Fork in hand, Kathi Pratz scooped up a piece of crab cake, garnished with greens and guacamole, and slipped it into her mouth. She let out a deep sigh.
“Oh, fabulous,” the Riverhead resident breathed out, still half-chewing.
She nodded at Block Island Seafood Company chef and founder Craig Geraghty, who whipped up three crowd pleasers—guacamole, crab cakes and shrimp scampi—at the Quogue Library during a cooking demonstration on Thursday, April 28, for 19 hungry patrons.
“I want to take him home, not just for food but for entertainment,” she said. “He’s funny, he’s snappy patter.”
With the assistance of helper Dave Standing, who played the mostly silent straight man, Mr. Geraghty walked his audience through the three recipes, which came riddled with witty anecdotes and scripted jokes, many at the expense of Mr. Standing, who took them in stride.
“I did stand-up for 10 years. This scratches that itch,” said Mr. Geraghty, a self-taught chef. “But seriously, these recipes are my opener for every library. They’re very popular dishes in restaurants and now they’re something they’d be able to make at home. Now they have it in their repertoire, or holster.”
The first step for making guacamole: find malleable avocados, Mr. Geraghty said. “I’m trying to use some bigger words tonight because I’m at a library,” he joked, rousing a hearty laugh from the audience.
When it comes to cutting the avocado, there’s a trick, he said. Slide the knife horizontally into the avocado until it hits the pit and then twist the avocado, ensuring a clean, even slice. Watching Mr. Geraghty’s technique, the audience members let out an “oooh,” as if they were watching fireworks.
Mr. Geraghty and Mr. Standing scooped out the insides of the avocados and put them in a bowl with onion, garlic, salt, pepper and lime.
“The lime keeps it green,” Mr. Geraghty explained. “If you’re making guacamole for a party, don’t put it all out at once because after a while, it turns brown. So that person who shows up an hour late, because they’re a little into themselves, isn’t going to want anything to do with your guacamole when they eventually get there.”
Mr. Geraghty tasted his concoction and gagged.
“Ugh, every time, Dave!” he exclaimed, pausing for the audience’s laughter. “But really, it’s actually pretty tasty.”
The next step was preparing the crab cakes. As Mr. Standing ducked under the table to pull out a tray of a dozen pre-made crab cakes, Mr. Geraghty’s face twisted to panic.
“Dave!” he faux-whispered, dropping beneath the table with Mr. Standing. “We forgot the crabs!”
The two men popped up in unison, Mr. Geraghty sporting a grin. “Just kidding,” he said, a plastic container of crab in hand.
In a bowl, Mr. Geraghty mixed mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, a shot of Tabasco sauce, Worchestershire sauce, Old Bay, an egg, bread crumbs, and salt and pepper.
The crab comes last, he explained, and it needs to be folded into the mix, not smashed.
“You want to see some kind of crab lumps in there,” said Mr. Geraghty as he demonstrated. “Then make the crab cake like you’re making a meatball, and then pack it down a little bit and hit it on both sides with some bread crumbs.”
The crab cakes were then deep fried, topped with guacamole and laid on a bed of greens lightly dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.
“These are delicious, they’re really tender,” said Quogue resident Carol Levin, who helped herself to seconds. “I just think he’s a riot. I’m enjoying this so much.”
When cooking any kind of seafood, Mr. Geraghty said to keep one fact in mind: it’s usually salty already, so consider going light on the sodium.
The chef said he decided to serve the scampi dish over orzo instead of rice, which is the more traditional choice.
“The starch in the orzo acts like a little suction cup and reaches out and grabs the sauce,” Mr. Geraghty explained. “But hey, that’s just what I think. A lot of this is make-believe.”
In a pan, he melted butter and olive oil before tossing in the shrimp with some garlic. When the shrimp starts turning red, or mostly pink, that means they’re done, according to Mr. Geraghty. Squirt in some lemon juice, plate them on top of the orzo with the tails pointing in and sprinkle some parsley on top.
“It’s a garnish, but it also adds flavor, so don’t be afraid to use it,” Mr. Geraghty said.
Ms. Levin and her friends, Cathy Marino of Westhampton and Betsy Osborne of Remsenburg, said they have already signed up for library’s next cooking event on Thursday, May 12, with chef Tom Schaudel, who works at A Mano Osteria & Wine Bar in Mattituck.
“This was just out this world,” Ms. Marino said. “I was very interested in learning how to make crab cakes, and I did, so hopefully I’ll be able to go home and make them as good as Craig’s.”
Ms. Marino’s companions giggled.
“It really was terrific,” Ms. Osborne added. “I wanted to learn how to make shrimp scampi. I’ve tried several different recipes, and now I think I can do it.”