Spicy Crabcake with Pigeon Peas and Bird Peppers
The Bahamas are a group of small islands located in the Atlantic Ocean between Florida and Cuba. The cuisine of the country is based on the abundance of fresh fish and shell fish available to the Islands. The food that is probably most quinticentially Bahamian is the conch (the meat that comes from those pretty shells that everyone collects). Unfortunately, despite being featured on Top Chef recently, you just can’t go to your local Kroger and pick up conch. And, having tasted conch once on a visit to South Florida, I’m having trouble being too sad about its scarcity in the States. Instead of conch, I’ve used crab, you could also use lobster. The texture of lobster is closer to conch, but I prefer crab and it’s more budget friendly than lobster. Bahamians also use a local pepper that I had trouble finding called Bird Pepper or Pequin Pepper.
I did finally come across some in my local grocery store but if you can’t the spice level is similar to habenero or Scotch bonnet peppers – in other words, super hot. Bahamians like their food spicy, really spicy. Add in the local favorite of pigeon peas and you have a simple and tasty Bahamian Burger.
Full disclosure on this one, I couldn’t even get my dad to try it – he really doesn’t like crab (or lobster, or conch) but I decided that trying to get an authentic flavor was more important than getting him to try the dish. My husband (who likes shell fish) loved this and I liked it too (even though I’m not a huge shell fish fan). You can vary the spice by using less of the pepper, but the zing of the pepper’s heat really compliments the crab. The lime mayo balances it out and a little papaya is perfect to create a light spring meal. I served it with a nice Eroica Reisling, which does exceed my $20 price limit for this blog, but is worth the $25 price tag because it adds the perfect crisp light counterpoint to the crab-cake.
2 cups stale bread
1 cup half and half
1 dried habenero or 6-8 dried bird peppers
8 ounces crab meat chopped
¼ cup canned pigeon peas, drained*
1 teaspoon celery flakes
¼ minced onion
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 Tablespoons butter
Lime Mayo (recipe below)
4 slices soft crust white bread (Italian bread works well)
½ papaya sliced (optional)
Pulse stale bread in food processor to create coarse bread crumbs. Add half and half to bread crumbs a little at a time to soften the bread (you may not need all of the half and half, just add until mixture is soft, not soupy). Dice the dried pepper(s). Add the peppers and the next six ingredients to the bread. Form four patties with the crab mixture and refrigerate for at least a half hour (this is really critical as it lets the mixture set and helps maintain the burger shape for cooking). Note: if your bread is too fresh and/or too chunky, you might have trouble keeping the crab cakes in perfect form. If the mixture doesn’t seem to be holding together you can add a beaten egg to help hold the shape. The good news is that if they fall apart a bit when you cook them, they’ll still be tasty, so just call it a loose burger/crab cake and pretend like you meant it to happen, it will be our secret.
In a large non-stick pan, heat the olive oil and butter over med-high heat until butter stops foaming. Add the crab cakes and cook until lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Turn carefully and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly toast or grill the four slices of bread. Place a crabcake on each piece of toast and top with 1-2 Tablespoons of the Lime Mayo. Serve with sliced papaya.
*Pigeon peas crack me up – the can shows these bright green peas that look delicious. When you open the can you find the the real thing is more brownish beige than green and tastes more like a bean than a pea. That being said, they are good and mix well with the spiciness of the peppers.
½ cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoon lime juice
Combine ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes before using.
©Copyright 2011 Linda Monach