Flavor-Packed Crawfish Cakes, Plus What 'To Taste' Actually Means

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Hi, my name is Lynn, and I've ruined my fair share of recipes, usually because I cooked with my hands, but not my head. I've rushed through recipes, scanning ingredients and steps, not taking in the details, turning out bland roasted potatoes or eye-watering spicy BBQ sauce (that I slathered on everything before trying it, of course). One of those lovingly-placed warning signs I'm guilty of ignoring is 'to taste'. What the hell does that mean, anyway? How am I supposed to know how much to add when it's my first time making this dish, right?! So after a mightily over-Worcestershire'd pitcher of Bloody Mary's, I decided to solve this riddle once and for all.

I learned that 'to taste' definitely does not mean 'add a lot if you like it or none if you don't" like I'd always assumed. 'Whatever you're adding 'to taste' is usually the smoke-and-mirrors magic trick in the dish, the ingredient that grandma won't include in the family cookbook, the thing you couldn't believe you never thought to use in this dish!!! It's a necessary ingredient that people tend to feel strongly about- think hot sauce, horseradish, or Worcestershire- and you should add enough to make your food taste good, not taste like the ingredient. How else to do you think Granny's been able to keep those secrets to herself for so long? Just enough to make everything else shine is the true meaning of 'to taste'. So how do you know when you've added enough 'to taste'? Do just that.

First, taste the ingredient. Think about what it'll add to the dish. Hot sauce in chili not only adds heat, but bright vinegar and salt. Tomato or anchovy paste in a soup adds savory, cooked-down umami flavors. Mayo adds contrasting sharp lemon and a creamy texture to pasta salad. Seasoning blends can be as simple as 3 ingredients or as many as 20, most have a lot of salt. It's important to taste exactly what's in there before you start pouring it on. A good blend will have a potato chip level of saltiness, not a gulp-a-glass-of-water saltiness.

Second, take a sip of water, then try the dish* you're making so you know what your base flavor is. Because you're cooking like a boss, you already know what the magic ingredient tastes like. Start with the smallest amount the recipe calls for, then try the dish again, noticing what changed. If you want more of that change, add another pinch or dash, tasting before each new addition.

The crawfish cake recipe below uses a seasoning blend twice in the cooking process, so low salt in the blend will give you a greater chance to get a lot of flavor in the often pre-cooked tail meat. This is one of my family's favorite dinners this time of year. The cake celebrates fresh, buttery crawfish tails by using very little breading and a ton of tang. The seasoning also blatantly imitates the crawfish hand pies we gorge ourselves on each Jazz Fest (by far my favorite time of the year). Don't stress if you can't get fresh crawfish tails. Frozen will do; just be sure to rinse off the funky-smelling fat (don't you dare rinse off fresh fat. It's a sin punishable by banishment from the kitchen). You could also substitute roughly chopped raw shrimp.

This is also my first recipe someone requested through this site. Thanks to whomever that was! If there's anything I can help you with, let me know in the comments below!

Crawfish Cakes

For the cake:

1 lb fresh tails, plus their fat or frozen, fat rinsed

2 egg yolks (3 if you had to rinse the crawfish fat off) 1/4 cup panko bread crumb 1/4 cup cornmeal or masa flour 1-2 t. Gradoux, Old Bay, or your favorite Louisiana seasoning blend to taste

Olive or other oil

Butter, for sauteing

For the Trinity:

1/2 stick butter

1/2 cup bell pepper, diced small

1/2 cup celery, diced small

3 green onions, sliced (white and green)

4 cloves garlic, minced

a handful of parsley, chopped

1 T Worcestershire sauce

1 T Creole or brown mustard

1 T Crystal or other mild hot sauce

2 T lemon juice (or just squeeze 1/2 a lemon in the pan)

1-2 T. Gradoux, Old Bay, or your favorite Louisiana seasoning blend to taste

*check the salt content. Use sparingly if the sodium content is more than 20%

Optional: Lemon for serving, remoulade sauce, tartar sauce

1. Heat a heavy skillet (preferably cast iron) on medium high for a minute. Melt butter until sizzling, then add bell pepper, celery, and a three-finger pinch of salt. Saute until brown and sticking, stirring occasionally.

2. Add remaining Trinity ingredients, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool completely. While you wait, season the tails and yolks with 1-2 teaspoons Gradoux.

3. In a medium mixing bowl. gently stir together the tails, Trinity, bread crumb, and panko until just combined.

4. Use your hands to pack the mix into a 1/4 cup measure, pressing down gently. Turn it over and smack down lightly into your palm until the cake releases. Place on a baking sheet, then drizzle a little olive oil over the tops. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

5. To cook: Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Melt a 2 tablespoons butter then add cakes, leaving a few inches between (it'll make it much easier to flip without breaking). Cook 2-3 minutes, flip, then continue to cook an additional 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Best when served immediately or well-chilled.

*Please don't eat raw things that will make you sick. Duh.

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