Monday, September 22, 2008
Let Them Eat (Crab) Cake
I am passionate about crab cakes. I love them the way most people love ice cream or chocolate. I know it sounds strange, but I grew up in the land of crab cakes, where Maryland blue crabs roam free and every pantry has at least four containers of seafood seasoning. I don't eat them very often these days because it's rare to find truly great crab cakes almost anywhere. As a crab cake purist it breaks my heart and ruins my day to order crab cakes, only to find them riddled with peppers, onions, chillies and other totally unnecessary filler. After all, why bother paying so much money for such a sweet and delicate main ingredient, only to cover it up? Although I've met a few odd birds that disagree with me on this point (not one of them a Marylander, though), I've always stuck to the simply seasoned classic recipe that just enhances the wonderful natural flavor of great crab meat.
As the weather turned chilly this week I realized that I had managed to go an entire summer without eating crab cakes, a problem that needed to be remedied pronto. So, after luxuriating in a few days off, I finally got off my kiester and headed for the farmer's market and the fishmonger. Among several purchases was a pound of delicious jumbo lump crab, perfect for uncomplicated, classic Maryland crab cakes. I wouldn't bother with a lesser grade crab meat because if it's too thin and flaky you'll end up with super dry crab cakes that taste only or bread and spices. I've always found that the best crab cakes have large chunks of sweet meat that help the whole cake stay moist.
I like to form somewhat thick cakes and coat them lightly in breadcrumbs for a little bit of crunch and textural contrast. I'm also a die hard fryer, but have been known to enjoy a broiled crab cake here and there. This recipe works for either cooking method though, but I tend to fry, especially in the summer when I avoid the stove at all costs. I don't like big chunks of herbs or veggies in mine, just a few flavorful ingredients and a few tricks to keep things moist and juicy. You can serve them with any sauce you like, but I really enjoy a few lemon wedges and a flavored mayonnaise. Sometimes I'll just stir a little Old Bay seasoning and lemon juice into some mayo and use that as a simple but flavorful dipping sauce. And still other times when I really miss home, I'll just dip big pieces of crab cake into a little mound of Old Bay on the side of my plate.
Maryland Crab Cakes
2 slices bread, crusts removed
3 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp parsley flakes
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (soy sauce will do as well)
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning (Phillips is a decent replacement)
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs (dried, not fresh)
olive oil (not extra virgin)
1. In a large bowl, tear bread into small pieces and moisten with milk. Add remaining ingredients except for dried breadcrumbs and carefully toss to combine (I use my hands to avoid breaking up crab meat).
2. Shape mixture into four equally sized cakes, coating each in dried breadcrumbs. Using a non-stick skillet, fry cakes until golden brown in 3 Tbsp of oil, about 2 minutes per side. Enjoy!