Hunger For Home?

Recently I wrote an article for International Living dealing with the issue of homesickness. Someday, they may even publish it – if not, it will eventually find it’s way here.

Anyway, homesickness can be a very real issue for expats. For those of you not familiar with the malady, homesickness is not missing your friends and family, as much as missing the things you associate with home. For many of us who live in foreign countries, a big part of that can be missing your favorite foods.

The best way to combat this problem, is of course to focus more on the new things you have than the things you left behind. Another strategy is to try and recreate a little piece of home in your new land.

For myself, one of the big food items I seriously miss is Maryland Style Crabcakes. To enlighten you poor, unfortunate souls who have never had the real thing, the critical components are two items not to be found in Ecuador; Maryland blue crabs, and Old Bay Seasoning.

Sure there is plenty of congrejo (crab) in Ecuador, and it can be quite tasty. But the texture of the meat in the red crabs and the flavor is just not the same. I of course bring at least two large containers of Old Bay back to Salinas with me when we visit the US (always good to use on shrimp or other seafood), but making crab cakes with the local crabs is just, well, pathetic. And it is nigh impossible to bring fresh crab meat back from the States, since it has to be kept refrigerated –  and freezing it would destroy the texture and flavor.

Fortunately, I have found a workable solution here in Ecuador. Enter pangora, or our friend the stone crab claw. True, they are not the same as blue crab lump backfin (egads, I’m drooling), but as you can see in the photo, they can get rather large. After they have been steamed, it is possible to get some good size chunks of crab meat to work with. If you fold your ingredients in carefully, you can preserve those lumps in your crab cakes.

Of course, it is also important to combat homesickness by acclimating as much as possible. So I’ll serve my crab cakes with sautéed maduros, and maybe some yuca fries and homemade cole slaw.

Which is perfect for Rita and me – it satisfies our hunger for home that was, with a taste of our home that is here in Salinas.


Recipe for Ecuadorian-Maryland Style Crab Cakes

2-3 lbs of steamed pangora
2 eggs
1 small onion, chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
piece of red bell pepper, chopped
corn meal
Old Bay Seasoning (as much as you like – sorry, can’t have any of mine!)

OK, sorry in advance for lack of precise measurements. Here at Casa de Jaime, we cook by feel and by appearance.

Break up the crab claws, getting as many chunks as possible, and set them aside in a bowl. Warning – pangora shells are VERY hard! You will know if you bite into one, so make sure you get all pieces of shell out of the meat.

In a large bowl, make your mix first. Combine everything except the crab and corn meal, and stir until you have a good batter. Add the corn meal slowly, you want it thick enough to hold the meat together, but not too much corn meal. Bread crumbs are possible too, but corn meal makes them a little crisper. Go light on the red bell pepper, it is just there to add a little color and sweetness. I go nuts on the Old Bay.

Once the batter is ready, gently add the crab meat, and mix ever so carefully by hand. You want to break up the pieces as little as possible.

Make your carb cakes by hand, as big or as small as you like them, and set them on wax paper until you are ready to cook. Some like to refrigerate them for an hour or so before cooking.

You can either fry them in a pan with some oil, deep fry, or my personal favorite, broil for a few minutes on each side.

Can be served on a bed of lettuce with a slice of tomato on top. Some like tartar sauce or mustard as well.

¡buen provecho!

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  • Jo Alice & Mike Mospan says:

    One of your best articles ever–maybe because we live in Maryland and certainly know about blue crabs. Loved this article!!

  • Lori Bonicelli says:

    Born and raised outside of San Francisco and being a huge fan of cold water dungeness crab I know what it means to not have access to what you are used to. Dungeness vs blue was something that I always grappled with after our move to Maryland. Living physically right on the Chesapeake Bay, our friends would pull those blue suckers right out of the water, I found myself sad that I was turning my nose up at something that was so fresh and high quality. Over time I found that there was no competition. They may both be labelled “crab” but they are very very different. When I stopped comparing, I realized that I like them both, but differently. I prefer my blue crab in cakes (stronger flavor) and my dungeness (mild & sweet) cracked with butter. 🙂

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