Everyone likes a good (crab) cake (well anyone who likes crab that is…and for those that don’t, they will probably like cake, although they might have to look elsewhere for that. You can’t please them all). Finding a good crab cake is not as easy as it might seem. Often they are riddled with much more breadcrumb than crab, squishy, mushy and bland. I have figured them out though, quite some time ago, and crab cakes continue to be one of my favorite things to make for a (small) crowd. I have deviated from my most basic method on more than one occasion by trying to introduce interesting flavors and flares of creativity but, let’s face it, some things are just not to be messed with, period. So, the basics shall remain and the creativity might come in the sauce or the presentation; which, in itself could be subject for a book. For now though, I’m keeping it simple. Plus red(ish) and green. For the holidays!
BASIC CRAB CAKES
So, if you are wondering if it is worth the added effort of shelling your own crab – it is! If you are one that can delegate, this is a good task to delegate to those asking for a task. I, always being short on time, and particularly bad at delegating, often opt to buy the crab meat rather than the whole crab, but, the outcome does then suffer. Not to say this is a bad way to go (but before it goes into the seafood case, it does come out of a can); just saying that if you have the time and want the best, buy the crab, freshly cooked, cleaned and still in it’s shell. I know that’s how I’m gonna roll going forward! I do have Gemini close by – home of the BFC’s (Big Fat Crab)!
Freshly shucked meat from 1 dungeness crab (approximately 1lb meat)
1 TB chopped green onion (mostly white part)
2 TB chopped roasted red pepper
1 TB chopped fresh herbs (I sometimes use cilantro and thyme, today it was micro-celery greens which I highly recommend, in which case omit the celery)
1 TB finely chopped celery
The juice from 1 large lemon wedge (Meyer if possible)
A grind or two fresh pepper
2-3 shakes from container of Old Bay Seasoning
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 TB crème fraîche or Wildwood aioli
A few shakes Tabasco sauce
Part of one beaten egg
1/4-1/2 cup (or less) Panko, plus more to coat cakes with
Roasted red pepper mustard sauce
Greens for garnish
Other than the quality of the crab, the next most important thing to do, for a successful cake, is to
s q u e e z e out all of the moisture before you begin. I use paper towels for this; cheese cloth is even better but I seldom actually have cheese cloth around.
Once the crab is depleted of excess water, place it into a bowl, just big enough to hold it until you are ready to mix everything together.
Taste and adjust the seasoning before adding the egg. Add 1/2 – 3/4 of the whisked egg and 1/4 cup of the panko, adding more in small quantities as needed. You will want to have enough crumb to hold the mixture together without excess moisture. I like to add as little panko as possible (which will result in a purer flavor). Once satisfied with the mix, form into rolls with the palm of your hand. You can make them as big as you like but the larger they are, the fewer the quantity. I like mine on the smaller side so more of it is coated with the crispy brown crumb when sautéed.
As you form the rolls, cup them tightly in your palms and squeeze out the excess moisture again (which will partly be egg). Be sure they are tightly packed together as you pat the shape into an organic round ball.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat a pan (I use my copper core stainless steel All Clad) and add enough peanut oil (or canola, or olive – in that order) to just cover the bottom with enough to slide slightly around. The pan should be big enough to let each cake sit without being crowded or you should do this step in separate batches. When the oil is quite hot but not smoking, add the cakes and let brown; approximately 2-3 minutes. Turn them over to brown on the opposite side. You want them to be golden, not black and not pale. Adding a slight bit more oil if required but keep a close eye. When browned on two sides, transfer the cakes to a pan (I use a pizza pan) and finish cooking in the oven until warmed through. If you like, and it is more convenient, you may brown them up to an hour in advance, set onto the pan on the counter until the guests have arrived and each has received their cocktails. Pop them into the oven for somewhere between 8-10 minutes. Serve at once while still hot, on a platter or on individual plates (with garnish and, of course, sauce). Since it was handy (and red), I decided to use my roasted red pepper mustard sauce this time.
…and for breakfast – Crab Cakes with Poached Egg and Hollandaise
Uneaten cakes will do well for your breakfast. I often hold back a few to cook fresh the next morning but heated or just cooked, either way, they taste great topped with a poached egg and a vast variety of sauces. Hollandaise is quick and easier than you might think, so I usually do that.
To my emptied, but un-wiped “magic bullet” jar that I made the pepper sauce in (or food processor fresh and unused), I add 2 TB clarified butter hot off the stove to one egg yoke. Whiz this together and then put it back to the (little) saucepan used to make the clarified butter (for added zip and a little heat, add a pinch of chipotle chile powder). Heat the pan over low and add an ice cube to keep the sauce from becoming too thick while the eggs poach. Top a crab cake with a poached egg and spoon over the sauce. A few breakfast potatoes are also quite nice to go alongside but a salad garnish is simple, healthy and crisp.