Crab Cakes for Thanksgiving

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If you’re thinking of doing something slightly different for your Thanksgiving table this year, consider the crab cake as an appetizer. A properly made crab cake is something that so few people do well, primarily because they’re not cheap. The essential ingredient, jumbo lump crab meat, can cost 20 to 25 bucks a pound. You really cannot substitute any other grade of crab meat, as each bite should contain a pure, unadulterated lump of crap without the all too typical excess of filler. Additional flavorings should be barely noticeable, more of a slight accent without being an intrusion.

I received one of my greatest culinary complements this past weekend when I took several of my 13 year old son’s soccer teammates and their parents to Johnny’s Half Shell in Washington, DC (we were there for a soccer tournament — details to follow). The chef and co-owner of Johnny’s is my friend, Beard Award-winning Ann Cashion. This restaurant is all about seafood, much of it simply prepared. No, the restaurant may not be cutting edge, but the flavors are clean and pure. Cashion doesn’t overdo anything — she does it all just right. My son ordered the crab cakes, and when I asked him how they were, he said, “Great. They’re just like yours.” Heh, my crab cakes are as good as a Beard Award winner’s! When he told Chef Cashion the same thing, she responded, “That’s the biggest complement you could have paid me.” Needless to say, my ego was sufficiently fed.

Other than making sure you have good, fresh jumbo lump crab meat, the key is that you don’t use too much bread crumbs as a binder. You need to have barely enough to pull them together, and then allow the cakes to chill so they’ll hold together. Serve them with lemon wedges or a simple remoulade, and you, too, will have crab cakes as good as a Beard chef.

Crab Cakes
Adapted from The Best Recipe by Cooks Illustrated
Makes about 12 small crab cakes or 6 larger ones

1 pound jumbo lump crab meat, picked over

1 tablespoon minced scallion or other herb (basil, parsley)

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

2-4 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs

¼ cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper

1 large egg

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1. Gently toss crabmeat, scallions, Old Bay, 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs, and mayonnaise, being careful not to break up crab lumps. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Lightly fold in egg with rubber spatula until mixture just clings together. Add more crumbs if necessary to bind.

2. Shape into patties. Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.

3. Lightly dredge crab cakes in flour. Heat oil in large, preferably nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Pan-fry until outsides are crisp and browned, 4 to 5 minutes per side.

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6 Responses to Crab Cakes for Thanksgiving

  1. VaNC says:

    Varmint, as I have mentioned before, I will stand my crabcakes against anyone’s, so I am amused to find that my recipe is pretty much the same as yours, The only difference is that I don’t bother with the scallion/herb. If feel that if you have really sweet fresh crabmeat, such as from my great home state of Virginia, particularly when my family brings it straight down to me fresh from their town by the Bay(okay, I am spoiled) why bother putting any other flavor in there????? I got my recipe from combining a recipe from Old Ebbits grill and Martha Stewart. I do not dredge in flour or anything else…just plop them in VERY hot oil. I also take Alton Brown’s advice and put them immediatly on a metal cooling rack over a pie plate so that both sides stay crisp. Perfection!

    AND you can subsitute canned salmon for the crab and this recipe makes a mighty tasty quick meal that my kids have woofed down many a weeknight. God loves a cheap meal you can have on the table in 10 minutes and that your kids will eat.

  2. VaNC says:

    Oh, and I don’t chill them first….just shape and plop. Who can wait thirty minutes!

  3. Varmint says:

    I use flour, as it helps with the crust a bit. Also, the chilling really allows you to use less binder.

    As far as herbs are concerned, I actually agree with you, as I’ve stopped using anything most of the time, and if I add something, it might be some chives. I kept the herbs in this recipe primarily because the only picture I had was one with huge chunks of scallion in them (long story).

    I always drain my fried stuff on a wired rack. Alton does know best.

    Hmmm, salmon cakes for dinner tonight?????

  4. Moose says:

    Well, I have to weigh in. I guess crab cakes are like fried chicken – everyone thinks theirs is the best. Right, have good quality crab and get out of the way. I got a little tired of Old Bay flavoring and adapted one of Fred Thompson’s recipes. Eggs, lemon juice, dijon and dry mustard, Tabasco, Worcestershire, small amount of breadcrumbs (I use the canned) and chopped chives. Shape and chill. Then the key, I think, is you fry one side, turn them over and finish them in a 450-degree oven. Mmmm. Much better than the bland crab cake appetizer my husband had at South the other night.

  5. blewgo says:

    I’m beginning to see crab cakes on more and more menus. I wonder what percentage of them are frozen and off a food service truck.

  6. winston says:

    I usually dredge in panko bread crumbs. Nice crispy crust – though burning is more possible. I agree with Moose on the Old Bay. To me, it just obscures the crab taste too much.

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