What could be better than crab cakes made from blue shell crabs? Add lobster rolls, clam chowder, and baked beans to the mix, and you’ve got a veritable feast—fitting for the Astor Center’s “A Downeast Feast,” a class celebrating the cuisine of Maine.
Led by chef Carl Raymond, the class covered the fundamentals of hearty and simple seafood fare—how to cook lobsters, fashion and fry crab cakes, and properly construct a lobster roll. (Lobster meat; Hellman’s mayonnaise. End of story.)
A native of Maine, Chef Raymond joked that growing up, his mother boiled everything—a practice demonstrating the straightforwardness of the local cuisine. (When the ingredients are so naturally delicious, why do anything else?) The class showed us how to minimize preparation in order to enhance the inherent goodness of the raw materials.
For the lobster rolls, he instructed us on how to take apart the lobsters when they were still alive, and to boil the different sections of the lobsters individually (6 minutes for the tails, 12 minutes for the claws) in order to produce uniformly tender meat. The lobsters were then shelled, with the meat dressed in nothing but Hellman’s mayonnaise.
For the crab cakes, we used the meaty bodies of blue shell crabs—combined with fresh bread crumbs and few embellishments, just herbs and a bit of mustard and mayonnaise. While manning one of the frying pans, I worried that the crab cakes would fall apart, but they rarely did. Delicate enough for the crustaceous content, yet firm enough to hold together, they browned nicely in the olive oil. (I, for one, had my share of stray crab meat as I flipped cake after cake.)
We used the strained cooked juices of the clams as a base for the Cape Cod clam chowder, which made use of large quahog clams. A single cup of cream was added for thickening purposes, but the soup remained soothing and thin, like a seafood elixir.
As usual, the meal came with excellent wine pairings courtesy of the resident sommelier at the Astor Center. A trio of white wines matched with the seafood was light and refreshing for the summer palate, while a rosé from Mendoza, Argentina, was a wise counter to the sweetness of the baked beans. The dessert wine was also skillfully matched—a blueberry port, which might have been syrupy on its own, was a wonderful complement to the blueberry cake we had for dessert.
I left the class feeling full but not overstuffed, with the satisfaction of knowing that I had just consumed two types of crustaceans and a bivalve mollusk, all in one sitting. It was a downeast feast, indeed.