Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Casquinha de siri, a creamy crab cake on a shell

When I was a teenager growing up in Guaranésia, this tiny little town lost in the mountains of Minas Gerais State, there was only one restaurant in the city: Churrascaria do Régis. Régis was also the owner of the city’s main Hotel (there were only two), and the father of one of my classmates. My friends and I use to gather outside the Churrascaria on the weekends to chat, sing along, watch the other teens pass by and all. Every now and then, one of us would go inside and buy an ice cream, or a bottle of soda. But my dream was to go sit there, like a grown up, and order a casquinha de siri, this fancy looking appetizer served on a real shell and made with an ingredient I’d never had before: crab (there’s no ocean in Minas, salt water fish and shellfish were thus a rarity there).

When I finally tried it out for the first time, I was so excited about the occasion, about just being there, sitting inside the place and being able to pay for it that I basically ignored the fact that the casquinha barely had any crab in it. It was a gluey mix of tomato sauce and lots of bread and farinha de mandioca, and parmesan cheese on top (which, I think, is a crime against the crab!). These faults I observed in many casquinhas I had afterwards. But once you have a good one, you keep dreaming about when you’re going to have the next one! So, here’s a recipe that is as “crabby” (in a good sense) as it can be! I hope you enjoy eating it and maybe reviving that magic moment I had when I first had it.

Bom apetite!

Casquinha de siri

Yield: about 12 casquinhas (aprox. 3,5 in diameter shells)

8 oz crab meat, picked over for shells
1 slice (~1 oz) white bread, no crust
1 cup coconut milk
1 tsp minced green bell pepper, or jalapeño
1/2 cup seeded, finely chopped tomato
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 Tbsp dendê oil
1/3 cup farinha de mandioca (manioc / yucca flour - see picture)
1 green onion, finely sliced
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley
salt and pepper to taste
hot pepper sauce to taste
lemon wedges to serve
lettuce cups or shredded lettuce to serve

- Soak torn bread in coconut milk for about 1 hour.
- Sauté onion and bell pepper or jalapeño in dendê oil until soft.
- Add tomato and sauté until it begins to release liquid and form a sauce. Add crab meat.- Stir in soaked bread with coconut milk and about 1 Tbsp of farinha de mandioca
- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly but slowly, until thickened. Add more farinha, if needed (mixture should be thick enough to hold its shape when mounded into shells, but not too firm!).
- Add herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Spoon mixture into 12 medium-sized shells (aprox. 3.5 in diameter), mounding it a little above the rim.
- Sprinkle top generously with remaining farinha de mandioca and bake at 375oF until golden brown.
- Serve on a lettuce cup or over shredded lettuce, garnished with a lime wedge and provide extra hot pepper sauce at the table.

1) You can freeze the casquinhas before baking them. When ready to use, transfer them to the fridge one day ahead to thaw. Bake until golden brown and heated through right before serving.
2) If you cannot find farinha de mandioca, use plain bread crumbs.
3) If you don't have the shells, or if you want to serve them as a party snack, place the baked mixture on squares of banana leaf and decorate with a pimenta-biquinho (kiss pepper), if available (see picture).