A springtime twist on the classic crab cake

April 30, 2014 

As the weather gets warmer, I cook lighter. And in The Husband’s taxonomy of food, crab cakes are relatively light. So I thought I’d employ a couple of seasonal stars — peas and radishes — to put a spring spin on them.

I blithely went shopping for fresh crabmeat at my local market, but found to my horror that it’s almost unaffordably pricey — and that pasteurized refrigerated crabmeat isn’t much cheaper. In search of an ingredient with which to stretch the crab (I thought of it as Crab Helper), I settled on boiled shrimp, which are readily available, but not astronomically expensive. Happily, the crab and the shrimp played very nicely together.

As this also is the season for fresh peas, I added some of them to the crab/shrimp mix. Their natural sweetness chimes in well with the shellfish, and they add a little crunchy pop to the texture of the cakes.

Flavor and texture aside, I used to discount the nutritional value of peas, until I finally scrutinized the data and discovered that the little fellas are packed with protein, fiber and micronutrients. If you find fresh peas at the farmers market, by all means scoop them up. But keep in mind that the sugar in fresh peas starts turning to starch the minute they’re harvested, so be sure to bring them home, shell them and boil them right away.

And if your only option is frozen peas, don’t despair. Those guys are picked at the height of their ripeness and blanched immediately in water, which sets their flavor and texture.

We bind up the cakes with eggs, mayonnaise and panko breadcrumbs, then season them with tarragon, which always teams up nicely with both shellfish and peas. If you’re not a fan of tarragon, which is unpleasantly reminiscent of licorice to some folks, substitute some dill, chives or parsley. The panko does double duty, thickening the interior of the cakes and adding crunch to their crust. And as long as you brown the cakes in a nonstick or stick-resistant skillet, you won’t have to use much oil.

The cakes are topped off with a peppery cream flavored by both horseradish and red radishes. Kissing cousins from the same family — brassicaceae — the radishes add a little kick to the otherwise bland shellfish.

Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows.

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