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.
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.