It's a battle of the crabs: Blue crabs on the East Coast, Dungeness on the West.
On Sunday, one football team named for a depressing poem about a dead lover will do battle against a team named for a group of greedy men who sought an easy fortune but mostly found failure. The game will be watched by a significant portion of the United States, and almost no one else in the rest of the world.
It's time to get your Super Bowl on. Throw a party, invite your friends, and put all the food into one super bowl.
But what should you serve?
Sunday's game is one of the biggest food-related social events of the year. Your guests — or you, if you're a guest — will be expecting plenty of snacks to go along with the beer, the soft drinks, the commercials, and even the football.
Sure, you can order a pizza, and many people do; Super Sunday is traditionally the busiest day of the year for pizza delivery. You could heat up some frozen mini-egg rolls or cook a big pot of chili or stir onion soup mix into a tub of sour cream.
But where is the fun in that? Where is the challenge?
It's the Super Bowl, America's favorite unofficial holiday. It's a time to show support for your favorite team, whether it is Baltimore Harbaughs or the Harbaughs of San Francisco. For this year's Super Party, try cooking food that represents one city or the other, or both.
It's the Mid-Atlantic region against the mid-Pacific, Charm City versus Fog City, a battle of old Route 40.
San Francisco is one of the country's greatest food towns; it (not Toledo) has the most restaurants per capita in the United States, and by a wide margin. You can get anything you like there, except maybe something unhealthy. The city is home to the third oldest continuously operating restaurant in America, the Tadich Grill, and is world renowned for everything from its fresh crab at Fisherman's Wharf to its chocolate a half-mile away at Ghiradelli Square.
A host of foods were invented there, including the definitive San Francisco dish, a tomato-based seafood stew called cioppino. Also claiming San Francisco as their birthplace are Crab Louis, fortune cookies (possibly), green goddess dressing, the Mai Tai, Popsicles, crab rangoon, the martini (invented either in San Francisco or nearby Martinez), and overstuffed burritos. And no one who saw a television in the 1960s or '70s could ever forget: Rice-A-Roni, the flavor can't be beat/Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat!
True story: Rice-A-Roni was based on an Armenian rice pilaf dish made by a neighbor of Tom DeDominico, son of the company's founder.
Less famous, perhaps is Joe's Special, a combination of scrambled eggs, ground beef, and spinach, that is (or used to be) so ubiquitous around the Bay Area that practically every restaurant that ever had a chef named Joe claimed credit for inventing it.
Baltimore is not as beloved among the culinariscenti, but it has its moments, especially if you like spice. McCormick & Company is headquartered there, and along with the other spices it makes is the flavor most associated with Maryland, Old Bay Seasoning.
Old Bay is the primary ingredient in that most quintessentially Baltimorean dish, crab cakes. Maryland-style fried chicken is popular, but no one seems to be able to agree on what makes it distinct — some suggest it is dipped in flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs, some say it is fried in a shallow amount of oil, to some it is fried in the oven, while others state it is served with a cream gravy.
Among locals, Baltimore is known for its pit beef, a sandwich of thinly sliced, charred, grilled, rare roast beef on a soft kaiser roll, with sweet onion and horseradish sauce. Boog Powell sells them at Camden Yards, which makes them as Baltimore as you can get (Powell, a beloved figure in Bal'more, played first base for the Orioles for many years and could hit a baseball just about as far as a baseball could be hit).
I made two dishes from each Super city, and they were all so good I kind of hope the game ends in a draw.
The cioppino turned out to be a little more expensive than I'd expected, a result of the difficulty in getting fresh seafood to the Midwest. But the dish itself was oh so worth it. It's the kind of thing you'll want to make when you want to show off to your friends, or at least to feed them very well. It's just the thing, in other words, to serve at a Super Bowl party.
The recipe I used came from the Tadich Grill, which is home to perhaps the most famous cioppino in San Francisco. I've made cioppino before from other recipes, but this one — which took the most time and used the most ingredients — was the best by far.
The other dish representing San Francisco, Joe's Special, was new to me. It's instant comfort food, a hearty melange of ground beef, onion, spinach, and herbs, scrambled together with eggs and hot sauce. The recipe calls for just a tiny bit of hot sauce; I used a lot, and was very happy. I tried a vinegar-based hot sauce (Tabasco) and a non-vinegar-based sauce, and the vinegar-based was better.
For my Baltimore foods, I started with crab cakes, and made them the very best way I know how: baked, with shockingly little filler (just enough to hold them together), and less mayonnaise than most other recipes call for. And I made sure to use light mayonnaise, which keeps them from becoming too rich.
These crab cakesare absolutely phenomenal; I've only had better at maybe two restaurants in my life, and I've eaten a lot of crab cakes in my time. For the full, succulent effect, they really should be made with lump crab meat, but again, that can be awfully hard to find in the Midwest. I had to make do with crab from a can, which worked surprisingly well.
Finally, I made some pit beef sandwiches, which any Baltimorean will tell you is beef that is grilled, not barbecued. The trick is get a crusty sear on the outside, yet keep the meat rare or medium rare on the inside (or more well done, if you prefer it that way). The indirect method of heating is best for that; simply sear the beef directly over the coals, then move it away from the coals and cook it with the lid down.
Traditionally, pit beef is sliced as thin as you can make it and piled high on a kaiser roll (though some fans hold out for rye bread). It's usually served with horseradish sauce, either by itself for horseradish lovers or mixed into mayonnaise for those with more delicate palates.
Either way, the proper way to wash it down is with a cold bottle of Natty Boh — National Bohemian, the local brew. Local snacks and a local beer: It's what makes the Super Bowl so Super.
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and chopped
1 rib celery, choppeed
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 leek, white part only, trimmed, cleaned, and chopped
½ small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed Italian tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups of water
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 pinches cayenne
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1½ pounds halibut, cut into large pieces (see cook's note)
16 sea scallops (see cook's note)
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ pound small shrimp, peeled
1-2 cups flour
12 ounces crabmeat, picked over
2 cups dry white wine
16 small clams, scrubbed
½ bunch parsley, chopped
Cook's note: If you can't find (or afford) halibut, use another firm, white-fleshed fish. If you don't want to buy 16 scallops, buy 8 instead.
Heat ½ cup of the oil and 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Add carrots, celery, peppers, leeks, and fennel and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, water, bay leaves, oregano, thyme, basil, and cayenne and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours.
Heat remaining ½ cup oil, 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, and garlic in a large, heavy skillet over high heat until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Working in at least 2 batches, dredge halibut, scallops, and large and small shrimp in flour, shaking off excess, and fry, turning seafood frequently, until golden, 1-2 minutes. Transfer seafood with a slotted spoon to pot with sauce, and add crabmeat, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Add wine to same skillet over high heat, scraping browned bits stuck to bottom of skillet. Add clams, cover, and cook until the shells open, about 5 minutes. (Discard any clams that don't open). Add clams and broth to pot; adjust seasonings. Ladle soup into large bowls, garnish with parsley, and serve with toasted sourdough bread, if you like.
Yield: 8 servings
Source: Tadich Grill, via Saveur
6 large eggs
1-2 splashes of Tabasco or other hot sauce (see cook's note)
1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
½ teaspoon dried basil or oregano
½ teaspoon black pepper or more to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
½ pound lean ground beef, preferably chili grind (a little coarse)
¾-1 pound fresh spinach, preferably crinkly, trimmed of stems and chopped, or 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and dried
Cook's note: Use much more hot sauce, if you like. Vinegar-based sauces go especially well.
Crack the eggs into a small bowl and add the hot sauce, salt, basil, and pepper. Whisk just enough to combine; you should still see large bubbles. Set aside.
Warm the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the onion and sauté until soft but not beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the ground beef and continue cooking until uniformly brown, breaking the meat into small pieces as it cooks. Cover with the spinach, place a lid over the mixture, and cook for about 3 minutes, just until the spinach wilts (if using frozen spinach, cook, covered, for 1 minute, just to take off its raw edge).
Stir the spinach into the meat, cooking briefly to eliminate excess liquid if the mixture seems watery. Pour the egg mixture over all, stirring with a spatula from the bottom until the eggs begin to set. Remove from the heat and stir a few more times, as the eggs cook through from the residual heat. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings
Source: Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison, via Epicurious
3 pounds eye round beef roast (see note)
1½ tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon paprika
8 soft kaiser rolls
1 sweet onion, optional
Horseradish sauce, optional
Cook's note: If you can't find eye round, ask your butcher for a similar cut.
Trim excess fat from the beef, if any. In a small bowl, combine salt, garlic powder, pepper, chili powder, and paprika. Rub mixture all over beef, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 15 minutes to 3 hours.
Place coals (or turn on gas) on one side of grill, and heat to high. Sear the meat directly over the source of heat, about 3 minutes per side. When the meat is nice and crusty all over, move to the side of the grill away from the heat, and close lid. Start checking the temperature after about 30 minutes of cooking: 125° for rare, 130°-140° for medium rare, 145°-150° for medium, and 155°-160° for well done.
Remove from grill and allow to rest 10 minutes. Slice as thin as you can. Serve piled high on kaiser roll, with sliced thin onion and horseradish sauce, if you like.
Yield: 8 servings
Source: Adapted from grilling24/7.com
Jen's Best Baked Crab Cakes
1 pound backfin or lump crab meat
4 Saltine crackers
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2-3 shakes of Tabasco sauce
1 egg, beaten
½ cup mayonnaise, preferably light
½ teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cracked pepper
Fresh parsley sprigs
1 lemon, sliced, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°. Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.
Gently pick through crab to remove all pieces of shell. Do not break apart lumps of crab. In a medium bowl, combine crackers, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, egg, mayonnaise, Old Bay, salt, and pepper; mix well. Gently fold in crab — do not overmix! Form into six cakes. Place on the prepared cookie sheet and sprinkle with paprika. Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown. Do not overbake. Garnish with parsley and lemon.
Yield: 4-6 servings
Source: Adapted from Ukrop's Seafood Cookbook