Many years ago, I picked up a recipe card in the checkout line at a grocery store in London. It had a complicated fish recipe, but what attracted me was the artichoke tartar sauce. That card sat in my recipe file for years, until I rediscovered it and decided to give it a go. The recipe was a complete dud. Weird ingredients, lengthy procedures and it just didn’t come together. It left me with a bowl of gloopy, oddly colored mess. So I threw the card away (and the sauce).
But the idea stuck. A tangy, creamy sauce with a nice bite from artichoke hearts that would be a great accompaniment to seafood. So I persevered and came up with this version. I first took it to a friend’s house for a fish fry – they fried the fish caught that morning. It was a big hit, so I wanted to share the recipe. But it has taken me another few years to figure out how to do it.
I don’t particularly enjoy frying fish myself, so no duplicating the tartar sauce’s triumphant debut. Then it hit me – crab cakes. Like a semi-deconstructed crab and artichoke dip. I fiddled with a classic crab cake recipe, paring it down to basic flavors so the tartar sauce wouldn’t be overwhelmed. And pressing the mixture into little muffin tins makes them easier to cook and perfect bites for a party – the tins can be filled and refrigerated just until ready to bake. A little dollop of tartar sauce makes them pretty, and the mini-sized, crispy sides make them easy to eat.
Crab cake bites
Makes 24 crab cakes
For the crab cakes:
1 pound lump crabmeat (see note)
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Pick over the crabmeat to make sure there are no pieces of shell, then add the crab to the eggs. Add the melted butter, mayonnaise and parsley and fold together gently. You want everything well combined but try not to break up the crabmeat.
2. Mix the breadcrumbs, baking powder, Old Bay, and mustard powder together in a small bowl. Add to the crab mixture and gently fold through. Again, you want everything combined, but don’t break up the crabmeat. Refrigerate the mixture for at least an hour, but several is fine. This binds the mixture together and makes it easier to fill the tins.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 24 mini-muffin cups well with nonstick cooking spray. Fill each cup with crab cake mixture, pressing it in to fill it well. Press a rounded teaspoon down in the middle of each cake to make a little well in the center (this will keep them from mounding up and create a nice flat surface for the tartar sauce). You can cover the tins with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for several hours at this point.
Bake the crab cakes for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown, then cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the cakes and remove them from the pan. Spoon a little tartar sauce on top of each cake and serve immediately, though these taste lovely at room temperature.
Artichoke tartar sauce
For the tartar sauce:
4 medium sized whole artichokes hearts (see note)
2 egg yolks
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup safflower, grapeseed or canola oil
Drain and rinse the artichoke hearts well and pat dry. Drop them in a food processor (I use the mini) and add the capers, egg yolks, parsley and garlic cloves. Pulse three to four times to break everything up into a rough paste; scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the motor running, drizzle the oil into the bowl in a thin, steady stream. Process until the sauce is thick and creamy. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl halfway through. Scrape the tartar sauce into a container and keep covered in the fridge until ready to use. It will keep overnight.
I prefer pasteurized lump crab meat that I find in containers at the seafood counter at better grocery stores.
I generally used canned artichoke hearts in brine, rather than the marinated, quartered ones in jars because the marinated ones have some flavor additions. If you can only find those, rinse them really well. If you can only find quartered, use 12 quarters.
Bacon fried pecans
I don’t know who makes these decisions, but there is an endless list of “National Days” celebrating foods, dishes and ingredients. I recently saw that it was National Pecan Month, so I thought I better pull out a preparation for the iconic Southern nut. These are a salty, crunchy snack for a party, or on top of a salad, and once again prove that everything is better with bacon.
Makes 8 ounces
1 pound bacon
8 ounces pecan halves
1. Cook the bacon in a skillet until crispy. Drain the bacon on paper towels, then transfer the bacon grease to a medium sized skillet and let the bacon grease cool.
2. Use a sturdy knife to chop 6 strips of bacon. Save the rest of the bacon for another use.
3. Have a plate lined with paper towels ready by the stove. Reheat the bacon grease over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles, but do not let it smoke. Drop a handful of pecans into the hot fat and stir around. Remove with a slotted spoon to the prepared plate after about 15 seconds. Just let the pecans turn a shade darker, watch carefully and do not let them burn. Immediately sprinkle the hot pecans with salt. Continue with the remaining pecans. If the fat starts to smoke, remove from the heat for a few seconds to cool down.
4. When the pecans are cool, toss them with the chopped bacon and serve in a big bowl.
Be sure to let the bacon grease cool, then reheat it for frying. The nuts burn quickly and reheating allows more control over the temperature.