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Cooking with Rebecca Bent

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Crab Puttanesca: Let crabmeat reinvent your favorite dish

I love puttanesca sauce. It's got a little bite to it and blendes wonderfully with pasta. Now add some fresh Maryland crabmeat into the mix, and you are really on to creating something special.

And don't stop there!

Let crabmeat reinvent your favorite dishes. Maryland crabmeat is healthy, delicious, and, all-American! Crabmeat turns your favorite dishes into something tasty and spectacular.

And this is also a great way to introduce crabmeat to friends and family. It works for me. I ask my guest what their favorite dish is and then prepare it with crabmeat incorporated (and make sure you tell them so they aren't too surprised!) The outcome is always seconds, and sometimes, even thirds...

Crab Puttanesca
Makes 4 Servings

1 pinch salt (for the pasta water)
¾ pounds spaghetti pasta
1½ tablespoon minced roasted garlic
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1½ tablespoons black olive paste
1½ teaspoon Anchovies paste
28 ounces canned whole tomatoes and the liquid, should be broken up with your hands
to be manageable bite size pieces
1 pound backfin crabmeat
optional: ½ teaspoon crusted red pepper flakes
6 roughly chopped kalamata olives
2 tablespoons parsley leaves, finely chopped. Use as garnish

Fill a large pasta pot with cold water (about ¾ of the way full) and place the pot over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, add the salt and pasta, pushing it under the water as it softens. Stir the pasta to ensure it does not stick, and follow the packaging instructions for cooking time; spaghetti usually takes about 7 to 10 minutes. When the pasta is finished cooking, drain it well and set it aside.

Meanwhile prepare the Puttanesca sauce. In a large sauce pot over medium low heat, add in the garlic, capers, olive paste, anchovy paste, and sauté for 1 minutes or until you can start to smell the aroma of the ingredients. Add in the tomatoes. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook the sauce for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the sauce does not stick. Toss in the crabmeat and cook for another 2 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low and add in the optional red pepper flakes. Gently mix everything together until it is well combined.

To serve, evenlly divide up the spaghetti among four plates. Transfer the Crab Puttanesca directly from the pot onto the pasta and sprinkle it with chopped olives and parsley leaves. Serve immediately.

Important Note: if you like to add wine to your puttanesca sauce, by all means do. When I am feeling saucy, I do just that. I like inexpensive red italian table wine. Don't spend more than $10 a bottle and make sure the wine flavor is earthy, not sweet.


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Friday, October 24, 2008

A Traditional Holiday Crab Feast: on your list of things to do…

With the holidays around the corner, it’s that time of year again—planning the holiday menu. And what better way to bring people together for entertainment and great tasting food than to throw your family a traditional Holiday Crab Feast.

If you have already thrown a traditional Crab Feast you know what I am talking about however, if you have never tried this mid-Atlantic regional specialty, it’s worth putting it on your list of things to do. And it doesn’t matter where you live; we ship hard crabs all across the United States.

So how do you throw a crab feast?

You’ll need Maryland live or steamed hard crabs of course, (to purchase hard crabs click here) and if you feel like it consider a few crab balls (2-ounce crab cakes) and tartar sauce. (to purchase crab balls click here and to order tartar sauce click here)

Additionally, it’s key to have a few crab mallets, heavy paper to line the table, seafood seasoning, and if you are so inclined, freezer cold beer or my recipe for Southern Shore Punch, see below. (to purchase accessories click here)

As a kid my Grandmother Edna would throw weekend crab feasts throughout the year. Picking crabs is a process so it is a good opportunity for everyone to sit down and spend quality time together.

How to pick crabs? Watch these two videos for a lesson. (Tonya Picking Crabs, Rebecca's Cousins Picking Crabs)

Another reason to consider a crab feast is that minimal preparation is required and clean up is a breeze—plates aren’t necessary when picking crabs, so when you are done, simply roll up the paper and toss it out.

In my grandmother’s house, traditional crab feasts always included crab balls and tartar sauce. She fried the crab balls in a little butter and served them as appetizers to start the party—a small bite to give you energy for prying open meaty hard crabs.

So, if hanging out and eating great food sounds like fun, consider throwing a crab feast for your next holiday gathering. We’d love to help you out to create lasting and tasty holiday memories!

Watch Rebecca's brother show you how to steam crabs.

Some say that no crab feast is complete without a speciality drink...I can go either way, but if you feel the same, check out my recipe for Southern Shore Punch. It's sure to spice things up a bit...

Southern Shore Punch
4 oranges, peeled and cut into thin round slices
2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced into thin wedges
2 6-ounce frozen lemonade concentrate
1 6-ounce frozen cranberry juice concentrate
2 liters Sprite
½ liter Southern Comfort

In a large pitcher combine the lemonade and cranberry concentrate. Add in the sprite and southern comfort and mix until the concentrate is dissolved. Add in the oranges and apples and serve with chipped ice. If you don’t want to serve alcohol at your crab feast, just omit the Southern Comfort from the recipe.


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Monday, October 20, 2008

Breaded soft-shell crabs: Grandmother Edna’s favorite

Breaded soft-shell crabs are delicious and wonderful served over greens, tucked in a sandwich, or chopped up over a bowl of pasta—the texture and flavor of the crispy crab compliments just about anything. This recipe can be prepared with the top shell removed or intact, either or; it’s just a matter of preference.

This recipe for breaded soft-shell crab was one of my Grandmother Edna’s favorite. She would indulge and fry her soft-shell crabs in butter, though here I use olive oil.

When I was a kid, in the Spring when the moon was full, we used collect our flashlights and head down to the pier. We’d suspend ourselves precariously over the dock and dangle a long net into the water and scoop up the soft-shell crabs that were hanging onto the pylons. Every once in a while one of my cousins would fall in filling the evening with laughs, good stories, and eventually when we headed back to the house tasty soft-shell crabs.

Edna’s Breaded Soft-Shell Crabs with Thousand Island Dressing
Makes 4 servings
For the Crabs:
8 Hotel soft-shell crabs, with the top shell removed (see below for instructions) or intact, your choice (click here to purchase soft-shell crabs)
1 cup milk
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil for frying Handful of greens

For the Thousand Island Dressing:
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon pickle relish juice

In a large metal bowl, combine the crabs and milk, cover with plastic wrap, and marinate for 15 minutes at room temperature.

Place the cornmeal and bread crumbs in a shallow bowl and mix and then set aside.

In a skillet large enough to hold 4 crabs, add in the oil and place it over medium-high heat.

Remove the crabs from the marinade, shake off the excess liquid, and transfer them to the bowl of cornmeal and bread crumbs. One at a time, coat both sides of the crab with the mixture. Place the crabs into the hot skillet and sprinkle them with salt. Sauté the crabs for about 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until slightly crispy.

Meanwhile, prepare the Thousand Island Dressing. In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, ketchup, and pickle juice. Whisk together until well combined and smooth.

To serve, place the soft-shell crabs on a plate with a handful of greens and drizzle everything generously with the dressing. Serve immediately.

To prepare this recipe with the top shell removed: insert your fingers or the knife and unfold the crab’s apron, located in the middle of the crab’s body. Pull it back away from the body, while also pulling and lifting up the top shell. Pull it off and discard.


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Monday, October 13, 2008

Crab Marinara Pizza: delicious hot or cold

Crabmeat Thin Crust Pizza is delicious hot or cold and perfect folded over like a sandwich and eaten with your hands. I first started making crabmeat pizza several years ago. I had a family party to plan and wanted a meal that was going to be casual, fun, and delicious. Everyone loves pizza in my family (think large Sicilian family), so I set out to find a way to make this dish my own. And what better way than to convert this typical Italian American recipe to include my favorite ingredient: Maryland Blue Crab! The results were better than expected, in a mere 30 minutes, all the pizza had been devoured. I had to scramble back to the kitchen to whip up more crabmeat pizza but it’s ok, when it comes to sharing my passion for everything blue crab, I am more than willing. And the best accolades came from my Sicilian grandmother Josey when she pulled me aside and patted my arm. I got a nod from her and knew that I had a hit.

Crab Marinara Pizza
Makes 4 servings

For the Pizza:
1 tablespoon flour, if necessary when rolling out the pizza dough
1 store-bought Pizza Dough (for an 12-inch pizza)
olive oil spray
16 ounces Crab marinara sauce (click here to purchase)
Optional: a handful sundried tomatoes, finely chopped

For the Toppings:
½ pound fresh backfin crabmeat, picked through for shells (click here to purchase)
½ cup softened cream cheese
16 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
1 teaspoon roasted minced garlic (store-bought)

Place the oven rack on the lowest shelf of the oven and heat the oven to 450° F. for at least 15 minutes.

On floured surface, turn out the pizza dough. Begin rolling out the dough with a floured wooden rolling pin to form a 12-inch circle or square no thicker than ¼ inch. The crust should be very thin. Lightly spray the pizza pan with the olive oil spray. Transfer the rolled-out dough onto a pizza pan. Swirl the marinara sauce around the center of the pizza, leaving a ½-inch bare ring around the outside. Sprinkle the sauce with the optional sundried tomatoes. Lightly spray the exposed crust with olive oil. Set aside.

Prepare the toppings. In a medium bowl combine the crabmeat, cream cheese, mozzarella, and roasted garlic and mix until well blended.

Cover the pizza with the cheese mixture, dropping little clumps over the sauce.

Carefully place the pizza in the oven and bake for 12 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the crust is cooked and golden brown. Depending on your oven, this cooking time may vary. When the pizza is done, remove it from the oven and serve immediately.


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Friday, October 3, 2008

Crab Imperial, a Tasty Memorable Dish

I have fond memories of Crab Imperial because it reminds me of my grandfather Calvin. He would save the hard crab shells after picking and instruct me to clean them because my fingers were small and could do the best job.

The crab imperial stuffing is baked and can be served in the actual crab shell, scallop shell, or glass crab shells which makes this dish the perfect introduction to crab: it’s delicious and visually memorable. My grandmother Edna would spread mayonnaise over the crab imperial before baking. As the mayo heats up in the oven, it turns golden brown.

After the meal, the family would gather to tell stories and watch the sun set on the Bay...

Crab Imperial
Makes 4 servings

½ cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon Mild Seafood Seasoning (click here to purchase)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup mayonnaise
1 pound backfin crabmeat (click here to purchase)
4 crab shells or molds, cleaned and dried

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine the bread crumbs, butter, cream, egg, seafood seasoning, Worcestershire, and ½ cup of the mayonnaise. Mix well.

Gently fold in the crabmeat and form the mixture into 4 parts. Avoid over-mixing. Lay the crab shells or molds on a sheet pan. Stuff each shell with a mound of crabmeat, being careful not to over pack.

Spread the remaining ½ cup of mayonnaise over the crab mounds until it is completely covered. Sprinkle generously with paprika.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Serve immediately.


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