Canal House Cooking Volume 6: The Grocery Store
Published: May 04, 2011
Food and Wine
Everything’s “authentic” now. That is, we’re seeing more and more “real” people in advertising. Men who look like Sam Shepard. Women with the grit of Edie Falco.
Not hard to understand why — we’re sick of fakes.
But here comes the irony: There’s too much “authentic.” It’s not accurately defined — most of what is now labeled "authentic" is just a new form of “fake.”
Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer — the women who create the seasonally-published Canal House cookbooks — really are authentic. This is their description of their workspace in Lambertville, New Jersey, just across the river from New Hope, Pennsylvania:
Our loft studio is in an old red brick warehouse. A beautiful lazy canal runs alongside the building. We have a simple galley kitchen. Two small apartment-size stoves sit snugly side by side against a white tiled wall. We have a dishwasher, but prefer to hand wash the dishes so we can look out of the tall window next to the sink and see the ducks swimming in the canal or watch the raindrops splashing into the water.
Why do I believe them? I’ve been there. Seen them in action. Real people, real food. I’d admired them before; now I adore them.
“Authentic” — real authentic — means listening to yourself. That’s what Hamilton and Hirsheimer did in Volume 5. Those recipes were totally unexpected, and, in a recession, shocking: Fried oysters. Escargots. Four kinds of goose liver. Scrambled eggs with truffles. Lobster with browned cream. Truffled lobster with gnocci. What was the point? Who did they think their readers were? Why, thee and me. They just wanted us, in a grim time, to be extra-good to our friends and family — and ourselves — on special occasions. [To buy Number 6 from Amazon, click here. For more on Volume 5, click here. Here are links for Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3 and Volume 4.]
How like Hamilton and Hirsheimer, in Volume 6, to take The Supermarket as their theme. Not the aisles with store brands and ingredients you can’t pronounce. But not Whole Foods, either. Just your basic chain store, with more choices than anyone needs — and more specialty and quality foods than they did when Mom was pushing the cart around. Like organic chickens. And locally grown vegetables.
The recipes are not fancy — as they write, this is “home cooking for home cooks by home cooks.” The big idea is excellent products, straightforward preparation, smart spicing. Which yields dishes like Braised Escarole with White Beans. Fish Sticks (yes, fish sticks). And a killer Gingered Chicken with Cream.
Try these. Authentic to the max, say I.
Brothy Beef Short Ribs
There are a few cuts of beef that are particularly well suited for boiling, beef short ribs is one of them. It takes a while for the meat to become tender, but while it simmers, it releases its rich beefy flavor without drying out like some pieces of beef can. The meat is as enjoyable to eat, sprinkled with salt, as it is to drink its flavorful ginger-infused broth, which may just be an aphrodisiac.
3–4 pounds beef short ribs
1 hand-size piece fresh ginger, unpeeled, cut in half crosswise
2–3 cloves garlic, optional
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
2–3 scallions, chopped
Put the short ribs, ginger, and garlic, if using, into a large heavy pot and add enough cold water (about 16 cups) to cover the meat by 2–3 inches. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently until the meat is tender, about 5 hours.
Remove and discard the ginger and garlic and any loose bones. Season the broth with salt. Trim any fat and gristle from the meat. Serve the meat and broth in deep soup bowls, garnished with lots of cilantro and scallions. Pass salt around the table for seasoning the beef.
Canal House Crab Cakes
Ours are small piles of perfect canned jumbo lump crabmeat with just the scantiest coating of batter holding them together, and they are the best Maryland crab cakes we’ve had. There are two secrets. The first is to mix all of the ingredients except the crab together, then fold the meat in ever so gently, and always by hand. The second is to use buttery Ritz crackers instead of breadcrumbs. We like two-bite crab cakes — their smaller size makes them easier to cook.
makes a dozen 2-inch cakes
2 tablespoons butter
3 ribs celery, minced
3 scallions, minced
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1⁄2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
8 Ritz crackers, crushed into coarse crumbs (1⁄3 cup)
1 16-ounce can jumbo lump crabmeat, drained
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add celery and scallions and cook until soft, 7–10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
Whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, Old Bay Seasoning, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in the cracker crumbs and the cooled celery and scallions. Add the crabmeat and mix together very gently with your hand. Don’t break up the crabmeat.
Make 12 small, plump 2-inch crab cakes, gently pressing each cake together in your hands, and arrange the cakes on a parchment-lined tray. It may seem like the crab cakes are in danger of falling apart, but chilling them will hold them together. Loosely cover the tray with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1–2 hours.
To cook the crab cakes, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter and the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium to medium-low heat. Fry the cakes until golden brown on each side, 4–6 minutes.
Serve with lemon wedges, tartar sauce and saltine crackers, if you like.