South-of-the-Border Crab Cakes

We are on a bit of a Southwest/Mexican kick at our house recently, and there are two likely reasons. First, it’s grilling season, and we enjoy cooking outdoors where it is already hot rather than heating up the house with the oven or stovetop. Southwest flavors go hand-in-hand with the grill. The other reason for this spicy flavor trend is that when my husband, Les, and I make anything with jalapenos or cilantro or chipotle, we usually begin with fresh ingredients, which means we stay on the lookout for other ways to use the remainder of those fresh items. Last week, we hosted one of Les’s buddies for dinner in our home, and our entire meal followed this theme, from the pineapple-cilantro mules and a tropical shrimp-crab ceviche to the cilantro-marinated skirt steak with handmade tortillas, all the way through to a salty-citrusy Paloma pie, which I will be sharing with you very soon. Ooh, I do love a theme party.

There are many ways to enjoy the flavors that are beloved south of the border, and this time, I’m diving into the ocean to put a slightly spicy, southwestern twist on fresh crab cakes. These easy-to-make patties are Mexed out with minced jalapenos, red onions, fire-roasted corn and a chipotle-spiked mayonnaise binder. I coated them with panko crumbs and pan-fried them for a crispy edge that kept all the tender, delicate crab nicely contained.

These crab cakes have just the right amount of heat, and the panko breading makes them nice and crispy.

What I love about this recipe (besides the fact that it was simple to make in stages when I had free moments through the day) is that it can be imagined and served in various ways—we paired the crab cakes with sautéed zucchini and onions for a light, low-carb weeknight dinner, but you could just as easily turn it into a crab cake sandwich on a brioche bun, with a chipotle-infused tartar sauce. Or perhaps as a Mexican-style Sunday brunch benedict, atop a crispy fried corn tortilla with a poached egg and green chili aioli. You could even make them itty-bitty and serve them as an appetizer. If you wanted to go way outside the box (or shell, as it were), you could swap the crab for drained, chopped hearts of palm and make them vegetarian! I mean, it’s your party. I’m only here to offer inspiration and pictures.

This recipe follows the same general ratio of ingredients as the scallion-sriracha salmon cakes I shared a few months ago and the artichoke-crab cakes that I put on top of a salad. Hey, that gives me another idea—why couldn’t these south-of-the-border crab cakes adorn a Tex-Mex salad? Of course they could.


Serves 2

Ingredients

1/3 cup canola mayo

1 Tbsp. chipotle w/ adobo puree* (see notes)

2 Tbsp. minced jalapeno

2 Tbsp. minced red onion

2 Tbsp. fire-roasted corn, thawed and patted dry

1/2 beaten egg (save the rest for another use or discard it)

Salt, pepper and garlic powder

1/4 cup panko crumbs (plus 1/4 cup extra for shaping)

6 oz. lump crab meat, picked over to remove pieces of shell

Small handful of cilantro, optional for serving


*Notes

To make the chipotle with adobo puree, empty an entire can of chipotles in adobo sauce into a food processor or blender. Pulse, then run continuously until the mixture is relatively smooth. You will only use a small amount of the mixture for this recipe. We use up the rest of it in a number of ways—in deviled eggs, hummus, homemade bbq sauce, hot dog chili, or anything else you want to give a little smoky, spicy kick in the pants. For sure, try Les’s smoky guacamole, which includes a few tablespoons of this pureed chipotle with adobo.


Instructions

Combine mayonnaise and chipotle to desired spiciness. Reserve a few tablespoons of this mixture to serve alongside the finished crab cakes. I transferred it to a small zip top bag, so I could drizzle the cakes with it.

Add the onions, jalapeno and corn to the chipotle mayo and stir until blended. Stir in the half amount of beaten egg. Fold in the crab, taking care not to break up the lumps. Sprinkle some panko crumbs into your hand, and gently shape the mixture into four patties. The mixture will be quite messy, but it will firm up in the fridge.

Arrange the cakes on a parchment-lined sheet; cover with plastic wrap and chill at least one hour, though two hours is better.

Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Swirl in about 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil. When oil begins to shimmer, carefully arrange the crab cakes into the skillet and leave them, undisturbed, until the bottom edges appear to be crispy. This should be about 4 minutes. Gently turn the cakes over to cook the same amount of time on the second side.

Serve as desired, with reserved chipotle mayo for dressing or dipping.



Cilantro-marinated Skirt Steak

There is a glaring disparity between the typical celebratory rituals honoring one’s parents. On Mother’s Day, the gifts we give are generally aimed at relaxation or pampering for mom, such as spa treatments or beautiful flower arrangements. We take mom out to brunch to give her a break from cooking and cleaning up the dishes. But on Father’s Day, which is coming up this Sunday, we put dear old dad straight to work. The annual occasion may as well be Black Friday for the stores that sell power tools and bbq equipment, two of the most popular categories of items we give dad to “honor” him. And, in the days when families still had landline telephones*, Father’s Day marked the highest day of every year for collect calls.

*For anyone born after 1990: our phones used to have long, twisty cords and they were plugged into the wall, so you could only use them at home. They were used exclusively for speaking to someone else, who also had to be home, or else it would just ring and ring. It’s true—this old-timey relic didn’t even offer games or weather apps or texting or anything cool. I know, crazy, right?! It was brutal. You had to memorize the phone number for the house you were calling, and you put your finger into the number holes and turned the dial to make a call. It took forever. And it cost extra to call your dad if he lived far away, but you could ask the operator (a phone assistant—kind of like Siri, but a real person) to make it a “collect” call, and that meant dad got the bill for it. That part was kind of cool.


That’s still kind of how Father’s Day works—you sit back and relax, while dad builds stuff and mows the lawn and slaves away at the grill to make dinner. To be fair, however, I have never known any man, father or otherwise, who did not greatly enjoy these kinds of gifts, and time spent cooking animal meat over a fire, so it works out perfectly. Grilling is in their DNA, and most men I know are pretty darn good at it. My husband, Les, is no exception, as he proved again this past weekend, when he finished what I started with this mouthwatering skirt steak recipe. I made the marinade, and then, while I was busy inside making drinks and setting the table, Les worked his magic on the grill, delivering this fantastic skirt steak.

The peppers and onions were grilled, too. YUM

If you have never had skirt steak, first of all, you are missing out on what I believe is the very best cut for fajitas. It comes from the front-underside of the cow, a bit more forward than flank steak. There’s a lot to love about skirt steak; for one thing, it has generous marbling for exquisite flavor and texture. It is thin, so it grills up in a hurry (and you do want to cook it quickly). It takes a marinade really well, and that means you can send it off in whatever flavor direction strikes your fancy. For an Asian stir-fry meal, you might marinate it in a garlic and soy mixture. At our house, we tend to favor Mexican and Southwest flavors, and I’ll show you how we bathed our skirt steak in fresh lime juice, garlic, onions and a big, fat handful of fresh cilantro.


The skirt steak we used came from a local butcher, and I am turning to these farm-focused artisan purveyors more and more. I appreciate their sustainable practices, which are more respectful to the animals’ natural grazing habits, and the flavor of pasture-raised beef is exceptional. It must have been my lucky day, because this skirt steak was also dry-aged, an air-curing process that intensifies the beefy flavor. You can read more about the difference here, if you’d like.

Most of my instruction is centered on the making of the marinade. I keep asking Les to take pictures of what he does on the grill, but he keeps forgetting, which may be his subconscious way of saying, “this is my job, just let me do it.” So, if you have questions about that part, call a dad.


Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds beef skirt steak

1/2 medium onion, rough chopped

1 medium jalapeno, seeds removed and rough chopped

3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped

Fat handful of fresh cilantro, stems and all (be sure to wash it)

Zest and juice of 1 lime

A few shakes of ground cumin

Kosher salt and fresh black pepper

About 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or canola oil


Instructions

For ease of grilling (and, later, slicing), I recommend cutting the skirt steak into manageable pieces, about 6 inches long. Arrange the pieces of steak in a large, glass baking dish. Generously sprinkle the meat with kosher salt on all sides.

Combine the onion, jalapeno, garlic, cilantro, lime and spices in a food processor. Pulse a few times to rough chop everything, then scrape down the sides and turn the processor on to run continuously. Slowly drizzle the oil into the processor as it runs, and continue until the mixture is uniform and somewhat thick.

Pour the marinade evenly over the steak, turning each piece to ensure equal coverage. Cover the baking dish and refrigerate at least 2 hours, up to 6 hours* (no longer, or the acid will begin to break down the meat fibers).

Grill over high heat for a short period of time until meat is seared (you can cut into a piece to check its done-ness to your liking), and immediately wrap it up in a double layer of foil. Rest the wrapped meat on the cutting board for about 5 minutes before slicing—against the grain, always. For skirt steak, this means making your cuts along the longer side of the meat, another reason it is helpful to cut the skirts into pieces.

So. Much. Flavor.

We enjoyed our cilantro-marinated skirt steak with grilled peppers and onions, on handmade flour tortillas (I used this recipe) with sour cream and Les’s incredible smoky guacamole.