If you’ve known me or have read this blog for long, you know that I had the blessing of growing up three blocks from the Gulf of Mexico in Gulf County, Florida. Our family lived in the community of St. Joe Beach, and my sister and I never took our amazing access to the beach for granted. We walked along the shore frequently, even in cooler weather, and we went to the beach to swim and lie in the sun often during the years we lived there. It was where I did much of my playing as a child, and planning and praying about my future as a young adult. It was home.
The scent of the beach is almost palpable. There is that salty air, and it carries with its saltiness the scent of seaweed and washed up shells and sea creatures of all kinds. I will always know that scent, even when far away from the coast.
Since we lived at the beach, it was very easy and rather inexpensive to buy wonderful, right-off-the-boat-fresh seafood: shrimp, mullet, oysters, scallops, and the like. What a treasure. We also were able to get fresh crab; sometimes, even on our own at the beach!
Dad would lurk along Highway 98 and look at the clear water; at certain times of the year, you could see dark spots in the shallow water near shore. They weren’t really spots, though; they were blue crabs! He’d come home and pull out the crab nets and five-gallon buckets, and the four of us would go down to the beach and gather the ones that didn’t have eggs; we’d leave the females to continue to reproduce, as the law required. Back then, in the late ’70s, there were so many crabs coming near shore. I am not sure if there are fewer now, but i know if you can get your hands on a few during crab season, you should do so immediately.
We’d take home our crabs and dad would prepare the meat, and mom would make crab cakes and other delicacies. You can’t imagine how good that was; fresh from the water two hours ago, now on the plate in dad’s crabcake recipe he got out of an old issue of Southern Living magazine. Heavenly!
A favorite way to use fresh crab meat is in crab-stuffed portabellas. I love mushrooms, and crabmeat paired with them couldn’t be anything but GREAT to me.
I found some lump crabmeat in the grocery store seafood department and it worked very well. It really did remind me of my childhood crab feasts when I took that first bite into the crab stuffing; so sweet, salty, and tender.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes 6 servings
6 Portabella mushroom caps
1/2 pound lump crab meat
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 small white onion or two shallots, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or scant 1 tsp dried thyme
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmesan, Grana padano or Gruyere cheese
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Use cooking spray to lightly coat a baking sheet, or use a sheet of parchment paper.
Carefully remove the stems from the portabella caps, then finely chop them and place in a mixing bowl. You’ll use them as part of the filling.
Remove the mushroom gills from the underside of the caps (see tips, below), brush the caps clean of any debris, and then arrange them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Season each mushroom cap with salt and pepper.
Add the crab, egg, bread crumbs, onion, garlic, thyme, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the chopped Portabella stems. Gently combine all the ingredients and divide between the mushroom caps, pressing down lightly to make a firm mound of crab cake in each cap. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the crab mixture is set and golden brown.
Remove from the oven, top with the grated cheese and bake for an additional 2 minutes, or until the cheese melts down into the crab cake.
I serve these with a spritz of lemon juice and a few shakes of Ed’s Red Hot Sauce, which is a family favorite for its sweet spiciness.
These would make a nice meal along with a big salad and perhaps some crusty French bread and garlic butter or herbed olive oil, or just about anything you like with your seafood! You could also make these with baby ‘bellas and serve as an appetizer. They’d go over well with your seafood-loving guests, I’m sure!
Tips for preparing mushrooms:
Don’t immerse or rinse mushrooms in water, as they will toughen. To clean them, simply get a damp paper towel and brush any debris from them.
Remove mushroom stem by gently rocking the stem back and forth until it pops out.
To remove the gills, use a teaspoon from your silverware drawer to scrape them out. The reason you want to do this is that the gills may hold dirt/debris, especially if they were wild-harvested. Also, the dark color of the gills will discolor a light sauce that you might be making, such as Alfredo. In stuffing mushroom caps, it gives more room for the stuffing to be pressed into the cap. Easy and smart!
Here are the after pictures:
Depending upon how much you like mushrooms, you may or may not want to consume the whole mushroom cap. It’s perfectly fine to let the cap be your pretty bowl while you eat the crabmeat stuffing out of it. But do try a bite, to make sure you’re not missing out on the delicious flavor the crab-baked mushroom.
If you’re like me and sometimes need a taste of the gulf (or the ocean or the sea, depending upon where your favorite beach is found), I hope you’ll be inspired by this fun and fairly simple recipe and will try it for yourself! It’s nice to shake things up in the kitchen occasionally and let the ground beef or chicken breast have the night off. Enjoy!
Copyright 2015 Stephanie Hill Frazier. All rights reserved.