Crab Cakes Benedict

Even though “crab” is the first word in tonight’s plat du jour, the real star of any Benedict is EGG.  If you are like me, you have only an 80% success rate cracking eggs without breaking the yolk;  to whit, tonight I went through about a dozen eggs in the service of this meal – only 9 of which actually made it to table, in one way or the other.  But boy oh boy was it worth it!  The number of ingredients in this meal is relatively low, but the effort is high – very very high.  This is not an easy meal to execute – especially if you make everything from scratch.  I realized at the last moment that I really needed at least 6 hands to make everything come out hot together, so I had to pull the husbandman in as a pinch flipper/whisker.  For once, his incessant “Is there anything I can do to help?” query (which I always flatly refuse, totalitarian that I am) met with a begrudging “Yes.”  Clayton found himself flipping the crab cakes, and whisking the latter end of the sauce – which he did quite to my exact instructions…which I barked, admittedly, rather frenetically, in the heat of the moment as it were.  But when he and I both released our streaming golden egg yolks over our crispy crab-filled patties, and bathed our sweet-tender shellfish sinews with lemony yellow Hollandaise ooze, and entrapped sensational deliciousness between speared forkfuls of hot-toasted buttered muffins, I had to admit each mouthful was worth having to ask for a hand, and he had to admit each bite was worth my unnecessarily, and undeserved, rancorous tone of voice.

Crab Cakes Benedict

1 lb king crab legs
1 can beer
1 cup panko breadcrumbs, divided
1 tsp Grey Poupon mustard
2 tbs mayonnaise
5 whole eggs, 4 egg yolks
1 cup minced green onion, divided
paprika, sea salt, cracked black pepper
3 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 stick + 2 tbs melted butter
2 tbs EVOO
2 English muffins
white vinegar

Whole Foods was still running their $14/lb special on king crab legs, so I had to buy me at least one more pound before they went back up in price.  I am fascinated by this creature, not only because of its deliciousness, but because of how much work it takes to get to that deliciousness.  These spiny legs with their sharp claws were a challenge to hold, but worth the effort considering how succulent their flesh was.

I have to bend my crab legs at eat joint in order to fit them into my steamer basket in my largest pot, but they just make it.

I steam them for about 5 minutes with the contents of a can of beer and some water added to increase the volume to about 3 cups of liquid total.

Using my kitchen shears to get into each shell, I carefully remove as much meat as I can from the legs and knuckles — all the way up to their very sharp tips, which I managed to pull out entirely unbroken.  My pound of legs yields about 3/4 lb of meat.

Here I have 1/2 of my chopped green onion, my mustard, mayo, one whole egg, 1/2 cup of panko breadcrumbs, some salt, pepper, and about a 1/2 tsp of paprika.  I mix this all together, then add about 1/2 pound of crab meat (reserving some for my dinner tomorrow – why not?), and toss lightly together until just blended.  The mixture is wet, which is good…

… because I’m going to make the patties by rolling loosely packed handfuls of mixture in another layer of panko.  I have to work gingerly, since there is so much crabmeat here the cakes don’t really want to stick together, but the outer breadcrumbs will help them retain their shape.  I make 4 patties, about 1/4lb each, put them on a paper plate and then throw them in the freezer for about 20 minutes to help them set even more.

Eggs.  One has already been used in the crab cake mix, and the rest of these will be my Hollandaise sauce and my poached eggs.

Before I start cracking those babies, I get everything else ready to go.  I need to melt my stick of butter for the sauce, I need to set up poaching liquid for the eggs, a double-boiler for the sauce, and a pan for the crab cakes.  Since I don’t have fancy crap, I jerry-rig stuff, using my metal tongs and a small metal bowl to melt the butter over the 4 cups of water + 1 tbs white vinegar I’m bringing to a boil for the poaching, and a small saucepan 1/2 filled with water to bring to a simmer under a way-too-large metal bowl to make the Hollandaise.

I also fish out these egg-poachers I purchased a while back.  When I make only 1 poached egg at a time, I just create a vortex in the saucepan by whisking the simmering water into a funnel, into which I drop my egg; making 4 poached eggs won’t work that way, especially since I don’t have any real way to hold the eggs once they’re cooked without either cooling them down too much or them continuing to cook.  As it is, I still have to make these in shifts — so the poaching is the last thing I’m going to do.  These aren’t perfect, but they do the job.  I spray each down with Pam, which will help the eggs slide into the water when I want them to.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here…

First, I carefully separate 4 of my eggs, discarding the whites and trapping the yolks in the large bowl I’m using as a double-boiler.  I add my lemon juice to the pan before whisking everything together and placing it over the simmering water in my small saucepan.  It’s imperative the hot water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl, or the eggs might scramble; if they do, adding a little bit of hot water and whisking vigorously will usually smoothen the emulsion back out.

Like so.  While I whisk, I add my melted stick of butter in a steady, fine stream, adding more water as needed to keep the sauce the right consistency.  It takes about 10 minutes of constant whisking to make this sauce – which will thicken upon standing.  (For a more in-depth look at how to make a Hollandaise sauce, check out this posting.)

Meanwhile, I’ve melted 1 tbs butter with my EVOO in my non-stick pan, and have gently placed my half-frozen crab cake patties into the hot fat.  They sizzle temptingly, and after about 5 minutes they are the perfect golden brown for flipping.

Another 5 minutes or so on the other side and they’re ready to go.  (I’m still whisking while this is happening, BTW.)

At the same time, I get my poached eggs started, first by floating them whole (with unbroken yolks) in their little green vessels in my barely simmering (never boiling) water, just long enough to see the whites start to congeal.  When the edges are just white, I tip a little hot water into each vessel to help capture some form, before I tilt the vessels over one at a time, dumping the eggs into the vinegar’d water to poach through completely.  Once I see the whites completely congealed, but the yolks are still *very* runny  — about 2 minutes — I fish each egg out with a slotted spoon.

The final component of my Benedict is, of course, the English muffin base.  Trader Joe’s has named their muffins after two Victorian British Prime Ministers, Benjamin Disreali and William Gladstone.  I don’t know why, but it makes me love this product all the more! (These guys represent the British Government active during the time of my scholarly research into cholera in 19th century British literature, so they already have a warm place in my heart – mistaken miasmatists that they were.) I split two muffins, toast them, and sprinkle my last tablespoon of melted butter into their nooks and crannies.

On top of each muffin goes a crab cake, and on top of each crab cake goes a perfectly poached egg.  On top of each stack I pour my lemony sauce, and scatter the remaining scallions along with some paprika and black pepper.

It seems that the barest pressure — that of my ravenous glance — is all it takes for the trembling golden yolks to burst from their quivering white confines to pour lasciviously over cake, muffin, and plate.  The cakes are super-crunchy and filled with huge bites of tender, buttery crab meat, and the toasted buttered muffins are the perfect starch to sop up the rich flavors of the sauce.  Crab cakes out in the world are so often disappointing: too much bread, too many ingredients, a harsh overpowering mustard sauce that cancels out the sweet sweet crab meat.  But these were the best I’ve ever had, made even more spectacular by the perfectly complimentary egg yolk and bright silky sauce.  I admit it: I licked my plate.  But so did Clayton.  And, dear reader, if you make this dish — so will you.

Breakfast for Dinner: Prosciutto and Green Onion Omelets with All-American Grits

There is this awesome moment in one of my favorite so-bad-it’s-good big-budget all-star-cast total-flop movies where LL Cool J waxes philosophic about the omelet.  (Here’s a clip.  In some language I really can’t identify.  So it’s surreal for me to watch this, knowing it word for word without *really* understanding what words he’s saying… yet it’s the only example of the scene I can find.) A cook, his perfect omelet recipe is the only legacy he can leave, recorded on a hand-held, leagues under the sea and being hunted by artificially intelligent vengeful super-sharks.  A classic story.

Omelets are, in so many ways, the perfect nutritional vehicle.  They shouldn’t take too long to make, or need too many ingredients to pull together.  They are simple and elegant.  But I can never find one I actually *like*.  Most I find at restaurants – from Waffle House’s to Henrietta’s Table’s, are too fluffy, too big, too browned, and with fillings not in my preferred proportions.  There was this one cook at Annenburg  who always made my omelets just the way I liked them: slender, lightly cooked, scattered with savory filling, and molten with just-enough cheese.  I miss that guy; my new job at Harvard no longer comes with Freshman Dining Hall privileges.  But I can do what he did — I just need a breakfast reason, since I generally don’t eat before noon.

This evening, on the way home, Clayton suggested “Breakfast for dinner!”, and although he had some specific menu dictations which I admittedly automatically tuned out, I did latch hold of the general theme – which I mulled over during my first apres-work beer, sorting through my mental recipe box, considering the contents on my pantry, contemplating the level of compromise husbandman  might be willing to entertain to risk reaping the fruits of my reward.  Eventually, I zoomed into some large eggs, American cheese, stone-ground grits, heady prosciutto di Parma, and fresh scallions lingering on the shelves.  I could work with that.

Prosciutto and Green Onion Omelets with All-American Grits

4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2-3 cleaned whole scallions – greens and whites
1/4 lb (6-8 slices) prosciutto di Parma
1/ 4 lb white American cheese
1/2 cup grits
1/2 stick butter
sea salt, cracked black pepper

I’m not a fan of pan-seared prosciutto; I like it tender and freshly sliced.  This comes from the super-nice Whole Foods in Dedham, and it is as good as it gets.  I roll it into a cigar, and roughly chop it.  I’ll add it to my sheath of eggs to be warmed with steam instead of searing it directly on the surface of the pan.

One of the tricks to making a good omelet is having all your ingredients chopped and ready to throw onto the egg, so that it can cook delicately and not risk burning while one futzes with chopping and whatnot.  I split my scallion whites (the solid roots) from the green (hollow tubes), then roughly chop them both.  The whites will be cooked within; the chopped greens scattered fresh atop.

White American cheese has become a guilty pleasure staple in the Fountainhouse.  It melts SO WELL, and adds the right creamy flavor to many preparations.  I admit, though, it was a stretch to use such a pedestrian cheese with such a fine Italian sliced meat – but I frankly had nothing else in the fridge so I figured I’d make it work.  As it turned out, its particular milkiness offered just the right lactic glue for the sweet cured meat and mild scallion snap.

I start my grits before I start my omelets.  They can hold.  1/2 cup grits to 2 cups salted boiling water, set to low,…

… thoroughly stirred, …

… covered, and cooked until all water has evaporated and the grits are thick.  About 10 minutes.

My perfect omelet is made with 2 eggs, not three.  No milk.  No additives to the eggs.  Only eggs – lightly whisked.

Oh.  And butter.  A really healthy pat of butter.  And a non-stick pan, set to medium high to start.  Melt the butter …

… and coat the bottom of the pan entirely with it.  A buttery base is *very* necessary for a Lolitomelet.

Spill your 2 beaten eggs into your hot butter, and swirl to spread across the entire surface of the pan.  Watch for the edges to turn opaque.

Using a plastic spatula, drag those white edges up in a few places, one at a time, flooding those areas with raw egg by tilting the pan, spreading the surface area but keeping the crepe thin.

Reduce the heat to low, allowing the thin omelet to gently cook, until the surface is just barely no longer runny.

Remove the pan from the heat, and sprinkle 1/2 of your chopped prosciutto, scallion whites, and 1/3 your shredded cheese in more-or-less of a line in the center (leaving a wide margin at the edges) of one half of the omelet.  You are aiming for a sealed half-moon huge egg ravioli.

Using that rubber spatula, slide the unladen half of omelet up the side edge of the pan opposite the handle to elevate that ‘flap'; fold it over the meatcheeseonion, lining up the edges to make a nice total package.  You should still be on low heat here — so let it simmer for a moment to melt and warm the filling.

If there was some way I could take my picture and flip my omelet at the same time to give you a real idea of how to do it, I would.  But Lolita’s is a budget-blog, people – and I only have two hands.  To describe: position your omelet with the straight edge perpendicular to the handle, and slide your eggpacket to the very edge of the pan.  Thrust the hand holding the pan firmly and confidently forward a few inches (as if you were stabbing something really stabbable) before quick-yanking-and-stopping back.  Try it; then tell me if it works.  Ideally, your omelet should flip  completely over.  It works for me 99% of the time.  The rest of the time: scrambled surprise!

Gently simmer on medium low until fully cooked and all the cheese is melted — about 3 more minutes.  Slide the omelet off the pan onto a plate, cover it, then do the whole thing again for the second omelet.  It will stay warm the 8 minutes the next plate needs to make.  Meanwhile, the grits should be perfectly thickened and cooked, so a pat of butter, some salt, pepper, and the remaining 1/3 American cheese stirred into the pan will finish the dish.

A delicate, wafer-thin, buttery omelet filled with savory salted Italian pork, creamy cheese, and sweet scallions, topped with thick, hearty, rich cheese grits and a smattering of fresh green onions.  So easy, and although not fancy, certainly not Denny’s, either.  And all pulled together from the pantry and tossed together in barely a half hour.  Clayton is thrilled (easy date), and I’m not unhappy either. After all, he got what he wanted, and I did it my way.  And that’s the equation for a happy marriage.  That, and “happy wife = happy life”.  I leave it to you to determine which holds sway as the ultimate rule…

Weeknight Wondermeal: Baked Eggs and Bacon Cream in Spinach Fettuccine Nests

OK – I admit it.  I failed this weekend — twice.  Epic Fails.  My milk and honey braised fresh ham steak was dry on Saturday night (I covered and cooked what should have remained uncovered to boil off/absorb); my sweet, little, seemingly perfectly formed followed-to-the-letter-instructions hand-made gnocchi absolutely dissolved once they hit the boiling water: I ended up with a very thin sludge.  And the clams in my chorizo cream sauce overcooked while I boiled all-new pasta water  (after hurling the not-cchi into the sink and taking out my culinary frustrations on my husband by telling him to get the $%*!& out of my way, and then to $%*&! the $%*&! off, and then never speak the $%*&! to me again… but I digress) for ill-advised wiggly fettuccine when I should have used something smaller or nothing at all but the crusty bread I had in waiting.

ANYWAY…  Today is today.  And today I done redeemed myself! I may have totally glommed the idea off of the Family Kitchen’s Baked Eggs in Pasta Nests  posting, but I put my own twist to tonight’s delish dinner — and I didn’t even have to go shopping!  Clayton brought home a dozen Chip-in eggs and a pound of Codman Farms bacon he other day, and I already had everything else.  So that’s why this is a *super* Weeknight Wondermeal: it cost me nothing out of pocket tonight, and was a delightful meal I would have paid fresh Benjamins to eat out.  One of the primary criteria of a Weeknight Wondermeal is its simplicity; 6 ingredients (not counting salt and pepper) is all you really need.  Bacon, eggs, butter, cream and pasta are regulars in my fridge — as is usually a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano — so if you are anything like me, you should be able to whip up this quick and elegant take on pasta carbonara any ol’ time.

Baked Eggs and Bacon Cream in Spinach Fettuccine Nests

3 slices bacon
1/2 stick butter
1/4 lb Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 fresh eggs
2 large/4 small nests of spinach fettuccine
salt and pepper
scallions (for garnish)

I begin with my bacon (I’ve never had bacon this fresh before, from an entirely organic source so close to home that my husband is literally feeding next season’s pork belly), which I chop and try out to nice crispy cubelets.  Now… the rest of the meal will take less than 25 minutes: 10 minutes to boil the pasta, make the sauce, and assemble the dish (and, if you’re like me, some sub-urb biscuits), and 15 minutes to bake it (while you make  a quick salad).  So be ready.

I melt my butter in my wok over high heat.  I throw my pasta nests into the salted boiling water on the back burner.

When my butter is melted and just begging to tan, I add my heavy cream and blend well.  I bring this to a simmer for a moment.

Then I add 3/4 of my cheese, which I’ve shredded. (The rest I will thinly shave for a final garnish.)

I blend this well, bringing it to a low simmer to thicken, until it forms a smooth sauce.  I also add some salt and pepper.  (Crushed red pepper flakes, nutmeg, paprika, maybe even a dash of curry powder would work nicely here, too.)

Finally, I add 3/4 of my cooked bacon, and blend well with the sauce, until the flavors are beautifully infused.

It’s  been 10 minutes, and my 11 minute pasta is just slightly undercooked (I know, ‘cuz I bit off a snippet) — perfect!  Using tongs and a meshed spoon, I transfer my pasta to the waiting bacon cream, and toss well.  I add a tablespoon, maybe, of the pasta water, too, just to keep the sauce wet enough to bake later.

Using my tongs, I spin 1/2 of the pasta and sauce into each of two medium (10oz) ceramic ramekins, which I’ve brushed down with melted butter.  I sprinkle most of the rest of my bacon (reserving a few chunks for a final flourish) on top.

The piece of resistance: a whole, cracked, raw egg, dropped into a wee basket I left in the middle of my pasta and sauce nests.  I manage to keep the yolk whole only in one, but the other I rather “hold together” by virtue of a cleverly placed noodle and some dribbled sauce.  I place these into a 350° oven to bake for 15 minutes, or until the whites have set, but the yolk is still glossy and runny.

After coring the best bits out of a loaf of bread destined for nothing (since my husband purchased a fresher loaf of preferred pan this afternoon) with a properly sized wine-glass rim, I brushed each disk with melted butter, and layered them with some of my sprinkled cheese into 4 cups of a buttered muffin tin, and then I stuck them in my oven along with my pasta nests to brown.  I consider these my sub-urb Wonderbread biscuits: quick, easy, and yummy, leaving fodder for croûtons (or compost).  I also threw together a quick salad of baby greens, sliced onion, strips of roasted red peppers, black olives, EVOO, and salt and pepper.  Not that dinner needed these accoutrement — my simmering, saucy noodle nests of runny yolk baked eggs, bacon cream, and spinach fettuccine, studded with snappy scallions and sheets of nutty Parmigiano-Reggiano was a perfect packaged dinner all inandof itself.  I broke my yolk, swirled my spinach tendons, and watched as the yellow bathed each bite in its greasy, glistening goodness.  Good, glistening, gratifying bites as warm to the last as was the first, still baking inside its porcelain prison.  The fresh, cheeky salad balances the richness of the carbonara (and what is pasta carbonara than breakfast pasta: it’s just bacon and eggs, yo), and the buttery bread biscuit is surprisingly ethereal, just the right lightness to complete the experience.  After a few failures this weekend, this simple dish reminds me that I still got it – and wish, that you, dear reader, can get some of this, too.  Hooah!


Baked Eggs and Bacon Cream in Spinach Fettuccine Nests

Baked Eggs and Bacon Cream in Spinach Fettuccine Nests