Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nothing in this world is free...... except free stuff.



I should start this entry with the disclaimer that I was given food for free to write this review/ story. Am I proud of this? Not really. Do I feel bad about this? No. I'm sort of ambivalent about the whole thing. I like the fact that I was given product to review for free but at the same time I have punk-rock guilt about being a shill for a business. Complicated stuff indeed, but that has neither here nor there to do with the overall story. I will sort out my feelings at a later date* in order to try and entertain you with this compelling story of free seafood and why I hate UPS.


A few months ago I wrote an article for Metromix.com about the best crab dishes in Baltimore. After appearing in Metromix, it was also put into "B" Magazine where it was seen by a PR person (henceforth know as the Crab Guy) for the website http://www.crabplace.com/. He liked the article and got in touch with me about maybe reviewing some of their product. After searching through the website and figuring out that they were in fact a legit company, I got back to the Crab Guy and told him "sure I would love to sample your wares".

After a few more emails back and forth we settled on what I was going to recieve from the company and it turned out to be a pretty sweet score. The list was as follows:

6 mini crab cakes
6 soft crabs
4 16 oz jars of crab marinara
1 # cocktail crab claws


I was excited to receive the package and get to cooking. But then UPS stepped in and fucked things up for a bit.

The food was going to be at my house on a Thursday but, was lost in transit and did not reach our house until Friday. My wife came home from work at 5:30 on Friday to find our package sitting behind a planter in the sun. It had probably been sitting there for a few hours and needless to say I was more than worried to see what was in the box when I got home. I was expecting a goddamn science project when I opened the box, but to my surprise, everything in the box was below 40 degrees and still cold. A day over the delivery date and left out in the sun for hours by a UPS asshole and the food was still cold and edible. It was a testament to the packaging procedures that the crab place workers put in place to make sure their food stays edible during shipment.


After the relief of knowing that the food was edible, it was time to plan. What to do, what to do? The soft shells and the mini crab cakes were easy enough (sandwiches for the cakes, fried and served on a bed of potato succotash for the soft shells), but the marinara and the claw meat was another story. After a few ideas were thrown around, we finally decided that we would make claw meat raviolis and toss them in the marinara for Saturday’s dinner.


I didn't want to mess with the crab cakes or the soft shells too much so I could judge the quality of the product. For the cakes I decided I would just broil them in the oven while I was frying the soft shells in butter. This way everything would be hot and ready for our judgment (there were five people helping me to sample the goods). Placed on a cast iron pan and popped into an oven whacked to full broil, the crab cakes were on their way. The soft shells were dredged in flour and fried until golden and crisp (after being rinsed and dried off) and lovingly placed on a succotash of summer vegetables. After its hellacious stay in the oven, the crab cakes were nestled onto a slider bun with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Time to eat!


The soft shells tasted wonderful. They came out crisp and caramelized with no toughness at all. I prefer smaller soft shells to the larger ones because I am not a fan of the leathery texture that accompanies some larger soft shell crabs. These were a hit with the friends I had cooked them for. Even the people that were not big fans of soft shells liked them. I tend to think it was because of my extraordinary cooking ability, but the quality of the crabs had a lot to do with it as well.




The crab cakes were not as immediately loved. Although cooked to golden brown and crispy, there was not a lot of flavor going on. It turned out that after a generous sprinkling of salt, the crab flavor came out and they were gobbled up in a few bites. We were a little disappointed with the seasoning of the crab cakes. As long as you know this before you get the crab cakes you can plan how you will season them (salt and pepper, old bay etc.) and you won't have any trouble. The problem is, you will not know how they taste until you eat them and then it is usually too late.


So far so good? We were happy about the overall quality of the crab cakes and the soft shells. It was also agreed that if we actually did order that food from an internet site we would have been very happy with the results. So yes, so far so good.


I was a bit suspicious about the marinara sauce. I'm not the biggest fan of jarred tomato sauces, so I wasn't really looking forward to trying the crab marinara. I was a big fan of the claw meat that was sitting on the table yelling at me to dip it in melted butter. After resisting the temptation to eat the whole pound, I managed to strip it off the claw and fold it into a filling that my wife made of finely diced red peppers, onions and ricotta cheese. We then made raviolis with some pasta that was freshly made earlier that day by my wife (I was exceptionally lazy that day I admit). It was just a matter of boiling them until they were done (fresh pasta is extremely quick to cook), tossing them in the marinara, and topping it all with a snowfall of parmigiano reggiano.



As I was waiting for the marinara to heat up (the raviolis were not in the water yet) I decided that I would look at the ingredients list on the back of the jar to see what scary unpronounceable words were mixed in with actual food items. To my surprise I found that the list only consisted of a few items that were all actual food. No additives, no weird shit at all. Delighted in this revelation, I tasted the marinara. It was really good. It was better than a lot of marinara’s I have gotten in the Little Italy section of Baltimore. It didn't taste heavily of crab, although you could see crab meat throughout the sauce, but there was crab flavor there. It was the best jarred tomato sauce I have ever had. I would eat it again and not think twice about it. Needless to say the sauce enhanced our wonderful ravioli (as a sauce should do) and everyone that ate that night at our house was very happy with the flavor of the dish (as well as my wifes ravioli skills).


In the end it turned out that even the item I was sure I was not going to like tasted good. I have never ordered seafood off of the internet and I don't know if I would ever just because of where I live, but if I wanted to provide someone out of town with a taste of Baltimore I wouldn't hesitate to go to the Crab Place's website and order up a taste of home for a friend in need.


*After writing this, I still feel odd about not paying for it. Maybe it’s just because this was my first time reviewing food I haven’t paid for. Maybe I just need more, ahem, practice (wink, wink). I’ll keep you posted as always my dear readers.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

great shots - can you post the recipe for the ravioli?

leana said...

wow, your wife must be AWESOME!

John Houser III said...

I will post the ravioli recipe in a few days. Thanks for asking!

misssamala said...

yeah, his wife's pretty rad... ;)