Kojo chats with two reporters who spent the past year following the launch of Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, D.C.'s new school for boys of color. Their stories are now featured in "Raising Kings," a collaboration between NPR and Education Week.
It’s a culinary tradition that bridges the histories of Native American tribes and immigrant communities with the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay. But Chesapeake cooking is about much more than the region’s love affair with the blue crab. Kojo chats with John Shields — chef, cookbook author, public television host, and “culinary ambassador” of the Chesapeake Bay.
- John Shields Owner and Chef, Gertrude's Restaurant (Baltimore, Md.); Cookbook Author; Television Host, "Coastal Cooking with John Shields," and "Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields"
Crab Recipes Courtesy John Shields
New Chesapeake Kitchen Maryland Crab Soup
3 quarts water
5 cups coarsely chopped peeled tomatoes or 2 cans (28 ounces each) tomatoes
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup pearled barley
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
3 stalks celery, diced
1 large onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 head cabbage, finely sliced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups fresh or frozen mixed vegetables, such as diced carrots, cut-up green beans, corn kernels, shelled peas, and lima beans, in any combination
2 pounds claw crabmeat, picked over for shells.
- Combine the water, tomatoes, tomato sauce, bay leaves, barley, parsley, Chesapeake seasoning, celery, onion, salt and pepper in a large soup pot.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 1 hour.
- Add the cabbage, potatoes and mixed vegetables. When the vegetables are tender, discard the bay leaves.
- Add the claw meat and gently simmer 15 minutes longer. I allow the soup to sit for at least 30 minutes, and if needed, reheat for several minutes.
Gertie’s Crab Cakes
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Chesapeake seasoning
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Dash of Tabasco sauce
1 pound backfin crabmeat, picked over
1/3 cup saltine cracker crumbs
Vegetable oil, for frying (optional)
Olive oil, for sautéing (optional)
Tartar sauce and lemon wedges for accompaniment
- Mix the egg, the mayonnaise, mustard, pepper, Chesapeake seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco together in a blender or mixing bowl until frothy.
- Place the crabmeat in a bowl and sprinkle over the cracker crumbs.
- Pour the egg mixture over the top. Gently toss or fold the ingredients together, taking care not to break up any lumps of crab.
- Form the cakes by hand, or with an ice cream scoop, into 8 mounds about 3 inches in diameter and 3/4 of an inch thick. Do not pack the mixture too firmly. The cakes should be as loose as possible, yet still hold their shape.
- Place the cakes on a tray or platter lined with waxed paper, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cooking.
Pour oil into a heavy skillet to a depth of about 1 and 1/2 inches. Heat the oil and fry the cakes, a few at a time, until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.
Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and sauté the cakes, turning several times, until golden brown, about 8 minutes total on each side.
Lay cakes out on a broiler pan. Slip the cakes under a preheated broiler until nicely browned, turning to cook evenly, 4 or 5 minutes on each side.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Food Wednesday, and John Shields is here. All across America, Memorial Day weekend serves as a kickoff for the culinary traditions of summer, a time for firing up backyard grills and barbecue pits and enjoying food in the company of friends and family.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut few places have culinary traditions that run as deep as those around the Chesapeake Bay, recipes that bridge the natural bounty of the water with the histories of Native American tribes and immigrant communities. From the region's famous love affair with the blue crab to signature dishes that feature oysters, clams, pork, even wild turkeys and deer to the rockfish that a grandmother named Gertie used to serve to a young boy in Baltimore who would eventually earn himself the unofficial title of culinary ambassador of the Chesapeake.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJohn Shields joins us in studio. He's a chef, cookbook author, and television host. He owns Gertrude's Restaurant in Baltimore. His books include "Coastal Cooking" and "Chesapeake Bay Cooking." He's the host of the public television series "Coastal Cooking with John Shields" and "Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields." John, good to see you again.
MR. JOHN SHIELDSIt's great to see you.
NNAMDIIt's the other kind of traffic jam that people in the Washington region can expect to deal with on Memorial Day weekend, the mad dash to fisheries and seafood markets for crabs, oysters, clams and other bounty from the Chesapeake, but you have taken a special interest lately in how people can stretch the meat they buy for their crab feasts and make the bushels they buy more than a weekend investment. Where did your interest in stretching food from the Chesapeake come from?
SHIELDSWell, you know, I think I've been thinking about it more and more lately. We have kind of precious protein sources around the bay. We used to have a lot, a lot, a lot of crabs, so there's a little bit less now, and it's expensive. So I thought wouldn't it be a great thing to be able to take that precious resource and stretch it? And it's kind of an old-fashioned way of cooking, whether it's soups or stews or whatever, you know?
NNAMDIYour Aunt Bessie used to do that, didn't she?
SHIELDSOh, she sure did. She would make a crab pudding. And again, you don't have to use a whole lot of crab, but you get this great big casserole that's delicious. And instead of feeding maybe three or four people with that one pound of crab, you're feeding eight to 10.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that for an Eastern Shore-style soup, I'm quoting here, you "increased the number of servings and regional flavor by adding okra, bell pepper and rice, and it tastes like traditional southern Maryland."
SHIELDSIt certainly does. It's a great way to do a crab soup as well. Most people have a very complex spicy kind of thing, but on the Eastern Shore, they just put a little bit of okra, a little bit of tomato and, at the end, just put in some white rice and finish cooking it. And it is amazing.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number you can call if you'd like to participate in this conversation. Do you have a strategy for stretching the life out of your crabmeat or seafood? How do you get the most of the seafood you buy from the market or from the grocery store? Call us at 800-433-8850. Send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, a tweet @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the Food Wednesday conversation.
NNAMDIJohn, when people talk about Chesapeake cooking, a lot of people automatically think blue crab. You say it's about a lot more than that.
SHIELDSIt is. It's about a whole lifestyle. It's about a region. Many times I go around and I'm meeting with groups from D.C. or Virginia or Maryland, and they always want to categorize what the Chesapeake is and what Chesapeake Bay cooking is, especially around state borders. You know, the Chesapeake doesn't know anything about borders.
SHIELDSIt goes from the mountains of western Maryland all the way to the ocean, and I think it encompasses that whole regional aspect, whether it's New England is a regional thing...
SHIELDS...New Orleans, Southwest. We have the Chesapeake.
NNAMDIWe do indeed, and we have the culinary ambassador of the Chesapeake in studio. John Shields is with us. He's a chef, cookbook author and television host. You named the restaurant that you own in Baltimore Gertrude's after your grandmother, the person you say taught you how to cook. What are the first dishes you learned to cook with her, and where did those dishes fit into the canon of recipes from the Chesapeake?
SHIELDSWell, I, actually, I would always hang out with Gertie, watching her cook as a child. Probably the first thing I remember are pies, making pies with her because I like to eat the raw dough.
NNAMDI(laugh) Same here.
SHIELDSI moved on from that and worked with her at a church hall kitchen and with a whole bunch of ladies, and they would be making businessmen's lunches. So I remember making big pots of soups with them. Again, a lot of stews. They would take local chickens and stew those and turn them into all kinds of wonderful casseroles with a gravy. We would be shucking all kinds of oysters. They make oyster fritters there, and there'd be a line of people coming in to get those meals in the afternoon.
NNAMDIShould tell people you also own Gertrude's out on the West Coast, but this is -- we're talking about Gertrude's in this region, the restaurant owned by John Shields. Again, you can call us, 800-433-8850. What dishes and recipes do you think belong to the culinary DNA of the Chesapeake Bay region? 800-433-8850. It's my understanding that your grandmother was German. Can we see German influences in the cooking style that you stick to now?
SHIELDSYeah. Well, you find that a lot. Baltimore was one of the largest immigration center for Germany and had a huge German population. In fact, many of the public schools taught in German. So you'll find a lot of influence there. For instance, the crab soup that they would do there, they would have barley in it, beef bones instead of ham hocks -- again, it was a very German kind of thing -- and cabbage.
SHIELDSGermans love their cabbage. There wasn't a house, a row house in Baltimore, H.L. Mencken said, self-respecting one that didn't have a big vat of sauerkraut brewing in the basement.
NNAMDI(laugh) Speaking of sauerkraut, immigrants are part of Baltimore's story. You've still got a Little Italy there with streets named after people like Nancy Pelosi and her father, the former Baltimore mayor, Tommy D'Alessandro. Where else can we see the culinary contributions of Baltimore's immigrant and ethnic communities?
SHIELDSWell you see it, you know, you see it throughout the whole area there. There's a large Polish community, obviously, a huge African-American community, and so you see those different influences, especially in dishes like a southern Maryland stuffed ham where you're taking a kind of -- a ham, an old English-style of ham and then taking an African-American taste of greens and hot peppers and mustard seeds and stuffing the ham with that. And so it's bringing all these cultures together to produce something that's uniquely Chesapeake.
NNAMDIAgain, we're talking with John Shields and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You serve different kinds of crab cakes at Gertrude's, a traditional lumped crab cake that follows one of your grandmother's recipes. You also do a crab cake du jour. What do you consider to be the traditional approach to the crab cake, and where do you see room to improvise?
SHIELDSWell, I kind of like when people come -- we're located at the Baltimore Museum of Art, so you get a lot of visitors, and I want them to be able to take a kind of culinary tour at the museum. So I don't want to say this is the definitive crab cake. So the du jour takes them on a little bit of a trip. So the one my grandmother made was a little bit more like you'll find in Baltimore. It has a robust flavor, some old bay mustards in it, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, but on the Eastern Shore, they want to hear none of this.
SHIELDSThey love their crab. They, you know, they adore it. So they want to do very little to it. There's one recipe. It's called our Eastern Shore crab cake where they take instead of mayonnaise and egg as the base, they take melted butter...
SHIELDS...put a little horseradish in it and egg and lemon juice and just bathe the crabmeat in that and fry it up. And so, you know, no muss, no fuss, just a simple beautiful treatment of crab.
NNAMDIYou say Eastern Shore crab cakes tend to be minimal to bring out the flavor of the crab. They often use virtually no filler, which locals call sawdust.
SHIELDSYeah. Yeah. You don't want too much filler. They'll talk about you, actually, if you put too much filler in. I say, oh, he's a cheapskate. Look what he's putting in there. This ain't right. (laugh)
NNAMDIHow does the decision to boil or fry shape the ultimate taste of the crab cake?
SHIELDSYou know, this is a difficult question which you're asking. There's a lot of controversy about it. Most people...
NNAMDIUh-oh. Bar brawls.
SHIELDSMost people will say when they come -- and they will say, I only like broiled crab cakes. It really lets the flavor of the crab -- you can actually taste the crab cake. However, if you fry a crab cake for people, that's what they really like. They just don't want to admit it, and so there's this constant battle between what you think is good for you and what you really want to taste. (laugh)
NNAMDIDo you prefer your crab cakes broiled or fried? Call us, 800-433-8850. I read that your grandmother, Gertie, liked to keep leftover bacon drippings in her freezer, and that her passion for bacon grease is actually something that a lot of other Chesapeake cooks share. How does the classic Chesapeake Bay chef make use of bacon grease?
SHIELDSWell, you can use it in all kinds of sautéed items if you're making some greens. You can even -- some people will actually sauté crab cake in a little bit of bacon fat as well to give it a flavor. We didn't waste. My grandmother didn't waste many things. You know, you -- she used almost everything you could, so I remember that can, the tin can sitting on the back of the stove, and every day, after she made the bacon and eggs in the morning, that bacon grease went in there when it was full into the freezer it went.
SHIELDSAnd so we had lots of things, nice greens or cabbage, and it all, you know, was flavored with that.
NNAMDIAnd a lot of Chesapeake cooks, apparently, use bacon grease also.
SHIELDSOh, absolutely. I mean, it's gold. You don't want to let that go.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this Food Wednesday conversation with John Shields and take your calls at 800-433-8850. What would you say are the most important, the most can't miss stops of a culinary tour of the Chesapeake Bay region? What are your favorites? Call us, 800-433-8850. Send e-mail to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation with John Shields. He's a chef, cookbook author, and television host. He owns Gertrude's Restaurant in Baltimore, Md. His books include "Coastal Cooking" and "Chesapeake Bay Cooking." He's the host of the public television series "Coastal Cooking with John Shields" and "Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields." What kinds of culinary traditions does your family follow on Memorial Day? Does a crab feast fit in to them? Call us, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIThe Maryland Department of Natural Resources has started sending out updates to restaurant owners on the kinds of food that are available out of the Bay. What do you learn from the type of resource or from this type of resource that you may not have known about before?
SHIELDSWell, they just started this program, the State of Maryland. They have a great guy, his name is Steve Vilnit, and works very closely with all the watermen to see what's happening and what's out there. They're also looking to help watermen have better livelihoods using lesser known fish from the bay. All we know is the sexy fish or the tuna or the sea bass, the salmon. But there's so many smaller and different fish from the Bay, and he wants to let chefs know about that so we use it.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that they're encouraging people to buy and serve blue catfish, which has been designated as an invasive species in the bay. What's the story with the blue catfish?
SHIELDSWell, you know, there are so many different invasive species of fish, mussels, whatever, that come in, usually, through some sort of ship. And so they're aggressive. These are some (laugh) aggressive catfish, and they're a little bit larger than our native catfish. And -- but they still have a great flavor. Catfish -- most people right now only eat farm-raised catfish, which is a wonderful thing. It's one of the most sustainable fisheries that there are. But the wild has a real true flavor.
SHIELDSIt has a lot of flavor. Some people like to let the catfish fillet sit in milk to take away a little bit of the kind of muddiness that you might get 'cause it's a bottom fish.
NNAMDIYup, it is.
SHIELDSBut it is delicious. And the wild catfish, it has more fat in it, and it's just a lot more flavorful.
NNAMDIApparently, chefs are learning more all the time about serving and eating invasive species and how it can put a dent into the problem.
SHIELDSYeah, yeah. And you wouldn't think of it but we're on the frontlines of taking them out. (laugh)
NNAMDIYeah. We got a May 20 update about the state of the blue catfish. It says we're getting excellent feedback on the quality and flavor of these fillets. Not only are you using a species that is harvested locally, but with every purchase, you're helping to eradicate an invasive species. One purveyor is reporting sales of 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of fish each week. So blue catfish must be pretty delicious, huh?
SHIELDSIt is. It's very, very tasty.
NNAMDIWhat are some of the different kinds of fish from the Bay that you serve that customers may not be as familiar with?
SHIELDSWell, we use croakers. They're also known as hardheads. Perch, we just had a yellow perch festival the state helped put on. And they're small fish, you could serve them whole. They're a little bit difficult to fillet, but they are so sweet. They make a wonderful fish and chips or just grilled, you know, very, very simple.
NNAMDIWell, we got an email from Carol on the Shore. "I put up my crab soup in the freezer at the end of the season last year. I was very disappointed when I ate it this year. The veggies were mealy. How do you do it?" (laugh)
SHIELDSWell, to tell you the God's honest truth, I don't usually freeze the crab soup, you know, my crab soup. And if I do, I wouldn't freeze it for any longer than maybe several months, and then I would use it. The other thing, if you know that you're going to be freezing it, I sort of undercook the vegetables. So you put them in right at the end, maybe simmer them for five more minutes, let it cool, and then you can freeze it, and the vegetables won't fall apart so much. But, you know, even with a little bit of mushy vegetables, it's still good.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Catherine, who says, "I have your 'Chesapeake' cookbook. Your recipe for greens has the ratio of greens to lard as two to one. Isn't that a little heavy?"
SHIELDSWell, now it is.
SHIELDSNow, it is. The amount of fat -- lard, bacon fat, whatever -- in most of the old recipes was pretty substantial. And, obviously, now, we're looking at different ways of eating, and so we're cutting that way back, way back. I'm working on a new book. It's called "The New Chesapeake Kitchen," looking at that, that those kinds of things really shouldn't be, you know, the main or integral parts but just condiments or seasonings, very light seasonings.
NNAMDIIt's Food Wednesday. We're talking coastal and Chesapeake Bay cooking with John Shields. He is a chef, cookbook author, and television host. He owns Gertrude's Restaurant in Baltimore, Md. His books include "Coastal Cooking" and "Chesapeake Bay Cooking." He's also the host of the public television series "Coastal Cooking with John Shields" and "Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields." John, what are your expectations for the crab season this year? Last year, there was a lot of talk about crabs making a big comeback in the bay.
SHIELDSWell, it's looking like, so far, a good season. The waters are nice and warm, and that's what the crabs need to travel up the bay. So catches are great. The soft-shell crabs have been coming in very, very well, looking, you know, big, meaty, tasty. And people love soft-shell crabs so... (laugh)
NNAMDIIs there any evidence at all that last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has had an impact on the demand for crabs coming from the Chesapeake?
SHIELDSI haven't seen that. The prices, while they're high, did not dramatically increase during that time. So it's, you know, it's very -- I don't know what it is. Most people eat crabs that are from Southeast Asia or Venezuela. The crab meat that they're eating, there hasn't been as much domestic in the last generation. So people are getting used to eating Southeast Asian crab, but they don't know it. For the most part, they do not even realize what they're eating.
SHIELDSIt's not marketed at such. You know, it says it's a Maryland crab cake, so you assume if it's a Maryland crab cake that it's Maryland crab meat. But that's not necessarily so. It just means it's a Maryland-style crab cake.
NNAMDIYou can call us, 800-433-8850. What dishes and recipes do you think belong to the culinary DNA of the Chesapeake Bay region? What kind of bounty from the Chesapeake are you most looking forward to enjoying this summer? 800-433-8850. It's Food Wednesday. Here's Henry on Elliot Island, Md. Henry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HENRYHow are you doing? You haven't touched soft crabs yet. Now, that's the delicacy that I would think most Eastern Shore people love the best.
NNAMDIYou're right. I haven't touched it yet, but thank you for touching it. John? (laugh)
SHIELDSYeah. We're gonna touch the soft-shell crabs. As I said, it's a good season so far. And I love soft shells. You can do all kinds of things with them. You can get real fancy. But on the Eastern Shore and the way that I love them, just real simple, maybe a little bit of flour, salt, pepper. You could put a pinch of old bay in there, dust them lightly and sauté them up or fry them up, and it's a beautiful thing. Sometimes, I like to mix half flour and half cornmeal to make that batter. And it makes it really crispy. But just, you know, straight on, fried or sautéed soft-shell crabs are the best.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Henry. You too can call us, 800-433-8850. I had made a note earlier to talk about something and we went by talking about immigrant influence on foods in Baltimore before I get a chance to talk about it. Tell our listeners what Krautfest is.
SHIELDSOh, Krautfest. (laugh) Krautfest is our annual tribute to the cabbage. There are so many local farmers. My cousin has a farm in Baltimore County. And I just like making sauerkraut. I don't know why. Maybe it's genetic from my grandmother. And so, we started it out as just a little thing at the end of the bar, but more and more people came. And now, we'd have to close the restaurant for two days -- did 600 pounds of fresh cabbage this year.
SHIELDSWe have everything imaginable that you could do with cabbage from soup to nuts, even desserts. We have a polka orchestra. (laugh) It's insane. It's a huge party every January.
NNAMDIWhat began as a couple of chafing dishes in Gertrude's bar area has evolved into a two-night party, that the restaurant closed for regular business to clear space for dancing to live polka music. It's evolved, has it not?
SHIELDSIt certainly has. It took on a life of its own.
NNAMDIIt's evolved, and it's blown up.
NNAMDIHere is Monica in McLean, Va. Monica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MONICAHello. Thank you. I just wanted to comment. You were asking about the crab cakes and how people preferred them. And after a lot of experimentation, my husband and I sauté them. We don't call it fried. But clearly, they are better sauted rather than boiled. And I just wanted to comment about a couple of things. I grew up in Upper Marlboro. And we went to the Bay a lot for, you know, for swimming and boating. My father drank a beer called National Bohemian. And I wondered if you had ever heard of that or know of its -- you know, what happened to it.
SHIELDSOh, yeah, Natty Boh. I woke -- as a kid, I woke up -- or a teenager and young adult, I'd wake up often with Natty Boh around me. (laugh) I grew up with it as most people did...
SHIELDS...in Baltimore and that whole region. It's still -- you can still get it. It's brewed now in Pennsylvania.
SHIELDSYeah. But -- and they just started putting it on tap again. It hadn't been...
SHIELDS...draft in years and years and years. So you can get your crab -- get a big pile of steam crabs and then Natty Boh and go to war, Ms. Murphy.
NNAMDIHave you been missing your Natty Boh, Monica?
NNAMDIHave you been missing your Natty Boh?
MONICAYes, I have. (laugh)
NNAMDIWell, now you know where to find it.
MONICAAnd another thing -- I do. I'm looking forward to it. And another thing, when I was a child, there was a slogan about southern Maryland and the Bay area. It was called the land of pleasant living. Have you -- did you have any knowledge of that or where -- why that also disappeared? But it was such wonderful lifestyle.
SHIELDSYeah, I actually do know. I do have the answer to that. Natty Boh had an advertising agency. I think Donnelley Advertising Agency in Baltimore. And they came up with that as the slogan that Natty Boh was in the land of pleasant living. It's a great slogan. And everybody still uses it. (laugh)
NNAMDIMonica, thank you so much for your call. On to Carol in Fairfax, Va. Hi, Carol.
NNAMDIYou're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAROLOkay. Thank you. Actually, I'm not very familiar with "Chesapeake Bay Cooking." And I have a question about crab fat. I've had a dish that actually in relation to Southeast Asian crab. I've had a dish from Southeast Asia that was a sauce of crab fat. And I was wondering if there's something similar in "Chesapeake Bay Cooking."
SHIELDSHmm, a sauce of crab fat?
SHIELDSNow, that's pretty good. I like that.
CAROLYeah. It was really delicious, very, very rich, if you can imagine. And I was just hoping that there might be something along those lines in the Eastern Seaboard.
SHIELDSWell, the closest thing that I can think of -- soft-shell crabs, as they -- basically, that's how crab grows. It backs out of it shell. And within 72 hours, it has a hard shell again. Watermen often will take the soft shells that are just starting to get hard. They call them buckrams. And they are big, fat -- they have a lot of fat in them, that yellow stuff that we call mustard. And they will stew that. And then a lot of that mustard comes out in a kind of flavors, you know, the broth that it's in. So they call it a buckram stew.
CAROLBuckram stew. Okay. All right. Well, I'll look for that.
NNAMDITracy -- I mean, Carol, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDITracy is actually next. Tracy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TRACYHi. Thanks for taking my call. Listening to your guest earlier talk about bacon fat brought back memories of my own childhood where my mom had an empty coffee can on the stove to collect the bacon drippings. And that's how we fried up pancakes and pretty much everything else growing up. And that does...
TRACY...sort of fabulous baked food.
NNAMDI...and you don't continue that tradition, Tracy?
TRACYNot as much as my mom did. (laugh) My twins just favor olive oil for most things. But when it comes to cooking greens and also pancakes and gravy, which was a popular comfort food in my house at night, we have -- often have that at dinnertime. You make the -- start the gravy with the roof from the bacon fat. It's fantastic.
SHIELDSThat sounds great.
NNAMDIIt certainly does. Thank you for sharing that with us, Tracy. We got an email from Shelly in Columbia, Md., who says "Does John have any idea what happened to the restaurant on Route 15 near Queenstown, Md. called Chesapeake Chicken? They had the best rotisserie chicken. There was always a full house. And then one day, it was gone. I'm sad every time I drive by the old location. Might they make a return to the area?"
SHIELDSNow, that's a good question. I remember that, too, as a kid. And they had amazing chicken and -- but, you know, I was in California for a long time...
SHIELDS...and I didn't notice that it was gone. So I think we might need to resurrect that, do a little bit of research on it and -- because you don't find a lot of great chicken places anymore. You would find them a lot, but it's kind of the lost art of fried chicken.
NNAMDIShelly, we are working on it. Again, you can join the conversation at 800-433-8850. What kind of bounty from the Chesapeake are you most looking forward to enjoying this summer? Here is Angela in Southwest Washington. Angela, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANGELAHey. This is a great show. It's more on bacon fat. When I was in Boston, a woman moved there from the south and came next door right away, looking to borrow bacon fat, because she thought everybody had bacon fat on the back of their stove and we had already moved beyond that. And we're, like, what? Bacon fat? And she's, like, where the hell am I -- I beg your pardon -- where am I? That's my comment.
NNAMDIOh, yeah. Well, apparently, it's a lost tradition in some parts of the country, John.
SHIELDSWell, maybe we should start selling it. (laugh)
NNAMDIExactly right. You never know when neighbors are going to come knocking in need of bacon fat. We're gonna be taking another short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. In the meantime, we have a couple of lines open. So call us at 800-433-8850. What would you say are the most important, the most can't-miss-stops on a culinary tour of the Chesapeake Bay region? What are you looking forward to enjoying from the Bay this summer? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIYou can also send us a tweet @kojoshow, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our coastal cooking, Chesapeake Bay cooking conversation with John Shields on Food Wednesday. John's books include "Coastal Cooking" and "Chesapeake Bay Cooking." He's the host of the public television series "Coastal Cooking with John Shields" and "Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields." He's a chef, cookbook author and television host. He owns Gertrude's Restaurant in Baltimore, Md.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Lori, who says, "I'm a Baltimorean, born and raised, currently living in Virginia. Some of my fondest memories as a child have to do with crabs and oysters served at my grandmother's home and devoured by my father's family. My question, though, is about rockfish. What is your favorite recipe using that fish, and is there a big difference between the wild-caught and the farm-raised?"
SHIELDSThat's some good questions. Very good questions there. The latter, I love wild rockfish. I really do. It has a distinctive flavor and I've -- I don't know if I'm gonna get in trouble for this, but I've used some of the farm-raised and it's just not the same. And I use a lot of farmed fish. But for me, the rockfish, that taste, that flavor is just so important. So I only use rockfish when the wild is available.
SHIELDSI have a couple of favorite recipes. One is, you know, where you stuff a rockfish with crab imperial, but that's very rich and for special occasions. But I go back to my grandmother Gertie, she used to take a rockfish. She'd clean it, scale it, gut it, and then put it in a roasting pan, and she'd pour milk over it, put some lemon slices on it and then -- here we go again -- (laugh) strips of bacon all over top of the rockfish and then slow-bake it for about 45 minutes...
SHIELDS...and, I mean, I still have dreams (laugh) of that rockfish. It was a Friday night special. (laugh)
NNAMDIOh, boy. I used to go fishing and catch rockfish. The fresh wild rockfish is absolutely delightful.
SHIELDSOh. It is, isn't it?
NNAMDIOh. Florence in Arlington, Va. Florence, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FLORENCEI grew up in Baltimore City, and I used to go to Miller's where they really had a -- on North Avenue, years and years ago, where they really had good crab cakes. And crabs stopped biting, I think, way back in the '80s. But I'd like to know where you can get a crab cake that really tastes like a crab cake. People advertise Maryland crab cakes, but they don't -- people don't know what a real Maryland crab cake tastes like.
NNAMDIUh-oh. We're getting into bar brawls here now. (laugh)
SHIELDSUh-oh. Now we're in trouble, aren't we?
NNAMDIWe are in trouble. What advice can you give to Florence, John?
SHIELDSWell, we can't go to Miller's. That's gone. Great old restaurant. I have one of the menus from that. You know, I really feel that you can go to quite a number of restaurants and find very, very good crab cakes. Crab cakes are subjective. Every family around the Chesapeake has a recipe for it, and theirs is the best. And there are so many varieties as I was talking about, so I don't think that there's, you know, one kind of crab cake that we say, oh, well, this the best.
SHIELDSThe difference being is if you go anywhere else in the country and they're making crab cakes, it's usually a 50-50 ratio of some kind of filler to crab. So it's more like a fish cake. But here, we really use crab, and it's almost all crab.
NNAMDISo you can find it, just look around, Florence. And thank you for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Here is Ryan in Kensington, Md. Ryan, your turn.
RYANI just wanted to -- yeah. I just wanted to say hi, John. And I really enjoy your show. I'm glad that, Kojo, you have him on today. I grew up crabbing as a really young boy down at a place called Pea Point, that is just north of St. Michaels. And ever since I could pretty much walk, I was taught how to pull them -- pull the string up slowly with the chicken neck. And I, too, enjoy rockfish. And there's a place called Holly's that has fried chicken that is right over the bridge near (word?) to go back to your fried chicken...
RYAN...comment earlier. So I just wanted to say how happy I am to hear your voice. I don't actually get to watch your show anymore on PBS, but...
SHIELDSOh. Thanks, Ryan.
NNAMDIRyan, thank you so much for the call.
NNAMDIWe move on to Chris in Annapolis, Md. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISHi. Thanks for taking my call. Really enjoying the show. I was just wondering if you could say a few more words about the mustard in soft-shell crab. Do you traditionally eat that or you take it out before you cook them or is it personal preference? And what is that stuff anyway?
NNAMDIOr in females for that matter.
SHIELDSYeah. Well, the fat, which we call the mustard -- it looks like mustard -- and has a really rich flavor. Some people just like to eat the mustard itself. Others, like myself, I like to make sure that the mustards on the big lumps of crab because I think it gives it a lot of flavor.
SHIELDSAnd if we go back to the whole thing about Asian crabs, for them to travel and for the crabmeat to hold up when it's from out of the country, they have to bleach it because they wanna get rid of the fat because the fat is the thing that spoils in it. And so you get a very neutral flavor from other crab because that fat's not there, and you need the fat to give the flavor to the crab.
NNAMDIGot to have your mustard, baby. Thank you very much for your call, Chris. Onto Nicole in Rockville, Md. Nicole, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICOLEHi, Kojo. Hi, John. I was wondering if John is aware or has ever heard of a family restaurant called Evans that was, I guess, around the Wye River, Chesapeake area. I had a friend who grew up, and they would go crabbing and come back with crabs almost every weekend, every other weekend. And it's something goes to the nature that an uncle of theirs who had started this restaurant, very popular, and they -- instead of using Chesapeake Bay seasoning, they use something called Wye River seasoning. And I had never had that in my home. We always had Chesapeake Bay. I grew up in Central Montgomery County. So I was wondering if you had ever heard of Evans or if that's still around.
SHIELDSYou know, I've never heard of Evans, but I do know that the Wye River is known as, you know, some of the best crabbing area on the Chesapeake. A lot of people who go crabbing or watermen will tell you that they're some of the biggest, heaviest, fattest crabs that you'll find the bay. Now, they obviously like that neighborhood. And yeah, I have tasted the Wye River crab seasoning. It's very good. It's a very nice one.
NNAMDINicole, thank you very much for your call.
NICOLEThank you so much. And as a result, as soon as I get off of work here, I'm going straight to the store and getting some crabs to make some crab cakes. (laugh) I can't spare it any longer.
NNAMDIThank you very much. That's why we have these shows during the lunch hour (laugh) when you're hungry. No doubt, there will be a lot of people eating crabs this weekend who do not do it very often -- people who have not mastered the technique for getting the most meat out of the crab and avoiding the nix and cuts to fingers and hands that can make eating crabs for some a painful experience. What's your bets piece of advice to the novice crab-eater about technique?
SHIELDSWell, you know, watch that mallet. (laugh) Everybody goes to pick crabs and they see these mallets and they think that you're supposed to be pounding everything...
SHIELDS...and you have to smash the crab. You really aren't doing that. You're basically taking off the top shell and then you can pull off the legs. And I use like a paring knife to go around the edge of the body of the crab, kind of taking off the knuckles...
SHIELDS...and then cutting down horizontally through the crab and then all the chambers of the crab are exposed, and you can then just pick the crab right out of there.
NNAMDIThank you very much. And for those of you who have not had that experience, you would want to take that advice -- you wanna heed that advice. Here is Carrie in Rockville, Md. Carrie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARRIEHi there. Thank you for taking my call. I wanted to share with you that keeping a pot on the stove -- my late mother was a wonderful cook and she did what she call soup starter. And so she would put, for example, the liquid from, you know, poaching vegetables or she puts, you know, the last vegetables that were not eaten in the family plate into the soup starter pot, and we would have soup all year round many times during the week. It always tasted different. It was always delicious. And I follow that custom. I have a soup starter in my house. So, just a warm recollection about a pot on stove.
NNAMDISoup starters, John Shields.
SHIELDSThat's a great thing. Obviously, you know, what you're getting is a really rich stock. And it goes back to, you know, people using all the components of different meals. We're talking about stretching meals, and it's something we might wanna learn today. You know, I think that we need to keep one foot in the ancient to show our way -- point the way to the future.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Carrie. This email we got from Suzanne, "I'm a vegan living in Baltimore, and I just wanted to state that I really appreciate the vegan crab cakes at Gertrude's. My dad had his wedding reception there, and they were out of this world. So glad my husband and I weren't stuck with salads. What's the recipe for those?"
SHIELDSWell, I actually got this recipe from my sister, and I've kind of adapted it to make it a vegan crab cake. And really, what you're doing is just taking zucchini, and you grate it on the coarse part of the grater. And then you're making the crab cake mixture. And instead of using an egg, I use this stuff, it's called energy egg replacer and a little panko bread crumbs and then all the seasonings that you would put in a regular crab cake, and you can fry it or sauté it. And we call it I-can't-believe-it's-not-crab crab cakes.
NNAMDIThank you very much. At least she thanks you very much for her father's wedding and the vegan crab cakes. Here is Nick in McLean, Va. Nick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICKHey. How are you, Kojo? How are you, John?
NICKQuick question. I moved down here probably 28 years ago from Boston and was quickly introduced to the Eastern Shore in Chesapeake Bay. And one of the things I just fell in love with almost instantly was the Eastern Shore pan roast, and I'm interested in the origin of that as a dish and whether or not there is a, at the end of the day, a right way and a wrong way to make a pan roast.
SHIELDSNow, are you talking about pan roast with -- there is a number of different things that they do. They do the ones with clams. They do some with oysters. What -- which are you talking about?
NICKMy favorite has always been with oysters.
SHIELDSYeah. Oysters are -- it's just a very, very simple kind of process where you're putting the, I'm sorry, the oysters into a hot oven. And it pops their, you know, the shell a little bit. You still have to shuck it and open it. And then what we do is take the brine, the oyster liquor, and put a little bit of butter in it and then back over the oysters while they are in their shell. And it's just -- it's amazing. It's really delicious.
NICKIn terms of the cream or milk that gets used, do you have a preference, and do you do it, for example, in a bisque, did you augment with a sherry or something else or vegetable, you know, carrot, celery , onion, you know, how does that work?
SHIELDSSure. Well, what you can do -- I sometimes do it with a little bit of dry sherry. That always gives it a very nice flavor with the cream. (laugh) And I guess when we go back to the bacon. There is one that's from Southern Maryland, and they tend to use a little bacon fat in that, and they make a roux with the cream, a little bit of mustard in that cream and some butter, and that's a delicious pan roast as well.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Nick. Do you have any tips for grilling seafood, with Memorial Day coming up since that's such a grill-happy day?
SHIELDSWell, basically what I always find is when you're gonna grill a fillet of fish, I'd like to make sure you have a really hot grill because you want to sear the fish as you're putting it on there. And I usually brush it with something you can brush it with. A little bit of olive oil and garlic, olive oil and lemon juice or just butter, and cook it not till it's, you know, overdone. People are always afraid to cook fish because they think that they are going to do it wrong. The worst thing that I find that you can do is way overcook it.
SHIELDSYou can always finish it a little bit more, but you want it to still be nice and moist in the center.
NNAMDIHere's Lenny in Washington, D.C. Hi, Lenny. You're on the air.
LENNYHi. I have a question for the chef. I saw on TV recently a cook-off of the champion cooks from the five boroughs of New York's firehouses. Evidently, each borough has a cook-off, and then the five champions were on TV. And of them made crab cakes in a way I had never seen before. He -- in a food processors. He blended a mild, white-fleshed fish with eggs and salt and pepper, and used that as the bindings for the crab. Have you ever seen anything like that?
SHIELDSYou know actually, I was doing a food show in Las Vegas and a very, very well-known chef -- we're not gonna talk about him right now -- did a very similar thing with that. Made the whole mix up in a blender, and then they had -- they got, you know, beautiful crab meat. Actually, it was from the Chesapeake and -- but then they put it in a blender. And I told them that, where I come from, you could be arrested for that. And so...
LENNYHe just -- he blended the whole crab meat into the mix. So he didn't puree the crab meat. He just pureed the fish and the eggs.
SHIELDSYeah, yeah. It's -- I mean, that's a different style. It's a little bit, you know, it's a little bit reminiscent of a French-style crab cake, but there's all kinds of different ways to go with that. I call it crab cakes 101 -- or crab 101, which is it's a great thing to learn all those different things. I'm actually gonna be doing crab 101 at Wildfire Restaurant in Tysons this coming July 12. So if you wanna learn, come on over, I'll show you crab 101.
NNAMDIMake a note of that date, Lenny. Here is Tom in Annapolis, Md. Tom, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TOMWell, hi. Thanks for taking my call. I was just curious, speaking of crab 101, can you talk about the origin of common seasonings for steamed crab, which is the Old Bay or the J.O. seasoning?
SHIELDSSure. That was kind of interesting. You know, you just think that the dawn of creation when everything you know, you had the mammals, the birds and then there was the Old Bay. However, it's kind of interesting. What I found is that the guy that started the Old Bay kind of thing was a spice dealer, and he started taking all the bottom of the barrel spices and started mixing them up, put a lot of salt in, because there were factories all -- and canaries all over the Chesapeake and the guys, when they finished, would go to the bars to drink the beer. There are so many crabs that the people that owned the bars would put the steamed crabs out for free. They were the peanuts of the Chesapeake, and that's where that spicy, salty mixture came. And it was basically just to get you to drink more beer.
NNAMDI(laugh) That's where it came from. Thank you very much for your call, Tom. We got an email from Paula in Cincinnati, Ohio, who says, "My family is more of an oyster family than a crab family. With oysters stew being their favorite, how can I make this simple soup at home more interesting? My family never tires of it but I do."
SHIELDSAll right. Well, some of the different things that you could do is put a little bit more -- the traditional oyster stew really is just milk and butter and oyster and oyster liquor, and that's it. You could put a little bit of cayenne pepper in it, a dash of Tabasco. What else do I put in it? Sometimes I put a pinch of mustard in it, like a Dijon mustard. Just a pinch of it to give it a little bit more robust flavor. But purists, they want nothing to do with that. They just want the flavor of the oyster with a little bit of milk in there, and they're happy, happy people.
NNAMDIJohn Shields is a chef, cookbook author and television host. On the very bottom of the bio page on his website, it says, "By the way, John still wants to be a rock star." Well, around here, you're already a rock star. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIHis books include "Coastal Cooking" and "Chesapeake Bay Cooking." He's the host of the public television series "Coastal Cooking with John Shields" and "Chesapeake Bay Cooking with John Shields." Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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