Consider brunch. As far as meals go, it has certainly proved to be a versatile little sucker, a real workhorse, able to adapt to almost anything you can throw at it.
It’s been classed up with oysters and Champagne. It ’s been roughed up with tequila-spiked bloody marys and house-made Pop-Tarts.
Somewhere along the line, bacon was replaced by pork belly, and sausage-and-gravy became artisanal.
Yet, here I am. Suffering. Rolling my eyes at another menu ¿lled with mango mimosas and lemon-ricotta pancakes or feeling shame for inviting people over for that same-old egg strata recipe I served last time.
See, I am tormented by a condition called Brunch Ennui. And yes, before you ask, it’s a real thing. Just look in the Big Book of First World Problems — it’s there, listed somewhere between Bruised Gin and Brussels Sprouts (non-organic).
So today I nominate myself its chief spokesperson. This af¿iction can be eradicated, if you remember two important things.
First, it really is just brunch. A low-stakes meal if ever there was one. No one has ever been burned at the stake for lack.luster hollandaise sauce. Plus, a little extra Champagne does wonders papering over just about any egg disaster.
Second, you don’t really need to reinvent the wheel, just turn it — oh, maybe a good sharp quarter of a turn or so. In other words, experiment.
“Brunch can take its cues from anywhere,” says Jason Hammel, chef/owner of Lula Café in Logan Square. “We look to our favorite combinations of ¿avors and ingredients and simply add an egg on top!”
In the case of the “The State Fair Royale” — a cornmeal-battered Maryland soft-shell crab sandwich that he served this spring at Lula — his inspiration came from the writings of author David Foster Wallace.
Hammel says Wallace’s essays on the Illinois State Fair in “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” and his pro-crustacean piece, “Consider the Lobster,” served as the muse for the dish.
Here we’re offering a modi¿ed version of that dish — presented as a brunch entrée rather than a sandwich. But, hey, if you want to stick it between two buns, go ahead. In fact, do whatever you want. Go crazy.
Because, after all, The Brunch Police are not watching you.
Corn dog battered soft shell crab with creamy vinegar slaw and spicy deviled eggs from Jason Hammel, chef/owner, Lula Café (serves four)
- 1 large head cabbage
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup white distilled vinegar
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- Poppy seeds
- 4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- Hearty pinch of fresh dill and chervil
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Old Bay Seasoning
- Cayenne pepper
- 1 cup English peas
- 2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
- 4 whole soft-shell crabs
- 1 quart buttermilk
- 3 cups cornmeal
- 2 cups flour, plus more for dusting crabs
- 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1 quart canola oil
- 1 bunch ramp or green onion leaves
- For the slaw: Shred cabbage; place in a bowl. Add salt, sugar and vinegar. Chill overnight. Drain cabbage from liquid; place in a clean bowl. Add sour cream; mix until creamy. Garnish with poppy seeds.
- For the deviled eggs: Cut the eggs length.wise. Remove yolks and smash in a bowl with a fork until creamy. Add mayonnaise until combined; add Dijon, dill, chervil, Worcestershire sauce and Old Bay Seasoning to taste. Fill eggs with creamy yolk mixture. Lightly dust with cayenne pepper.
- For the puree: Blanch peas in boiling water for 1 minute, tansfer to ice-water bath. Remove; puree peas in a food processor. Chill. Add olive oil; mix gently with spoon to form a loose emulsion.
- For the crabs: Clean crabs, using kitchen scissors to remove eyes and front section of the face. Submerge in buttermilk.
- Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and Old Bay Seasoning in a bowl. In a separate bowl, combine milk, sour cream, eggs and melted butter. Mix the wet and dry ingredients in a food processor until the consistency of pancake batter. Add more milk, if needed.
- Heat canola oil in deep fryer or cast-iron skillet to 350 degrees. Lightly dust crabs in flour; submerge in corndog batter. Remove; let the excess batter drip off. Fry to golden brown, 5-7 minutes. Dip ramp or green onion leaves in batter; fry until crisp.
To assemble, divide the slaw among four plates; top with a whole crab. Place 2 deviled egg halves next to each. Spoon 1 teaspoon of pea puree around each. Top with a fried ramp or green onion.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun