Crab cakes are the classic recipe of the great state of Maryland, and old-time residents claim that crab cakes must be made their way or the highway.
Many people fancy up the recipe with Japanese panko bread crumbs, suggest dipping them in chipotle remoulade, or add oyster crackers as a binder. All of these are tasty options, but I am a purist Dictator and so I will share the true recipe with you, Citizens! 🙂
In the U.S., it is believed that crab cake are one of the oldest American recipes, introduced by the English colonists.
According to the “Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink”, written by the amazing John Mariani, the term dates in print back to 1930 in Crosby Gaige’s New York World’s Fair Cook Book. There, they were called “Baltimore crab cakes”, suggesting they have long been known in the South.
The two most important rules in Maryland crab cakes are to use only top-quality fresh lump crabmeat and to use as little binder as possible. My recipe deviates from the classic only by the addition of some chopped tarragon and chives in place of all chopped parsley – feel free to replace these herbs with parsley to go totally old-school.
The classic Maryland recipe does not use cracker crumbs to bind the crab mixture, but finely diced white bread instead. It works remarkably well for this purpose and truly lets the crab shine through.
The use of a touch of Old Bay seasoning is the hallmark of a Baltimore crab cake recipe – I find it adds an alluring spice to the crab cake.
The two most common styles of Maryland crab cakes are Boardwalk and Restaurant. Boardwalk crab cakes are typically breaded and deep-fried, and often filled with stuffing (of various sorts) and served on a hamburger bun or, most popularly, with saltine crackers.
Restaurant crab cakes (aka gourmet crab cakes) are often prepared with no filler, consisting of all-lump (backfin) crab meat served on a platter or open-faced sandwich. Baltimore restaurants serve crab cakes with a lemon wedge and saltine crackers; Baltimoreans usually eat their crab cakes plain or with a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
Many restaurants give their patrons the choice of having their crab cake fried or broiled. ALWAYS choose fried, and it must be in butter, as mine is!
Citizens – mine is a recipe for the ages, treasure it as much as I do! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
1 pound fresh backfin lump crabmeat
3 slices fresh white bread, crusts removed and diced very small
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, plus a few sprigs for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 ½ teaspoons dry mustard (preferably Colman’s)
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann’s (called “Best Foods” West of the Mississippi River) or homemade
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 small eggs, beaten
Butter, for cooking
Pick through the fresh (NEVER CANNED!) crab meat twice to remove cartilage or shell. Try not to break up lumps of Backfin. Keep crabmeat chilled during process by putting ice cubes in a large mixing bowl then placing a slightly smaller bowl inside to hold the picked meat. After the first picking, feel for missed cartilage while returning the crab meat to the crab meat container. Chill crab meat until ready to mix.
In a large bowl, gently combine the crabmeat, diced bread, parsley, tarragon, chives, mustard, Worcestershire, mayonnaise, Tabasco, salt, pepper, and eggs with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
Try not to break up the big lumps of crabmeat.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the mixture rest for several hours in the refrigerator; this allows the bread to soak up the moisture from the crab so the cakes won’t fall apart in the pan.
Shape the mixture into cakes – large ones for a main course, or small ones for hors d’oeuvre.
Cover and refrigerate the cakes for at least ½ hour to set; this helps them hold together in the pan.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and melt a very generous amount of butter.
Once the butter has melted, add the cakes, in batches if necessary (don’t crowd the pan).
Cook the cakes, gently turning once until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side for large cakes, 1 ½ minutes per side for smaller ones.
For extra richness, baste the cakes with butter from the pan while cooking. Garnish with parsley and serve with lemon wedges and tartar sauce if you’re not in Baltimore. 😉