My friend Chris was in town (former EatFoo writer), so I made dinner Sunday night. I wanted to make something cool for Chris, and wanted to impress him, so of course I played around a bit. The impressing thing didn't so much work out. On the whole, I probably had under a 50% success rate on the dishes I made that night. Yeah, a lot of problems, but hey, that's what happens when you make a bunch of sensitive stuff for the first time. Sometimes things just work. Other times, not so much. With these crab cupcakes, it was also a miss, but it was a near miss.
I had some crab in the fridge, and hadn't had any crab in a while. I thought of making crab cakes, an old standby that I've pretty much gotten down ("to a science?"), but who hasn't had crab cakes? I have also been meaning to use the Activa RM ("meat glue") that I bought six months ago or so, before the damn stuff loses its potency. I knew I was doing a boned out, rolled, and tied lamb loin for another course, and had decided to use transglutaminase to bond it together so that I wouldn't have to tie it during cooking (tying it inhibits even crisping of the fat layer, leaves strange rings in the outside, and pulls away nice browned bits when the twine is removed). From crab cakes and Activa, it was a short leap to crab cupcakes.
The initial conception was that I would make miniature crab cakes, with absolutely no filler. Just crab and some seasonings, bonded together with transglutaminase, set them in little crinkle-paper cupcake wrappers and bake them in a low oven in a mini-muffin pan to cook the crab. I had planned on making a thai basil and pineapple "icing" (fluid gel). This plan quickly went awry when I realized that, while I have a mini-muffin pan, I did not have any mini-muffin papers. And serving the crab cupcakes with the papers was essential. I thought briefly about making some kind of edible paper, but realized that I needed the damn mini-muffin papers to set whatever I made in that shape. So, I decided to just make full-size crab cupcakes. That was bad decision number one. They were just too big.
My second mistake was when I decided to serve them cold. I'd just had a delicious, cold dungeness crab salad with sweet corn panna cotta at One Market the other day, and I was like, "Mmmm, cold crab with something sweet." But there were several problems with that plan, first of which is that they were working with local, fresh dungeness crab. I was working with Trader's Joe's $8/pound pasteurized crab. My lovely crabby lumps weren't nearly as big, so it ended up being like crab burger, instead of crab cake. And cold crab burger doesn't sound nearly as pleasant as crab cupcakes. In retrospect, I'd have at least served them hot.
The third problem was that in the cooking process, the crabs gave off some oil, which made the cupcake papers oily. No one wants to hold an oily cupcake wrapper. I tried removing one from its wrapper and putting it in a new, clean wrapper, but it turns out the wrappers don't really fit to the cupcakes unless the cupcakes are baked in the wrappers.
So anyway, I had 450 grams crab, and mixed in some salt, ginger powder, white pepper, and 4 grams (.9%) Activa to bind them together. I stirred up the mixture, taking care not to break up what meager lumps there were, then packed it into the cupcake wrappers in the cupcake pan and let it sit over night. Then I baked them in a 300 degree oven until they hit 140 inside (probably too high).
For the icing, I ended up using orange because I didn't have any pineapple left. I juiced two oranges, yielding about 250 grams. I brought a small quantity of it (about 100g) to a simmer and added in a handful of thai basil leaves, crushed them up a bit with a spatula, then turned off the heat and let them infuse for a few minutes. Then I strained the thai basil out, and brought the orange liquid back up to a boil and stirred in some salt, and 2 grams (.8%) agar agar. I then poured it into a bowl and put it in the fridge to set into a firm gel. Once it was set, I pureed the gel, adding a bit of cream to help it turn (I don't have a Vita Mix yet). Once it was fully pureed, I had a nice fluid gel that would cling to the cupcakes without being at all runny.
The end product looked good, with thai basil "sprinkles" on top. Other than the oily wrappers. The icing was a great complement to the crab, but a bit too sweet. But the crab was just a giant hunk of cold crab with nothing to break it up. Not good. Next time, I will definitely make MINI crab cupcakes, I will make the icing saltier and less sweet, and I will serve the damn things warm. I might even "unmold" the crab cupcakes from the muffin wrappers once they've set, coat them in panko, and fry them, then return them to muffin papers before icing them.
Nevertheless, the point of the whole thing was to play with Activa, and that aspect of the dish definitely worked! Fortunately, the end result was a hell of a lot better for the lamb course.