One the most unique and popular crabs is the soft shell crab. The swimming crabs naturally molt, or lose their exoskeleton, many times over their lifetime to allow growth. Domestically this occurs from late Spring to early Fall. A new soft shell begins to form under the existing hard shell and the crab fattens up to crack the outer shell and remove its entire body. At this point the crabs are removed from the water and can be eaten whole (almost entirely) including the new soft shell. The end of the summer doesn’t have to mean the end of fresh soft shell crabs on the table. Our frozen soft shell crabs are available all year. They provide a great alternative to fresh and still offer that sweet crab flavor, unique soft shell texture and the wow factor when presented to quests. Our crabs are wild caught, naturally molted and come fully cleaned, ready to thaw and use. They come in a full range of sizes perfect for anything from an hors d’oeuvre to an entrée. They are great on a sandwich or salad but also a unique appetizer or garnish on a signature dish. They are best fried or sautéed to maximize the crispy texture. They work between a wide variety of cuisines from a spider roll to a soft shell po’ boy. They work well with a variety of batters, each lending itself to the flavor profile of the dish. They work with current food trends, from use of the latest “hip” ingredient to current interpretations of classic dishes our soft shell crab are an excellent option.
It’s Crab to the Rescue!
As we have been in “show season” for the past few months it has been a whirlwind tour of convention centers all over the country for our entire team. We are always looking for new applications for our crab meat. My goal is to get people thinking about the versatility and ease of use that our crab provides. It is such a great way to take a regular dish and by simply adding some crab you can create an upscale signature dish with almost no added labor. With our broad line of crab products with sizes and prices to meet almost any food cost needs, the options are almost limitless. Over the past few weeks as we have traveled around the country at various shows, we continued to hear concern about the rising prices of lobster meat. This came from customers looking for a new supplier or looking for a replacement protein to even a sales rep from a lobster company saying how our product has become a bargain compared to the record high prices of lobster. Our crab is an excellent alternative to lobster! The sweet delicate flavor and luxury appeal of our crab works as an easy substitute in most lobster recipes, from soups and salads to pasta and entrees. When we were discussing this opportunity, the same need kept coming up, Lobster Mac & Cheese. This has become such a popular item on menus across the country, however, with the current price of lobster meat, it has become prohibitive from a food cost or menu price standpoint for many operators. So for the past week I have been looking at various recipes for Mac & Cheese and testing them with our crab meat in all forms from our premium pasteurized blue crab to our mid level red swimming crab and even our value priced frozen crab. I tested recipes from a high end, white tablecloth version with Gruyere cheese and buttery toasted fresh breadcrumbs to a more unique flavor profile playing on a classic queso dip with crab and pasta. I even tested adding our crab to a premade mac & cheese as there has become a wide variety of very high quality ones available in recent years. Take a look at our recipes to see how to create a signature crab mac & cheese.
Although I am often heard saying “our crab meat isn’t just for crab cakes” it is the most popular and common application. That being said, I have made more crab cakes than I care to think about. I have also tried crab cakes all over the country and have tasted some really great ones, but usually I am left disappointed. It is called a CRAB cake, not a breadcrumb cake or a mayonnaise cake with some crab, but I think some people missed that memo. Crab should be the first thing you taste and all the other components should be there in a supporting role. There are many variables to consider when deciding on a crab cake recipe.
First there is the crab meat, which of course needs to be Jack’s Catch or Pacific Cove if you want a great cake. From there you have to think about cost, because we offer a wide range of swimming crab meat in multiple forms and from multiple species. Each one has it applications and can work very well if used correctly. We offer frozen crab meat which is an excellent economical alternative to our refrigerated product lines. I have spent years working with this product to perfect its application in everything from a classic crab cake to a mango ceviche. From there we have three types of crab in our Jack’s Catch line including both red and blue swimming crab. Our Pacific Cove line, however, is made solely with blue swimming crab meat (Portunus Pelagicus). We do not blend species, you get what you are paying for. I like to use the analogy of buying Prime ground beef only to find out is was blended with choice and select.
From there you have to decide on the grade of crab you want to use. All swimming crab is wild caught and handpicked and graded for size. Every company uses different terminology for their grades, which can be confusing which is why I will try to make it easy. I explain to people that there are two basic types of swimming crab meat, white meat and dark meat. The dark meat is easy, it is called claw meat and it has a darker color and more pronounced flavor. The white meat grades include the jumbo lump, whole pieces from the two largest muscles in the crab (also called colossal, jumbo or petite jumbo), then the super lump, which is broken pieces of jumbo lump (my favorite!), lump, backfin and backfin lump, which are all medium sized pieces of flake meat from the body of the crab and the small pieces of flake are called special. You can use just one grade of crab to make a cake or you can blend the meats into your cake, starting with the smallest grade and finishing with the larger pieces.
Once you have selected your crab meat you have to decide on the other components. The binder, which can be anything from fresh breadcrumbs, crushed saltines, panko breadcrumbs, crushed Ritz crackers (my favorite) or even something out of the ordinary like crushed tortilla chips. Then you need your wet ingredients usually mayonnaise and/or egg, sometimes I use melted butter as well. For flavoring the classic combination is Old Bay seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and sometimes lemon juice. You can also add diced vegetables, scallions, chives, or herbs like parsley or cilantro. Crab cakes are an great way to try out new flavors and even work well with Latin or Asian flavor profiles. The trick is to add just enough seasoning to compliment but not overpower the crab, just enough of the wet ingredients to coat the crab and just enough breading/binder to hold it together during cooking. Depending on which of our crab meats I am using I adjust my recipe, for example with our frozen crab I use less wet ingredients and a little more seasoning and breading as the crab has been frozen and thawed and has a little more natural loose liquid. I will be posting all kinds of recipes for crab cakes as well as other unique crab dishes but here is one of my favorite crab cake recipes. Oh, and a sauce because as Craig Hospodor, our Sr. VP of Sales always says, “Chef John can’t serve a crab cake without a sauce”.
Classic Crab Cake
1lb Crab Meat (I prefer Super Lump)
½ Cup Mayonnaise
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1 ½ Teaspoons Seafood Seasoning (like Old Bay brand)
2 Teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
½ Cup Ground Ritz Crackers
2 Teaspoons Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon each of Butter and Cooking Oil (for cooking)
In a mixing bowl combine the mayonnaise, egg, mustard, seafood seasoning and Worcestershire sauce. Add the crab meat and gently fold into the mayonnaise mixture using a rubber spatula. Dust the ground cracker evenly over the mixture and gently fold to combine (try not to break up the crab meat) adding just enough to bind the mixture. Portion into cakes using either a measuring cup or scoop.
Heat a nonstick pan over medium-low heat and add the butter and oil. Allow the butter to melt and add the crab cakes. Cook for about 6 minutes, turning once, until golden brown and are heated through
Or preheat oven to 375⁰, place cakes on a baking sheet. Cook for about 12 minutes or until golden brown and heated through.
Creole Remoulade Sauce
3 Cups Mayonnaise
¾ Cup Creole Mustard (this is essential)
½ Cup Ketchup
1 Cup Green Onion/Scallion, rough chop (about two bunches)
¼ Cup Parsley, rough chop
1/3 Cup Celery, rough chop
1 Tablespoon Garlic, rough chop (about two big cloves)
2 Teaspoons Paprika, sweet NOT hot
1 Tablespoon Hot Sauce (Crystal or Frank’s)
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice, (1 lemon)
½ Teaspoon Black Pepper
Salt to Taste
Add everything except the Mayonnaise to a blender and puree until smooth. If it will not puree, you can add some of the mayonnaise to help. Pour in a bowl and stir in the mayonnaise.
Creating a tasting Menu in China
Welcome to the Newport International website and to my Chef’s blog! I have a very unique and incredible job of traveling the country and sometimes the world to develop new and exciting applications for our seafood products. Sometimes this occurs in a corporate office, sometimes in a test kitchen and many of the times in a convention center. The key to my job is to be as prepared as possible yet be ready to change plans as you never know what the day will bring. My trips usually start with me getting off a plane in a new city and using Google maps to find the “best” local market to buy ingredients, hopefully somewhat similar to the items on my punch list for the menu for that day. I would say I usually run about a 75% success rate and the rest has to be improvised on the spot. It can be as simple as not being able to find a good cut of beef for a steak Oscar or not being able to find ripe mangos for a crab & mango ceviche. I try to find fresh local ingredients whenever possible and work our seafood into popular regional recipes that create a familiar yet exciting flavor profile. I remember going out to a big food show a few years ago in the Mid-West planning on making a Maryland Style Crab Bisque as one of the dishes to serve a few thousand visitors at the show. As I was walking the store I came upon some local wild rice and bought every box they had. From there I created a Crab & Wild Rice Chowder and it was a huge hit with everyone as they knew the flavors, however, “had never thought of putting crab with wild rice”.
Most of these experiences are relatively easy in comparison to my most recent trip to Asia in May. I was over with a group from a major Japanese flavor company touring their facilities in Japan and China. After 10 days , 11 flights and 12 cities between Japan and China we were at our brand new state of the art factory in Zhangpu, China. Luckily, I had been to the city earlier in the year and knew there was one grocery store that had a few, very limited, Western ingredients. The plan was to create a 10 course tasting menu for 20 guests from China and Japan featuring our two company’s products the next afternoon. We would be cooking in a makeshift kitchen that we put together in a brand new, never used before, QA lab in one of the buildings. The kitchen consisted of a thermal circulator that was brought from the US, a toaster oven, two induction cook tops and a small propane stove. I had been planning the meal for weeks and the head of US sales for the Japanese company, who is also a good friend, kept asking me what we were going to make. I repeatedly tried to explain that I would know when we went to the market the day before the event and I saw what ingredients we would have to work with. Needless to say, this did not sit too well with him as he is extremely structured, organized and is used to having every detail planned months in advance. He kept listing ingredients that he wanted to use and I continued to say “we will see what they have”. After a frantic trip to the market we had our ingredients and somewhat of a menu. The plan was to incorporate 14 of their products, including a myriad of Asian style flavors, seasonings, sauces and bases in conjunction with our seafood, some local produce, meat & poultry. The menu was done and I drew each dish with colored pencils, highlighting each component, to use for reference the next day.
As I stated before, nothing ever goes to plan and you have to be willing and able to adapt and overcome. The first hurdle came the night before when I got a call in my hotel room, shortly after 1am, that the motor on the thermal circulator had been fried (I guess just because a plug fits in the outlet doesn’t mean it is getting the correct power!) and the pork belly that it was cooking needed to be rethought. The thermal circulator was replaced with a pot of water on a propane stove with a thermapen to try to control the temperature, which was far from easy. It was 2:30pm when we finally got in the kitchen as our morning plant tours and meeting had run a few hours late and we now had 2 hours to put everything together in a kitchen we had never worked in, no pressure. We put our heads down and started prepping as fast as humanly possible. Thankfully I learned that my friend is an excellent sous chef and despite a few panic attacks as anything and everything that could go wrong (Ziploc bags breaking in our makeshift thermal circulator/hot water bath or blowing circuits and trying to find someone who spoke English to try and reset circuits (my 4 word Mandarin vocabulary surprisingly does not include circuit breaker)) we put out the first dish right on time at 430. This is the menu from that day a photo of 8 out of the 10 dishes (I didn’t realize that I was expected to do show plates for a photographer until dish 3 went out!)
Chilled Jacks Catch Jumbo Lump Crab, Watermelon and Cucumber Salad
Citrus Vinaigrette with Candied Ginger and Lemongrass Seasoning, Cilantro, Scallion
Steamed Local Clams in a Broth of Thai Red Curry Base with Coconut, Citrus, Cilantro
Slow Roasted Chinese Eggplant
Oyster Sauce Glaze
Oh Hot Miso Braised Chicken Wing
Applewood Smoke Infused Roasted Chicken Ramen Soup
Steamed Bok Choy, Buckwheat Noodles, Chicken with Soy Sauce Ramen Broth, Chicken Breast Braised in Lemongrass Seasoning and Roasted Chicken flavor, Ginger, Fresh Citrus.
Glazed Carrots with Miso Ramen Base and Rice Wine Reduction
Sliced Pork Belly Bao
8 Hour Five Spice Braised Pork Belly, Fresh Pickled Cucumber & Red Onion, Cilantro, XO Sauce, Steamed Bao Bun
Stir Fried Noodles with Sake Glazed Shiitake Mushrooms, Fresh Corn and Leeks
and Stir Fried Noodle Sauce
Thai Curry Head-On Shrimp
Coconut Milk and Thai Curry Sauce Broth with Lemongrass Seasoning, Candied Ginger and Plum Wine Pickled Enoki Mushrooms, Fresh Cilantro
Jack’s Catch Jumbo Lump Crab Cake
Seafood Seasoning and Three Citrus Aioli