Rule No. 1 in our house is to never pass up a chance to put your feet under Mary Poe’s kitchen table. Her recipes appear in three of the six Louisiana Seafood Bible books, and they’re all great.
A speckled trout excursion on Calcasieu Lake with her husband Jeff and son Nick (see the feature story “Pick your Poison”) was all the excuse needed to court her to cook for this column.
As usual, the still-perky strawberry blonde indulged us with two of her originals, and naturally, one of them was a fish recipe. The other was her family recipe for one of our all-time favorite foods — crab cakes.
Mary and Jeff founded Big Lake Guide Service at Hebert’s Landing in 1984, and she was an active guide for nearly 20 years.
“The sun and my fair skin, as well as two artificial hips, ran me off the lake,” she said.
Jeff still guides every day, and has now been joined by Nick.
Although many people didn’t know it, Mary has always cooked — much of her love of cooking came from her dad, Major Newlin, who enjoyed the kitchen.
Jeff says, “Her cooking is always just right. She’s got a knack for putting the right amount of everything in every dish.”
Crab Cakes with Aioli Sauce
“The roots of this dish go back to my grandmother, Mary Newlin,” explained Mary. “She was from New Orleans, so she used Italian bread crumbs. My mother, Katherine Rentrop Newlin, modified it by using milk-soaked white bread instead of Italian bread crumbs.
“My dad said there was too much gunk in it, so she went to bread, then when that didn’t work, saltines. Back then, you could buy saltines already crushed.
“I don’t like a lot of filling, but you have to have a binder, so I use saltines. I tried Panko, but it doesn’t work inside a dish. It’s better on the surface. The crackers hold the dish together, along with the eggs and the mayonnaise, but you won’t notice them.
“Generally, when I eat crab cakes I want to eat crab.
“I thought that the bell pepper in her recipe overpowered the dish so I deleted it. Mom used yellow mustard. I use Creole mustard just because I love it.
“Jeff loves this. I don’t know if it’s a true aioli, but it’s what I call it. I usually make it with 2 pounds of crabmeat, so he can have sandwiches with the crabs and sauce the next day. This is a pretty fast dish. I can whip it up in 20 minutes.”
TIP: The proportions of the seven ingredients which make up Mary’s aioli sauce can be varied to one’s personal taste.
AIOLI SAUCE INGREDIENTS:
1 cup mayonnaise
Zest from 1 small lemon
Juice from a half lemon
1 heaping tbsp. chopped
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
4 dashes of Tabasco sauce
3 tsp. small capers
AIOLI SAUCE PREPARATION:
Mix the ingredients together and set the mixture in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.
CRAB CAKE INGREDIENTS:
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup finely minced Vidalia onion
3 heaping tbsp. mayonnaise
1 heaping tbsp. Creole mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 big dashes of Tabasco sauce
2 sleeves of saltine crackers, crushed and divided
1 lb. crabmeat
2 tsp. cooking oil or olive oil
2 tsp. butter
CRAB CAKE PREPARATION: Serves 4.
Mix the eggs, onions, mayonnaise, Creole mustard, lemon juice, salt, black and cayenne pepper and Tabasco Sauce in a large bowl. Blend them by hand until smooth. Add 1 cup of crushed saltines and stir until the mixture is thick. Fold the crabmeat in gently to keep from breaking the lumps. Place the remaining cracker crumbs in a shallow dish or plate. Form four equal-sized cakes with the crabmeat mixture. Each cake will be quite loose at this point. Place each cake, one at a time, in the plate of crumbs and heap crumbs up over the edges and on the tops to put a good layer of crumbs on the cakes’ surfaces. Set the cakes aside as they are breaded. Heat the oil and butter in a non-stick frying pan until the oil is hot. Fry the cakes until they are golden brown on both sides. Take extreme care to prevent breakage when turning the cake to brown the second side. Serve each cake with a dollop of aioli sauce.
1/2 cup chopped true shallots
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp. heavy cream
1 pinch + a few strands of saffron
1 stick butter, cut into pats
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp + 1 tsp. salt
3 cups Panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. Creole seasoning
1/2 tsp. paprika
2 large eggs
2 cups water
4 8-oz. fish fillets
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter + extra pats
PREPARATION: Serves 4.
Add shallots and wine to a medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until the liquid reduces to 2 tbsp. Reduce heat to low and stir in the heavy cream and the pinch of saffron. Stir in the pats of butter to melt them, one at a time. Do not allow the mixture to boil or the butter will separate. Stir in the lemon juice and 1/2 tsp. salt. Strain the sauce to remove the shallots. Shake the strainer to get all of the liquid. Add the remaining strands of saffron for color, then set the sauce aside in the pan on the lowest heat possible. If necessary, set the pan half on and half off the burner. Pulse the Panko, 1 tsp. salt, garlic powder, Creole seasoning, and paprika in a food processor to chop the Panko finer and mix the ingredients. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed, and pour the breading mixture into a plate. Whip the eggs and water to make an egg wash. Dip each fillet into the egg wash, lay it into the breading, and pat the breading onto both sides. Place 2 tbsp. butter and olive oil in a large non-stick pan or flat stove-top griddle and heat over medium-low heat until the butter is melted. Cook 2 to 4 minutes per side or until the flesh flakes easily with a fork. Add more butter pats, as needed. Serve with the sauce on the side of the fillet to keep the crust on the fish from becoming soggy.