Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Not Just Because It’s Lent...
What’s cooking? No-Fuss Crabby Cakes with Tartar Sauce

It’s Lent. And despite the solemn nature of the season, the Kitchen Goddess confesses that she is better at denial than self-denial.

I am not now nor have I ever been a Catholic. But I was buoyed recently by learning that Pope Francis has sort of redefined the self-denial bit for anyone who wants to participate in Lent. He says we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others, then he quotes Saint John Chrysostom, who said, “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

Now let me say here that the Kitchen Goddess has no intention of sleeping on the floor or eating ashes. (The sighing part is familiar.) But I like the idea of putting in a little extra spiritual time during Lent by doing good for others in ways that connect to food. That Father Frank is my kind of guy.

If you are similarly inclined in this season before Easter, and want to think of Lent more in terms of sharing than despairing, here are some ideas that might inspire you. A quick Google search under “food bank” or “food pantry” followed by the name of your state or city will lead you to a wealth of more specific opportunities.

❶ Volunteer:
– to deliver for Meals On Wheels
– to help serve or cook at a soup kitchen
– to work checking in food/repackaging at a local food bank
– to pick up food donations from restaurants or grocery stores going to homeless shelters or food            banks.
❷ If you’re in the Newark/New York City area, make bag lunches for any of the several programs that feed the homeless.
❸ Donate food to animal rescue programs (checking first to see what they accept/need).
❹ Participate with organizations like Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey or DriveASenior ( in Austin, operations that help seniors or otherwise homebound folks with grocery shopping.
❺ Make dinner for a sick or housebound friend.

* * *

Even if you’re into self-denial, you have to eat sometime. And many people like at least to observe meat-free Fridays during the Lenten season. The Kitchen Goddess likes to do her part with a handful of recipes for non-meat dishes.

Today’s dish is so easy you’ll wish you could afford to eat crab every week. I adapted this version from one on the very excellent blog, SPOON FORK BACON. I particularly like it because the cakes are light and crabby, without that dense, bready/mayonnaise-y texture you often find. One reason is that the recipe calls for lump crabmeat, which, yes, is more expensive than backfin crabmeat, which consists of broken lumps and flakes of white body meat. It’s a question of texture. And use of the measuring cup to form the cakes means more uniformity but less mess on the hands – both factors high on the Kitchen Goddess’s list. The tartar sauce I’ve listed here is from a previous Spoon & Ink post and is courtesy of my friend Joy.

No-Fuss Crabby Cakes

Adapted from the food blog, SPOON FORK BACON.

Makes 11-12 cakes. Serves 4 as a main course, or 11-12 as an appetizer along with a salad of mâche or microgreens.

1 pound lump crabmeat
1 ear sweet corn
1 medium red bell pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper (or 3 teaspoons sweet paprika plus ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper)
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon (or 1 rounded teaspoon dried tarragon)
2 teaspoons fresh chives, chopped
½ lemon, zested and juiced
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (start with ½ teaspoon salt and 8-10 grinds pepper, then taste and adjust)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the corn cob and discard the cob. Cut the bell pepper into ¼-inch dice. In a large mixing bowl, combine all crab cake ingredients except the butter and gently stir together until evenly mixed. Take care not to overmix, so that the crab lumps maintain their structure as much as possible.

Preheat the broiler.

In a large, ovenproof skillet (like cast iron or Le Creuset), melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Using a ⅓-cup measuring cup as a mold, make a (gently packed) mound of crab mixture and unmold it into the hot butter. Repeat five more times to get six of the mounds into the skillet, at least an inch apart.

Let the crab cakes cook in the skillet without disturbing them for 4-5 minutes, or until you can see a brown crust forming on the bottoms of the cakes. Transfer the skillet to the broiler and broil 3-4 inches from the heat for 3-4 minutes or until the tops of the cakes get lightly browned.

Yes, I know there's one less in the skillet. We liked them so much I made them twice and added the bell pepper.

Remove the cakes to a plate lined with paper towels and place an aluminum foil tent over the first batch while the second batch cooks.

Wipe the skillet out with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the rest of the crab mixture.

Serve the crab cakes accompanied by lemon wedges and/or tartar sauce.

Kitchen Goddess notes on the tartar sauce: (1) Make the tartar sauce at least an hour before you serve it, so that the flavors can bloom. (2) For the herbs, I don’t think there’s any comparison between the flavor of fresh parsley and dried, so treat yourself to a bunch of parsley. Rinse it off, spin it dry, roll it in paper towels, and stuff it into a zip-lock bag, and it’ll last at least a week. FYI, the Kitchen Goddess always has fresh parsley in the crisper. Tarragon is another thing altogether, so if you have some growing in your garden or you bought some for another reason, by all means use fresh. But I wouldn’t buy any just to get a single tablespoon of the stuff, in which case dried tarragon is fine. (3) The sauce will keep for at least a week in the fridge, so you may want to double it to have available for next Friday’s fish.

Joy’s Tartar Sauce

Makes about 1½ cups.

1 cup mayonnaise, light or regular
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped (or a rounded teaspoon of dried tarragon)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream (or half-and-half)
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1-2 tablespoons minced scallion
1 tablespoon capers, drained, plus ½ teaspoon of the juice
2-3 tablespoons dill pickle relish
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.


  1. Lee! I am off to make this in short order! It sounds delicious and I promise to report back!

    Also, thank you so much for including in your blog roll. I am really so honored.

    Bless you!

    1. Thanks, Maggie -- they are delicious. And I've been a fan of Notes from Maggie's Farm for a long time. Such nice writing, and lots of clever ideas.