Although much has been made about the Harbaugh brothers coaching teams that will meet at the Super Bowl in New Orleans, the two competing teams represent cities with much in common: Both San Francisco and Baltimore lie on magnificent bays, arguably the two most beautiful and important in the country.
Both cities are famed for their crab — in the case of Baltimore, blue crabs, and in San Francisco, of course, the large Dungeness crabs.
And while both cities love their crab served simply, either with drawn butter in San Francisco or in spicy Old Bay Crab Boil in Baltimore, both boast signature crab dishes: crab cakes in the east, cioppino in the west.
Of course, New Orleans is famed for crab dishes, too, including stuffed crabs and crab gumbo, but most typically the spicy boiled version.
And the three cities have something else in common: a love of oysters from their nearby waters.
All this suggests an elegant menu for the Super Bowl that transcends nachos and hot wings: oysters on the half shell, Baltimore crab cakes, cioppino and Creole boiled crabs. Fortunately, it’s crab season here, and we can readily find the tasty crustaceans at reasonable prices for so much goodness.
Add some sourdough bread and maybe a salad, and your guests may not even care who wins the game.
Not to carry this too far, but it should also be noted that both San Francisco and Baltimore lie only a short distance from wine country; yes, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania make excellent wines, though you’re unlikely to find them in Napa Valley. In all honesty, nothing beats Napa Valley sauvignon blanc with crab, though some people prefer a chardonnay that’s restrained in its oak. Interestingly, San Francisco’s Tadich Grill recommends pinot or zinfandel with its cioppino.
I prepared to search hard to find the best crab recipes, but the Internet dropped them in my lap, so here are the winners. Each serves eight for a regular meal.
We didn’t include a recipe for the crab boil from New Orleans, but it typically uses Zatarain’s prepared boil, the same spice mixture used for crawfish and shrimp boils.
Tadich Grill, San Francisco
Tadich Grill was founded in 1849 and is San Francisco’s oldest and most famed seafood restaurant. Its cioppino is legendary.
Based on fish soups found through the Mediterranean, cioppino likely got its name from the Ligurian version ciuppin, since many fishermen from that region around Genoa immigrated to San Francisco.
It was adapted to feature the local big crabs, and has been the signature dish of San Francisco since the 19th century. Here’s the Tadich version from the 51st issue of Saveur. It uses peeled and cleaned shellfish for convenience, but the whole versions are more fun and perhaps tastier. You can also just use crabs to make things simpler.
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
16 Tbsp. butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed and chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 leek (white part only), trimmed, cleaned and chopped
1/2 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
2 cans (28 oz. each) crushed Italian tomatoes
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried basil
2 pinches cayenne
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 lbs. halibut fillet, cut into large pieces
16 sea scallops
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 1/2 lb. raw bay shrimp, peeled
1-2 cups flour
12 oz. crabmeat, preferably Dungeness, picked over
2 cups dry white wine
16 Manila clams, scrubbed
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
Heat 1/2 cup of the oil and
8 tablespoons of the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, for about
2 minutes. Add carrots, celery, peppers, leeks and fennel and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, 4 cups water, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, basil and cayenne and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours.
Heat remaining 1/2 cup oil,
8 tablespoons butter and garlic in a large, heavy skillet over high heat until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Working in two batches, dredge halibut, scallops, and large and bay shrimp in flour, shaking off excess, and fry, turning seafood frequently, until golden, 1-2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer seafood to pot with sauce. Add crabmeat, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Add wine to same skillet over high heat, scraping browned bits stuck to bottom of skillet. Add clams, cover, and cook until shells open, about 5 minutes. (Discard any clams that don’t open.) Add clams and broth to pot; adjust seasonings. Ladle soup into large bowls, garnish with parsley, and serve with toasted sourdough bread, if you like.
Baltimore Crab Cakes Lidia Bastianich
“Italy in America”
These crab cakes are from the Faidley Seafood counter in Baltimore as included in Lidia Bastianich’s delightful book “Italy in America.” She says they’re the best she has ever had, though she had to reverse-engineer it since they wouldn’t share the recipe.
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped dill pickle
1/4 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
Whisk together all the ingredients, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes twice what you need.
1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers (enough to make 2 cups when crushed)
1 lb. jumbo lump crab meat
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. yellow mustard
2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
Vegetable oil, for frying
Crush the saltines with a rolling pin in their plastic sleeves. Empty the crumbs through a sieve into a bowl below, shaking to separate the larger crumbs from the fine crumbs. You will need about 1 to 1 1/4 cups fine crumbs for dredging.
Put the larger crumbs in a large bowl, and add the crab, mayonnaise, mustard and Old Bay. Mix gently until you can press the mixture together to form balls. Form into eight balls, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (If you have time, refrigerate 30 minutes to let them set up a bit.)
Heat 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Dredge the crab cakes in the fine crumbs, and when oil is hot enough, drop the cakes gently into the skillet. Cook, turning on all sides without squishing or flattening, until the cakes are golden, about 6-8 minutes in all. Drain on paper towels and serve hot with the rémoulade.