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Sacrilegious Or Just Economical? Famous Maryland Chef Adds Tofu To His Crab Cakes

A crab cake is pictured from Gertrude's Chesapeake Kitchen in Baltimore, where chef John Shields is experimenting with adding tofu to his crab mix.
A crab cake is pictured from Gertrude's Chesapeake Kitchen in Baltimore, where chef John Shields is experimenting with adding tofu to his crab mix.

Updated September 7, 2021 at 11:09 AM ET

Baltimore chef John Shields says he is "kind of a purist" when it comes to crab cakes.

Shields, who owns Gertrude's Chesapeake Kitchen, says he normally doesn't add ingredients to extend the meat in his crab, but he's started to do the unthinkable: add tofu to his crab cakes.

Labor and supply shortages have made crabs more expensive in the Chesapeake Bay region. He calls this summer "one of the toughest years ever" for buyers of the bay's iconic blue crabs.

"Most people that would like to have a bunch of people over and make crab cakes or something, they probably would have to take a second mortgage to do that," Shields joked to Morning Edition.

Some area restaurants have had to take crab off the menu entirely. Shields still offers classic crab cakes at Gertrude's, but he admits they're expensive. So he came up with an alternative that he currently offers as a special.

The "Crabfulicious" crab cakes are a 50-50 split between crab meat and locally made tofu.

"You have to be careful," Shields says. "This could be deemed sacrilegious, what I'm talking about here. But I think people could be a little adventurous, a little playful. These are the kinds of things that could be done to see how we can still use crab meat, but we don't overuse it."

But Shields, who has written multiple Chesapeake Bay cookbooks, says feeding more people with less is something Marylanders have done for generations.

Take the traditional Maryland crab soup, which combines crab meat with cheaper ingredients like vegetables and barley.

"You're still rooted in the Chesapeake," Shields says. "You're still getting that taste and that sense of place."


This story originally published in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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