Baked Curried Crab Dip

It’s dungeness crab season in Northern California. Out of all of the options, this is one of my favorite ways to prepare crab; it’s an adaptation of a recipe that my parents got from one of their friends, who probably got it from a cookbook somewhere down the line, but I don’t even have my parents version written down anywhere.

(Even though I kind of wanted to call my folks and get the real recipe that I remembered, I was baking apple pie at the same time I was getting the crab dip ready.  I was way too covered in flour and crab juice to want to touch my phone.  Sometimes you get sucked into The Projects so far that texting someone for help is just hopeless, you know? Deep in the flour jungle, there’s no cell reception, you gotta just use your wits and fend for yourself.  No turning back.)Is it weird to work on these two projects at the same time? Yes.  Is apple pie delicious with no cinnamon, extra nutmeg, less sugar, and 1/2 c. of maple syrup? Also yes.  Anyway, the lack of recipe didn’t matter at all: the dip was delicious.  It being the holidays and all, if you were wanting to make some kind of festive party appetizer, this would be a strong candidate. Crab seems really high end, expensive ingredient, but it’s only $4.99/lb. for a whole steamed crab at the grocery store right now, so it’s really completely reasonable.

A note on breaking down whole crabs:

You don’t need a fancy seafood cracker.  I used a rolling pin.  Start with the claws and just give them a good smack and they’ll crack really easily. If you don’t have a rolling pin, you can also use the non-sharp side of a big chef knife or cleaver, though this is slightly less effective.  You could also use a rock or something.  No need for special tools.  If you’ve never done this before,  I found this post here with good instructions for cleaning and cooking crab. 

So, you may notice that there’s no picture of the finished dip.

We ate it, really really fast.  Out of the oven and poof it was gone before I could think about my camera.  Don’t let the lack of an image fool you, though, you should still make this.

Baked Curried Crab Dip

Serves: about 6 people as an appetizer

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. cooked lump crabmeat*
  • 1 block of softened low-fat cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbs. low-fat sour cream
  • 1 tbs. whole grain mustard
  • 1/8 c. minced onion
  • 1 tbs. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. turmeric**
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. grated fresh horseradish (or you can use prepared in a jar, if you don’t have access to fresh)
  • 2 tbs. fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 c. shaved parmesan cheese plus another 1/4 c. to put on top of the dip

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a mixing bowl, gently fold together all of the ingredients (except 1/4 c. of the shaved parmesan cheese).  Lightly grease a small baking dish.  Spread the mixture evenly in the baking dish and top with 1/4 c. shaved parmesan.  Bake for 15 min., or until the cheese on top has melted and the dip looks very lightly browned around the edges.   Serve hot, with crackers or baguette.  You can also make this dip a day ahead, store it in the fridge covered with saran, and pop it in the oven right before you want to serve it.

Oh, I’m 99% sure that my oven isn’t cooking at accurate temperatures right now, so I have to give a disclaimer and say that the times may be off.  Use yer eyeballs, you’ll know when it’s done.

 

*This was about half of the meat from a whole dungeness crab for me.  I’m saving the shells and the other half of the meat to make crab bisque.

**Curry powder works fine, though I don’t usually keep it in my spice cabinet.  Even garam masala would work if you don’t have turmeric. The point it for it to taste vaguely curried, not for you to go spend money. 

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Osso Bucco, or A Beginner’s Guide To Braising

I absolutely love osso bucco.  Luxuriously rich-tasting lamb or veal shanks simmered in liberal amounts of wine wine can make our whole ranch smell amazing.  And the bones, the bones: the best osso bucco has big, rustic cross sections of marrow-filled bones that cook with all of the vegetables, imparting the most wonderful flavors.  Working with meat like this makes me feel like I’ve traveled back in time.  There’s something so beautiful and primitive about it, the polar opposite of the styrofoam packages of chicken breasts in the grocery store.  I got this meat from from Owen Family Farms.  They have really gorgeous lamb, pastured veal and acorn-finished pork, and I’ve always been very happy with the quality of their products.  The meat is most certainly on the pricey side, but I’d much rather have one lovingly prepared dish a week using ethically raised local meats than seven days of the cheaper stuff from the grocery store.  If you treat this kind of meat properly, a little also goes a long way.  My osso bucco recipe has a different ratio of meat to vegetables than most other recipes; I think that if you can flavor a whole pot of vegetables with one pound of lamb, than you absolutely should. My mom used to make this when we were growing up, and my favorite part wasn’t even the actual meat , it was the luscious sauce and the vegetables spooned over my dad’s saffron risotto. I used to find cooking techniques like this intimidating,  so I didn’t start tackling braises until a few years ago.  I’ve realized now that they’re really very simple, and I hope that anyone out in the internet universe that may read this will see that it’s possible to make a dish worthy of being served in the fanciest restaurant without much cooking experience at all.  When I make a braise or a roast, I get it started in the morning, right when I’m drinking coffee and eating breakfast, because time is really the secret ingredient.  Cooking meat very slowly on low heat for a whole day will ensure that it’s completely fork-tender and that the sauce is rich and delicious.  Every few hours I’ll give it a stir or add some stock, but there’s very little work involved other than the first 20 minutes or so of cooking.

Osso Bucco

Cook Time: 30 minutes active cooking, and then 4-8 hours of sitting around while it simmers

Serves: 2-4

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 lbs. lamb or veal shanks*
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 pieces of bacon, diced
  • 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 4 c. diced carrots
  • 4 c. diced celery ribs
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 c. crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bottle of white wine (nothing too sweet)
  • 4-8 c. of chicken/lamb/vegetable stock or some combination of stock and water
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley, for serving
  • lemon zest, for serving
  • 1/2 c. shaved parmesan cheese, for serving

Dredge the lamb shanks in flour.  In a large soup pot set on medium heat, saute the bacon and the fresh herbs until the bacon is crispy but not burnt.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon pieces from the pot and set them aside.  Brown the lamb shanks in the bacon fat.  When they’re nicely seared, remove the lamb shanks from the pot and set them aside.  Put the chopped carrots, onions and celery in the pot and saute for 5 minutes.  Add the crushed tomatoes and saute for about 10 minutes, or until the tomato sauce turns a darker shades of red and starts to caramelize (but not burn!).  Turn the heat to high.  Pour in the bottle of wine.  Pour in 4 c. stock.  Put the lamb shanks and the bacon back in the pot.  Let everything come up to a simmer and then turn the heat to very low.  Cook for atleast 2 hours but up to 8 hours.  You’ll need to add more stock occasionally and give everything a stir to make sure nothing sticks.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over risotto or pasta, sprinkled with a touch of lemon zest, parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

For anyone that hasn’t tackled something like this before, here a few pictures to make it more clear:

“Dredging” just means putting a light coating of flour on the meat.  This helps get a really nice sear on the outside, which in turn helps develop rich, delicious meat flavors in the braise. You can sauté the bacon in some olive oil if it makes it easier, but if you let it sit in the pan for a moment, the fat will start to render out, and you can have bacon fat as the only oil used to cook everything,  (which is almost always a good thing.)  Truthfully, I mainly used bacon because I’m out of olive oil and butter, and you could skip this step and just use olive oil if you want the recipe to be a bit lower in fat.It was only after I photographed all of this that I realized just how dirty my stove looks.  When you’re searing the lamb shanks, you’ll notice that the pan will be starting to get all brown and crusty.  Don’t worry- that mean’s you’re doing it right.  If it starts to smoke, turn the heat down to very low.  Add your carrots, celery and onions next, the mirepoix. Add the crushed tomatoes and keep cooking everything.  The goal is to get the tomatoes to caramelize and turn a darker shade of reddish-brown because of the wonderful flavors that will happen.I’m not sure if the difference between these two pictures is that obvious; it’s kind of tricky to get good photos and not ruin dinner at the same time.Now turn the heat up really high just to make sure the pot is nice and hot for this part.  The next step is my favorite, when you deglaze the pan with white wine.  The wine pulls up all of that caramelized tomato stuff and brown lamb bits from the bottom of the pot and turns it into the beginning of a really killer sauce.Now just add the stock and meats, turn the heat down to very low, and wait.  Here’s what it will look like when it’s finished:If you’re in love with someone and want them to love you back, make this for them.  Trust me, it’s amazing.

*For people who aren’t so fond of gamey meats, chicken thighs will also work quite well (even though it’s not as traditional).  If you have a freezer full of wild game could substitute duck or venison.  And, shockingly, these recipe is easily made vegan.  Instead of using meat, I substitute shiitake mushrooms and sliced parsnips or rutabagas.  I think the unique flavor of these root vegetables and mushrooms kind of mimics the rich taste of lamb.  If you’re using vegetables, no need to dredge them in flour.  You can make a roux and thicken the sauce with flour if you want, but it’s not really necessary.

Freezer Space: Venison Spiedies

I’ve never been hunting in my life, not ever. (Once, I had my shotgun out to clean it and a turkey pretty much walked right by me into the woods, so I went after it. He got away before I could get near him again-  I’m pretty sure he got spooked by my pink hoodie and big silver earrings.)  My lack of experience isn’t out of reluctance to go, but rather that I know so many hunters already that we have a fully stocked freezer of overflow meat from other people’s freezers. It seems ridiculous to kill anything else when we already have plenty of meat to eat.

This post is going to be the first in a series called Freezer Space, designed to get that meat out of the freezer and onto plates.  Both wild and farm-raised meats can sometimes be intimidating to cook with since they may look and taste so much different from their shrink-wrapped grocery store counterparts. With the right cooking techniques, however, they are much more delicious and rewarding to cook.  My other goal is to win over the picky eaters  (mom, I mean you here) who see a frozen package of venison and squirm with disgust, opting instead for a bland looking, shrink-wrapped package of chicken breasts from the grocery store.

If you don’t have wild game in your freezer and want to get some, try bartering. (“Hey, I know you go hunting all the time, is there any way I could trade you a jar of marmalade for some stew meat?”)

Marinade It: Venison Backstrap Spiedies

Cooking wild game is never the time to be lazy with your cooking techniques. The different flavors and textures may taste unusual, but if you take extra care to treat the meat really well, these flavors will elevate your dish instead of detract from it. If you’ve never tried it before, venison is quite lean and tastes similar to beef.   Since the animals run wild, though, it can be hard to predict exactly what the meat will be like before you cook it.  Take the extra time to marinade your venison and it will be moist, juicy, tender and packed with flavor.

Spiedies are kebabs made with lamb, pork, and less often beef or venison.  It’s one of those strange regional foods that most people have never heard of, but if you’ve spent time anywhere around Binghamton, NY, you know how delicious they are.  The tangy vinegar marinade makes the meat explode with this wonderful addictive bright flavor, the perfect counterpart to richer meats like lamb or venison.  Usually the meat is cubed, cooked on skewers and served on soft Italian bread, but I left sliced the venison into steaks and left them whole.

There are two different possible options for making spiedies.  Saveur has a great recipe for the marinade here.  If you want to splurge and be lazy, this is one of the few times I would actually recommend buying the pre-made marinade right from the famous Lupo’s Spiedies website since they’re the people that do it the best.  If you have a freezer full of venison, I would highly recommend ordering a few bottles to keep in your pantry. The spiedies are delicious hot off the grill and also make amazing leftovers for sandwiches, and will win over pretty much everyone.  One of my friends tried these when J. and I made them, and the conversation went like this:

“This is really venison?”

“Yup.”

“Is it farm-raised?”

“Nope, a dude down the road shot it.”

“Really?”

“Yup.”

“Venison?”

“Yup.”

“Not farm-raised?”

Etc., etc.

Venison Spiedies

Cook Time: to marinade: between 4 hours and 4 days, to grill: around an hour, including preheating the grill

Serves: 4-6 depending on portion sizes

  • 1 1/2 lbs. venison (I used backstrap, a high quality cut similar to filet mignon, but really any venison would be fine)
  • 1 16-oz bottle of spiedie marinade, (or from scratch)

Trim any excess fat or gristle off your meat.  Cut into the desired size steaks or cubes.  If you’re using really tender cuts of venison such as backstrap, you can get away with marinading  the meat for just a few hours.  For tougher cuts, I would recommend cutting the meat into cubes and leaving it to marinate in the fridge for 3-4 days, then cooking it on skewers. 

Preheat a weber grill to medium-high heat and add few pieces of hickory wood to the charcoal briquettes for a mild smoky flavor.  Grill the venison steaks until they’re cooked to around medium, just a few minutes on each side (the cooking time depends on the thickness, obviously).

Serve with italian bread and whichever bbq sides make you happy: corn on the cob, pasta salad, greens, baked beans…