AS A NATIVE of the Old Line State, chef Bryan Voltaggio has been to the Preakness, so he knows the scene—as well as the smell and the taste. "Everyone will be out there drinking their Black-Eyed Susans and looking for crab," he says. "And the timing is perfect. It's the height of crab season, which opens April 1 and runs to right around the Fourth of July."
Voltaggio believes that the best way for seekers to score some quality claw is to make their own cakes. His Maryland crab cake sandwich combines a patty with very little filler, a chunky tartar sauce, Old Bay--flavored chips (on the sandwich) and a toasted, soft potato bun.
Best of all, the cakes should be made the day before, and they can be sautéed on site using a grill, propane burner or electric hot plate. Mix up some Black-Eyed Susans, get the cakes cooking and, whether it's in a backyard or the infield at Pimlico, it'll be a meal a Marylander would love. Bet on it.
MARYLAND CRAB CAKE SANDWICHES
1 MAKE THE CAKES
Put the crabmeat in a bowl. Put the remaining ingredients except the cracker crumbs in a separate bowl and whisk. Add the crabmeat one-third at a time, and use a rubber spatula to gently fold it in. Keep the crabmeat in big chunks. Use an ice cream scoop or a ring mold to make a half-dozen six- to seven-ounce cakes.
Pour the cracker crumbs into a casserole dish and press the cakes gently into the crumbs. Flip and repeat. Gently press crumbs on the sides. Transfer the cakes to a clean baking sheet. The cakes can be covered and refrigerated until cooking.
2 MAKE THE SAUCE
Put the grape-seed oil in a small to medium sauté pan set over medium heat. As soon as the oil begins to shimmer, add the celery, fennel and onion and season with salt. Stir until the vegetables are translucent. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, dill pickles, capers, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, parsley, tarragon and fennel fronds. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Fold in the cooked veggies.
3 COOK THE CAKES
Heat clarified butter slowly in a large frying pan with a flat bottom over medium heat to 325° F—use a thermometer to check. Use a metal spatula to slide the cakes into the butter. Don't crowd them or they won't cook evenly. Cook for two minutes per side or until golden brown and heated through.
Butter the buns and heat them until golden brown. Spread the buns with tartar sauce and add a crab cake and chips. Serve warm.
Bryan Voltaggio has twice appeared on Top Chef and owns seven restaurants in the Baltimore-D.C. area. The newest is Voltaggio Brothers Steak House.
2 pounds jumbo lump crabmeat
4 ounces mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
2½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3¾ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
6 drops Tabasco sauce
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 large eggs
1 cup cracker crumbs
1 cup unsalted clarified butter (for cooking)
1 tablespoon grape-seed or olive oil
¼ cup celery, diced
¼ cup fennel, diced
¼ cup red onion, diced
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup mayonnaise
¾ teaspoon whole-grain mustard
1 cup dill pickles, diced
½ cup capers, rinsed of brine, roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon soy sauce
¼ teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1½ teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
1½ teaspoons chopped fennel fronds
Freshly ground black pepper