It’s no secret that I love seafood, especially crab. As a matter of fact, a crab dish on ANY menu usually gets my attention. If I end up ordering it, it then becomes one of my “culinary talents” measuring sticks to see what kind of talent there is in the kitchen.
Did they do it justice? Did all the subtle flavors come through or was it masked with fillers, unnecessary garnishments or heavy sauces?
Nothing makes me “crabbier” than paying good money for a poorly prepared crab dish, but conversely, the ones that get it right also get my high marks.
My litmus test for culinary crab expertise, as you might suspect, is crab cakes.
In my book, if you can make a great crab cake, you’re not only in my good graces but you also have my professional respect.
I’d also guess that you’re a good cook in many other areas too. It’s obvious at that point that you love great food and have the integrity to make great food. You probably also understand that some of the best recipes are pretty simple, which means it’s all about the quality of ingredients and the exacting methods you sometimes need to achieve the superior results you’re getting.
Such is the crab cake.
I think what gets in the way of making a great crab cake for some is that crab is expensive. So they add other stuff to make more crab cakes from less crab meat.
What results is just the opposite, they get less from more. They’re less tender, less meaty and less flavorful. The only thing more about them is that they’re more mediocre.
If you’re going to spend the money, make them WORTH the money! Even if there are fewer, at least they’ll be memorable.
No sense throwing good money at bad results.
So before I share my recipe with you, a disclaimer is in order here so as not to offend anyone who either lives or has lived in Maryland, specifically Baltimore, or who has ever worked in a seafood restaurant on the U.S. East Coast, or who has relatives or good friends that work in the crab industry. This is MY recipe. I like it. I hope you like it. It doesn’t claim to be authentic anything, except genuinely tasty.
Let’s start with the headliner: crab.
The standard is (Maryland) Blue Crab. The 1 tin is the most economical, and it comes pasteurized and chilled. At Nino’s, you will find it in our Seafood Department. The next choice is how large you want the chunks of crab in the final cake. They can range from a fine shred called (special) to medium pieces (claw) to large (jumbo lump); you’ll pay more as the pieces get larger. But be clear, if you spend the extra money for jumbo lump and over-mix the ingredients, you’ll have the same shredded, pasty cake for a lot more dough.
Ok now, having said that, there are few more crab cake recipe decisions everyone has to make at some point. They have to do with what binds the whole recipe together because, unfortunately, crab meat, on its own, just isn’t very interested in keeping itself together.
The crab cake purists (and I’ll count myself generally among them) say less is more. The less binder, the more crab; the more crab, the more crab flavor.
So most recipes use either dry bread crumbs (panko or otherwise), moist bread cubes or crushed saltine crackers, and the “glue” is either mayonnaise, egg or both. Speaking for myself, I’m NOT a big egg fan. I prefer to JUST use mayonnaise.
Another choice you have is the seasoning. Old Bay® seasoning is the standard, but some use none. The only other classic seasoning is some kind of mustard. Usually, it’s dry Coleman® mustard, but sometimes you’ll see someone (outside of Maryland) substituting Dijon, which starts riots among the purists.
Other ingredients can include some onions (sweet white or green), and possibly, if you dare, celery and/or red bell pepper.
Salt and pepper are, of course, a must. And again, if you’re a purist, you’re PAN FRYING or BROILING these bad boys in clarified butter, or at the very least, some neutral oil with some butter added. NO DEEP FAT FRYING!
The above are ALL the standard choices, but they all define the cake’s style (and to some) your crab aptitude.
Having said ALL of this, and without further ado, here’s my recipe:
Pete’s Crabby Cakes
Makes about 6 – 1 ½ ” diameter x 1” high cakes or 4 Servings
1 Lb Crab Meat, Jumbo Lump
1 TBSP Green Onions, Finely Chopped
1 TBSP Red Bell Pepper, Finely Chopped, Patted Dry
1 tsp Old Bay® Seasoning
½ tsp Dry Mustard, Powder
½ tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/3 Cup Mayonnaise
6 Saltine Crackers, Crushed*
¼ tsp Black Pepper, Freshly Ground
½ tsp Kosher Salt
*You may use 1/3 Cup Japanese Panko bread crumbs instead of the saltine crackers.
½ Cup Milk
½ Cup All-Purpose Flour
¾ Cup Panko Bread Crumbs
¼ Cup Vegetable Oil (Canola)
2 TBSP Butter
1. Place all ingredients (except crab and crushed crackers) in a medium bowl and stir to mix together.
2. Open crab can and drain off all excess water, and then place crab meat on top of the mixed ingredients.
3. Sprinkle cracker crumbs over crab meat.
4. FOLD all ingredients carefully together. DO NOT OVERMIX. Try and keep the larger pieces intact.
5. Carefully spoon mixture from the mixing bowl onto a flat working surface, and shape into a cake approximately 2 ½” inches diameter and 1-inch tall. Place finished cakes on a plastic film, and refrigerate or hard chill in the freezer for 20 minutes.
6. To finish the cakes, beat together the eggs and milk in a shallow dish, and then place the flour and panko crumbs in their own shallow dishes. Bread cakes by dipping the top and bottom side of each cake (only) in the following, in this sequence: flour, egg mixture and panko crumbs.
7. Pre-heat oven to 400 F. Then heat a medium-sized non-stick fry pan on medium-high heat, and melt butter into the oil. When the oil/butter mix is hot, pan-fry cakes on both sides until golden brown, and remove to a small cookie sheet.
8. Place crab cakes in the oven and bake approximately 15 minutes or until the cakes are thoroughly heated through.
You can serve these crab cakes with any number of sauces, but here are two I really like: