Break from the mundane
For the Appeal
My mom was a good cook. Not in the sense of fancy dinner parties and haute cuisine, but in the sense that everything she made tasted good. Another thing she was good at was finding deals at garage sales. Two of her trophies were cookbooks, “Les Diners De Gala” illustrated by Salvador Dali and “A Treasure of Great Recipes” compiled by actor Vincent Price and his wife Mary.
Dali said that since age six he wanted to be a chef, and through this book he realized his dream. Along with menus from 1901 presidential banquets and legendary restaurants like Maxims, there are recipes so haute that your head spins. But it’s the illustrations that make this book unlike any I’ve seen.
For example, a tower of crayfish rises from a foundation of twisted and tortured human forms, more like “Dante’s Inferno” than Dante’s Ristorante.
I saw this book in a used book store in San Francisco back in the 1980s when Dali was still alive. Asking price: $400. Mom’s price: $2. The Vincent Price book (also a steal at $2) is a collection of recipes from a restaurant that he found and favored during his extensive world travels.
It harkens back to a time when the boring and the mundane were to be avoided more so than white sugar and trans fats. When every dish had a story and every actor worth his weight in salt had a sandwich named after him.
Today’s recipe, Green Goddess Dressing, comes from that period. Created by the chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, it was meant to commemorate a popular 1920 play by the same name that later became an Oscar winning movie. In its time the dressing was as ubiquitous as ranch dressing is today.
We’re having it with crab cakes, but it also goes nicely with a salad of cooked chicken or shaved ham and asparagus. Use a sturdy lettuce like butter or romaine since the mayonnaise base gives it some weight.
For the crab cakes make sure to use Panko Japanese style bread crumbs. Conventional bread crumbs will result in a doughy cake. For the crab, a decent quality lump crab works well. But if money is no object, and I’m sure Mr. Price would agree, go for the Dungeness.
Green Goddess Dressing
makes about 2 cups
1 large bunch Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon leaves
2 green onions, greens and whites, chopped
4 anchovy filets, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon salt
Place all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Store covered and refrigerated for up to two days.
Deviled Crab Cakes
makes 12 two-ounce cakes
1 pound lump crab, drained well and picked over for shell
1 cup mayonnaise
1 stalk celery, minced
3 green onions, whites and greens, minced
1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
3 cups Panko Japanese style bread crumbs
1 cup Panko crumbs for dipping
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
In a medium bowl, combine the drained crab, mayo, minced celery, onion, red bell pepper, Old Bay and egg. Mix to combine. Gently fold in the 3 cups of bread crumbs and mix just to combine.
Divide the crab mixture into 12 balls (don’t squeeze them) then flatten them a little to make patties. Keep them refrigerated on a plate or tray lined with wax paper until ready to cook (up to 4 hours).
Heat a large sauté pan to medium. Add enough clarified butter or cooking oil to about an eighth of an inch in depth. Dip each crab cake in Panko crumbs before placing them in the hot pan. Sauté for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Place on butter lettuce with a slice or two of tomato. Drape with dressing.
• Brian Shaw and his wife, Ardie, own the Cafe del Rio, 394 S. C St. in Virginia City.