Trying to recreate an outstanding dish from a great restaurant experience is a dicey prospect. You are just guessing at the technique, and let’s face it, you don’t have a prep team or executive chef to add that bit of magic you usually need to get the same taste.
But that didn’t stop me from trying a few years ago. The dish was crab beignets, a specialty of the Back Porch Restaurant on Ocracoke Island.
Ocracoke is one of our favorite places, but we have been trying out other beaches over the past few years, because, hey, it takes less time to get the shore in Florida than it does to the island in our own state.
Not that the trip isn’t worth it. It’s a bike-friendly village, and a dog-friendly beach that stretches for mile after empty mile, along with sound fishing and kayaking. Hmmm, makes me wonder why we’re exploring other options. My sister, who is not prone to such wishy-washiness, liked Ocracoke so much she moved there, and is still living there 20 years later.
The Back Porch is one of the “fancy” eateries in Ocracoke. You have to wear your dressy flip-flops, and bring some extra cash – and be really, really hungry. The first time we ate there we decided to go for the full ambiance and actually dine on the back porch. Maybe it was because it was 95 degrees, or perhaps because we had been playing on the beach all day, or had a few cocktails before we walked to the place, but the late dinner was a blur and I was ready to lay my head on the table before the check came. Perhaps I did. No one in my group ever confirmed that for me.
But, man, those beignets! Crepes, stuffed with a crabmeat and cream cheese mixture, then battered and deep fried. You can see why I may or may not have nodded off.
My husband bought me the restaurant’s cookbook, hoping that I would produce some of their seafood dishes. I zeroed in on the beignets – until I saw the three-page recipe. Make the crepes, make the crab filling, make the batter, then deep fry it. Yikes. That’s quite a production. But I gamely marched in, and after several hours and some hot grease burns, I turned out some satisfactory beignets.
I’m ready to try again. Thanks to the modern convenience of a covered fryer and premade crepes, which you can find in the produce section of larger grocery stores, I think it will go better this time. And, to save money on pricey crabmeat, I will combine it with chopped, cooked shrimp.
The cream cheese filling is heavy, so I’ll use whipped cream cheese and lighten it further with goat cheese. The original recipe uses tarragon, which, like cilantro, divides people into love/hate camps. I’m going to substiture lots of fresh dill.
Let the experiment begin! And we’ll eat earlier, in air conditioned comfort so we can savor every moment.
Crab Beignets 2.0
This makes 12 large, palm-sized beignets.
1/2 pound ready-to-use lump crabmeat
1/2 pound of cooked shrimp, peeled and chopped
1 8-oz tub whipped cream cheese, room temperature
8 oz of goat cheese, room temperature
1 Tbsp. Worchestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 Tbsp. fresh, minced dill
12 premade crepes, at room temperature
Check the crabmeat for shells and drain on paper towels. In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, goat cheese, Worchestershire, garlic and dill. Fold in the crab and shrimp.
Place 1/4 cup of filling on each crepe and fold in the sides, then fold up the bottom and finally the top, so you have a square, letter-like packet. Use a little water to moisten the crepe if doesn’t stick. Set beignets aside. (Note: you may be tempted to make these ahead of time. Don’t. Because they get too soggy and they won’t cook well if they are chilled when you drop them in the fryer)
Preheat the deep fryer to 350 degrees.
For the batter:
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp. corn starch
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 egg yolks
4 tsp. dark sesame oil (found in the Asian section at the grocery store)
2 cups cold water
Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, yolks, oil and water. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and fold gently until just barely mixed. The batter will be lumpy.
In batches of three, and using tongs, dip the beignets into the batter, thoroughly coat them, and drop them immediately into the fryer. Cook until golden brown. Remove, and drain on paper towels. Wait 3-5 minutes before dropping in the next batch, so the oil stays hot.
For a great dipping sauce, combine equal portions of your favorite mustard and mayonnaise, with a few dashes of hot sauce and a squirt of lemon juice.