A dish done well: Roost's crab cake and tomato gazpacho.
I love crab cakes, but they are often done poorly, and I have endured many that should have never been served. Mealy crab meat with a surplus of old and stale bread crumbs and mushy bell peppers is not the way to go. When I do encounter a good one, however, my happiness knows no bounds. This past week, I did just that, and all was good.
Roost, one of my favorite restaurants in Houston, recently began serving the latest edition of its seasonal menu, and crab cake is on it: Curried Gulf crab cake, heirloom tomato gazpacho, petit herb and radish salad, the description reads. The curry is unassuming, a good thing, because crabmeat is delicate, and I want that slightly sweet, slightly briny flavor to be the main note. At Roost, you will first and foremost taste the crab, which is mixed with the curry aioli to hold it together and includes scallions and roasted peppers.
Which isn’t to say the gazpacho isn’t worthwhile. It is, and its richness goes a long way. (I appreciate sauces whose flavors speak of time, attention, and detail. Please, no more mild and tepid concoctions masquerading as béchamel or roux.) Slightly tangy, perfectly seasoned, this gazpacho would be more than satisfying as a course on its own. Ordering the crab cake at Roost, which costs $14, is a good way to go, as it is a balanced dish that should please most palates. Try it, and let me know what you think.
And for those wanting to make crab cakes at home, I offer my method, which I’ve developed and tweaked over the years, with much assistance from the mind of one of my heroes, Edna Lewis, who liked her crab simple: Clean one pound of lump crab meat (no shell or cartilage, please) and place in a mixing bowl. Add a small chopped onion and four thinly sliced scallions, one cup of bread crumbs (fresh is best), a bit of salt and pepper, a touch of cayenne pepper, and a few drops of lemon juice. Toss gingerly, taking care to not break the lumps of meat. Melt half a stick of unsalted butter on the stove (don’t use the microwave), and beat two eggs, lightly. Add butter and eggs to crab, mix with care, then taste, seasoning as you desire. Let rest for 10 minutes or so.
Divide the crab into eight portions, then shape them into cakes about 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches in diameter. Have one cup of flour in a bowl, and dredge each cake — lightly — in it. Melt one stick of butter in a large skillet until hot and foamy, then, in two batches, cook the cakes for about three and a half minutes on each side, until golden brown. Drain cakes on a rack, and serve hot, with a bottle of dry Riesling, such as one from Dr. Bürklin-Wolf. Bon appétit!