People in Maryland rightfully defend the Chesapeake Bay crab cake as something not to be messed with. There are debates about what works best — broiled, deep-fried, pan-fried — but, as for basic ingredients, the purists want crabmeat to dominate. And while there is also some debate about that — backfin or lump? — I concede that the best crab cakes emphasize crab. Experienced diners know when there’s too much filler, or too much Old Bay, or if the chef resorted to a mediocre batch of backfin or claw. I’m with everybody who says a crab cake is not a crab cake if the cake is too busy.
Even so, I’ve been experimenting with something new — at least I think it’s new — and here it is: The Crab-Cod-Corn-Cake, or Crab-Corn-Coddie. If you crave a homemade crab cake, but are disappointed at the offerings of crab meat at the market, you can add poached codfish and produce a plump and pleasing cake that still honors the crab. (The “coddie” is a nostalgic reference to a different sort of regional delicacy involving potatoes.)
Special conditions: Let’s say you want to serve crab cakes to six people. Let’s say Maryland or Virginia lump or backfin is not available — or that it’s priced beyond your budget — and let’s say your market has only imported crab meat for sale: Lump from Indonesia or the Philippines. Let’s say your market has fresh codfish filets for sale. Codfish is usually available and affordable. Its chunky white meat is delicious, and it has a smooth consistency approaching that of lump crab meat. So, buy a can or two of crabmeat, but also buy a filet or two of the cod.
And here’s what you do at home: Poach the cod in salted water, with a bit of white wine. The poach takes about two minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cod from the poaching pan. Set it aside in a bowl and let it cool. Meanwhile, start preparing your crab cakes in the usual way: Put the lump or backfin in a bowl and mix it with the ingredients of your favorite recipe: Mayonnaise, a little dry mustard, some black pepper, some Chesapeake seasoning, Worcestershire, and bread or cracker crumbs. Some people mix in an egg. Then, add a cup of corn niblets from a can or, better, from the leftover cobs in your refrigerator. Once the codfish is cooled, add it to the mixture, then balance with more binder (mayonnaise) and crumbs until the mixture’s density and viscosity seems about right. Mix thoroughly and then form into hand-size cakes.
I baked-broiled mine on a cast-iron pizza pan, and served with French fries and a cucumber salad that, as my mother-in-law said, “any imbecile could make.” The cod and corn made the cake richer and plumper, but neither upstaged the crab meat. . . . I will have specific ingredients and measurements in a future post as I refine the Crab-Cod-Corn-Cake, or Crab-Corn-Coddie.