even try to form it by hand. They use an ice cream scoop and bake it off to keep the light airy cake. That paired with a spicy mango pico and a mustard beurre blanc makes the perfect appetizer. My Fiance’ and I go there every time we are craving a good crab cake.

  6. Kat Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    The best crab dish I’ve ever had was a crab eggs Benedict when I was visiting North Carolina. So delicious!

  7. Doug Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Fresh Hard Shell crab melt at the Rivers End in Jenner CA.

  8. Jason Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    My wife makes awesome crab cakes!

  9. Ralph Samples Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    When I was a kid my family went on a trip to the Bahamas. I had a crab bisque that was so delicious I had to look up the word bisque!

  10. Paula Brockmeyer Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    The crab dip with fresh warm bread at McGarvey’s restaurant in Annapolis, MD.

  11. Ashley Goebel Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Every week we make crab stuffed mushrooms for the grill. Obsessed.

  12. Sarah Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    The crab roll at Luke’s. Lobster in NYC. Super fresh!

  13. Kathryn Says:
    July 25th, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Jonah crab, sautéed spinach and mushrooms on buttered toast.

  14. Brent Douglas Says:
    July 26th, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    The first time I had soft shell crab in a little dive off the Gulf Coast in the Florida panhandle. I was amazed and impressed with the dish. It’s been several years since, and I’ve probably had better, but that experience really sticks with me.

  15. Penny Schreiner Says:
    July 28th, 2014 at 9:08 am

    My favorite crab recipe is crab ragoon! Yummo!

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