Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to Make Great Crab Cakes




Crab cakes tend to be a dish I order in a restaurant, not prepare at home. Perhaps because over the years I’ve eaten some “great” crab cakes and some “not-so-great” ones. It’s not hard to pinpoint what’s wrong with the “not-so-good” ones – they are either overcooked or undercooked, greasy, or so full of fillers that the sweet taste of the crab doesn’t come through.

But what makes a crab cake “great?” It’s in the preparation and I think I’ve found some answers.

First and foremost, don’t load the crab cakes with a bunch of fillers, such as crushed crackers or breadcrumbs.  When you use an expensive, top drawer ingredient like fresh lump meat crab, you want to taste the crab and not much else. 

Second, when you’re assembling the crab cakes, don’t over handle them. The best way I’ve found to mix the ingredients together is to use your hands. How many times have you heard that clean hands are the best tools in your kitchen? This is one of the times your hands beat any other utensil.

Third, chill the crab cakes in the refrigerator for an hour or so.  Because you aren’t using fillers, there's not much of a binder to hold the cakes together.  So chilling is essential.



The last and possibly the most important things I’ve learned are from one of the country's best known story tellers, and that’s none other than the bestselling novelist and fellow southerner Pat Conroy, of The Prince of Tides and Beach Music fame to name a few. He also happens to be a cook extraordinaire and knows about everything you need to know about seafood. In his delightful and highly recommended by me cookbook , The Pat Conroy Cookbook, Recipes of My Life, Pat shares the Southern secret for perfect crab cakes - the fat must be sizzling hot and, for perfectly cooked crab cakes, cook for two minutes on each side, turning once. That’s it, pure and simple.

Today I’ve made my own version of Pat’s crab cakes, following all of the suggestions above, but I urge you to try Pat’s recipe from his cookbook which can be found here. He also has a little bit fancier version napped with a lemony butter sauce and capers that’s also delicious and can be found here.

Enjoy!



Crab Cakes
Adapted slightly from The Pat Conroy Cookbook – makes 8 cakes

1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over & cleaned, with all shell fragments removed
1 egg white, lightly beaten until just foamy but not stiff
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions, white part only (or finely chopped chives)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Several sprinkles of hot sauce to taste (I used Tabasco)  
Small, small dash of Worcestershire sauce, taking care not to overpower the delicate flavor of the crabmeat
Pinch of Old Bay crab boil seasoning
2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
2 teaspoons peanut oil (divided)
Lemon wedges

Place the cleaned crabmeat in a medium mixing bowl. Pour the foamy egg white over the crabmeat slowly, stopping occasionally to mix it through with your hands. When the crabmeat has absorbed the egg white and feels slightly sticky to the touch (about 30 seconds or so), dust the flour over the crabmeat, then sprinkle the chopped scallions, freshly ground black pepper, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay, and a scant teaspoon of salt evenly over the top of the crabmeat.

With clean hands, lift the crabmeat from the bottom of the bowl, turning over very gently with your hands to mix the ingredients, taking care not to over handle the crab. Separate into 8 equal portions and gently roll each between the flattened palms of your hands to form loose balls. Flatten slightly and transfer to a plate. Sprinkle both sides with the remaining teaspoon or less of salt, cover gently with wax paper, and refrigerate for at least one hour before cooking.

Line a baking sheet large enough to hold 8 crab cooked cakes with paper towels and set aside. Melt half of the butter and oil together in a heavy, 10” non-stick skillet, until the mixture is foamy and begins to brown. Cooking the crab cakes in two batches, carefully place 4 of the crab cakes in the hot fat, not allowing them to touch, and fry until a crust forms, turning only once, about 2 minutes per side.

Cook’s tip: A thin fish spatula is perfect for lifting and turning delicate crab cakes or fish to prevent them from falling apart. An essential and inexpensive tool if you cook a lot of seafood, which I do. (See the recipe index for 28 other seafood recipes). In fact, we use it so often we have one in both houses. 

Remove the crab cakes and drain on the prepared pan. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil to keep the crab cakes warm while you make the second batch. To prepare the pan for the second batch, carefully pour off the cooking fat from the first batch and discard, wipe out the pan, and return to the heat. Prepare the second batch of crab cakes using the remaining butter and oil in the same manner as above. Serve hot with lemon wedges. 



I will be sharing this recipe with Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farms, Miz Helen’s Country Kitchen’s Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday at Simple Living, Foodie Friday at Not Your Ordinary Recipes, On the Menu Monday at Stone Gable & Food on Friday at Carol's Chatter.

Have a great weekend everyone.



55 comments:

  1. I am with you on the "easy on the fillers"! The recipe I use is very similar to yours. I've been using it since we lived in Charleston--along with Pat Conroy. When I first went to purchase crab after moving here, I was shocked at the price!! I suppose it is still higher than in Charleston but worth every penny. I believe Pat still lives on one of the islands near Charleston.

    Best,
    Bonnie

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great points, all. I don't think I ever get the pan hot enough. I'm too impatient to get cooking. But you've reminded me I need to wait even longer. Your results look mouthwatering, Sam!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I LOVE crabcakes! I just watched his story, "The Water is Wide" on Hallmark last night. I'll have to check out his cookbook ~ the man has many talents!

    I have made crabcakes twice, I actually use ground shrimp as a binder, it helps maintain the delicate balance of the lump crab. The recipe I follow is from Cooks Country. They are very time consuming to make, yours do not seem as complicated, and I'll be giving them a try.

    A hot pan is an essential part of cooking crabcakes, and I also highly recommend using a cast iron skillet and if you don't have one, the brand I prefer is Lodge Logic, it won't break the bank, unlike some other brands (which I own)!

    Thank you for sharing a delicious recipe! Have a wonderful weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Lovely delicious crab cake! Great tips!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think that's all I've ever had...the not so good ones. I appreciate this post Sam and would love to try this recipe. Now if I can just find some good lump crab meat. Have you ever used the ones that are packaged cold in the seafood section? Our Whole Foods has a couple of packages that are expensive enough that you'd think they'd be high quality.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lea Ann, if you can't find fresh crab meat, I think the Phillips brand in the black cans with the distinctive red writing are the very best.

      Delete
  6. Great points about crab cakes. I love Pat Conroy's cookbook. There are some funny stories in it along with great recipes. Your photos are beautiful Sam; makes me want to run out and buy some crab and make my own crab cakes.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The crab cakes sounds wonderful Sam. I usually buy them while dining out, because I never think to pick up crab at the store!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I find this hard to believe, but I don't think I've ever eaten crab cakes!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I am definitely willing to try this version of crab cakes Sam. I try and make versions of them every time my future SIL comes to town.

    ReplyDelete
  10. These do look perfect and delicious Sam! My daughter has always wanted to make crab cakes, and I was always hesitant to try making them. I will definitley have to try using your tips and put on my "big-girl-panties" and do it! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Gorgeous crab cakes! A pity crab is too expensive here as I wish I could make those...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm ashamed that I live in Virginia and have never made crab cakes - they seem to be a religion here! Looks like you figured it out and made a beautiful presentation. Lovely blog - found you via Larry a/k/a the big dude :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. These crab cakes look really tasty. Can't easily find crab over here, so I might have to substitute them with salmon and shrimps.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I have a confession..I have never had a real great crab cake.. just kind of artificial ones..
    These look like the best I have seen famous chefs prepare..
    I LOVE Pat Conroy..Prince of Tides is the only movie I have watched more that 3 times apart from The Wizard Of Oz and Sound Of Music:)
    Sounds so easy..4 minutes and voilà!

    ReplyDelete
  15. I am wishing I had one right now!! I love crab cakes. My D-I-L's mother has the best recipe I have ever ate, which includes some sort of lime sauce. We are big fans of Pat Conroy. I need to check out his cookbook. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Crabcakes = heaven! :-)

    I miss the crab cakes at the Edgewater restaurant in Edgewater, Maryland (sitting literally at the edge of the water, watching the boaters getting off the boat and right into the restaurant) and Saturdays at the .Lexington Market in Baltimore, eating Faidley's crab cakes. May I mention soft-shell Blue Crabs, pan-fried with a little butter? ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  17. So you're saying I shouldn't cram lump crab into a food processor with a loaf of bread? Ooops! (ha ha)

    My favorite version that I have done is Wolfgang Puck's recipe, excellent. You posted some great tips!

    ReplyDelete
  18. So I just sat down, after the dishes are done, to read some blog posts. Wish I had done that earlier, like before dinner. I made crab cakes tonight!! Your recipe and method looks really good. I'll try your version next time. And as always, beautiful presentation.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Great post Sam as I love crabcakes and rarely get them just right. Made some the other day and had trouble keeping them together so the fridge tip is very valuable to me. The recipe you used sounds really good and your presentation is excellent as always.

    ReplyDelete
  20. You are right on spot about the fillers. That's what ruins crab cakes. I love, love Pat Conroy and have read all of his books, and watched the movies. His cookbook is wonderful, entertaining writing, and I have made his crab cakes many times. Just earlier this summer, I bought a fish spatula and wondered why it took me so long. It's a great tool that I won't be without again. Thanks for this great post, Sam and you have a great weekend also!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Outside of chopping vegetables, there are few things that I love more than digging my hands into some delicious food. Great post - I will have to try these with some of the salmon in my freezer.

    I'm Erin (formerly of EKat's Kitchen and now of the newly minted and launched SalmonAtSeven.com) - and I'd love if you stopped into my new home on the web and said hi! I am one of your newest followers!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Crab cakes are one of my favorite meals!
    Thanks so much for these great tips for making the best crab cakes.
    Your recipe calls for scallions, I'm going to try that. I can imagine they give a nice flavor to the crab cake.
    As usual, everything looks scrumptious!
    I hope you join me for ON THE MENU MONDAY with this classic dish!
    Thanks, Sam

    ReplyDelete
  23. I love Pat Conroy and never knew he had a cookbook! I'll have to check that out! What I love more is crab cakes! So hard to resist at a restaurant! I'm so happy I found a recipe to make at home!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Sam I posted my recipe for crab cakes this week too! Very similar. Check it out at Not Your Ordinary Recipes
    Thanks for linking up to Foodie Friday!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I totally agree with you. Crab cakes are either really delicious or really lacking...I have made both. :-(
    Thank you for the recommendations and the recipe. My successful recipe is very similar to yours. I will try yours the next time I prepare crab cakes.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Crab cakes are my daughter's ultimate favorite, Sam, so she will be happy when I forward your delicious recipe and tips for preparation. I never knew Pat Conroy wrote a cookbook! It sounds very interesting. You always share the best recipes and sources with us!

    ReplyDelete
  27. I've never had the courage to blog about crab cakes, because people seem to be very fussy about them! I know what you mean about mediocre crab cakes. Great tips, Sam! Old Bay Spice is my go to seasoning, and I do love my "fish spatula". I need these in my life.

    ReplyDelete
  28. MIne are mostly meat and tend to fall apart. I will try putting them in the fridge, great tip. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  29. You have inspired me to give it a go.
    I found this via Simple Living with Diane Balch. I linked in an attempt at meatballs. Have a super week.

    ReplyDelete
  30. CRAB CAKES! My favorite. I will have to try this - do you think our San Francisco Dungeness will work?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the Dungeness crabs should work perfectly. Let me know how they turn out.

      Delete
  31. They look amazing and thanks for the tips! I haven't had a crab cake in way too long:@)

    ReplyDelete
  32. Great advice, Sam. Fillers ruin the crab cakes. Of course, the best place to eat them is Down East. :) But there is one restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale that makes awfully good ones. I don't make them at home that often, but this looks like a winner of a recipe.

    ReplyDelete
  33. There is nothing more delicious than a well-made crab cake! They are a real treat. I usually buy crab claws or fingers from our shrimp guy when he's in town which will be this week. I see crab cakes on the menu here in the near future :)

    ReplyDelete
  34. Crab cakes are one of life's biggest pleasures. Eating crab cakes is almost like an event at my house. I agree with everything you posted (minimal ingredients, chill time and all). They look mouthwatering!

    ReplyDelete
  35. Yummy ...how delicious - that looks like my kinda meal!

    Melissah

    ReplyDelete
  36. I love crab cakes and have made them on occasion. I will try your recipe, especially the part about refrigeration as I use little filler and they do tend to crumble.

    Pat is a fabulous author and cook and southern gentleman!

    The photos you included are fantastic and make me want to run to the market this exact moment to buy crab and fresh lemon!

    ReplyDelete
  37. These look delicious, thanks for all the great tips. You're right, it's hard to make really good crab cakes but it looks like you are "right on"!

    ReplyDelete
  38. Good Morning Sam,
    I love Crab Cakes and like you often times order them when dinning out. You have given us some great tips and this is a really good recipe that I will try. Your presentation invites me to enjoy them at your table.

    Hope you have a fantastic week and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

    ReplyDelete
  39. Crab Cakes are one of my favorite seafood dishes. Thanks so much for posting this yummy recipe. My mouth is watering from looking at your photos! I'm now following you via GFC and I can't wait to see more of your recipes.

    Julie
    www.jamscorner.com

    ReplyDelete
  40. I do love a great crab cake - I've just made some myself - i so agree with the not "over stuffing" them with the breadcrumbs - great post!
    Mary x

    ReplyDelete
  41. these look so good, great tip on chilling them must try as I struggle to keep mine together

    ReplyDelete
  42. I refuse to order crab cakes in a restaurant unless I have assurances that the first (and almost only) ingredient is lump crab... No fillers, please!

    This is a fabulous recipe and I am anxious to try this out for houseguests next weekend. We live only a mile or so from a small family-owned seafood (and meat) market. Greg can always get the best lump crabmeat... miam-miam!

    I may have to try the caper sauce, too

    Bises,
    Genie

    ReplyDelete
  43. I have chased the elusive crab cake through many restaurants and occasionally tried to make them myself. Your recipe sounds like the Platonic ideal.

    ReplyDelete
  44. I tend to order crab cakes and never make them also. This sounds like a true crab cake - lots of crab. And I just may need a fish spatula. They so entice.

    ReplyDelete
  45. You made your crabcakes just the way we like them, Sam. I don't want anything to compete with the delicate flavor of the crab. What a treat!

    ReplyDelete
  46. These look really wonderful! Love your tips!!!

    ReplyDelete
  47. Looks like you have the secrets to perfect crab cakes unlocked! It is so true when you are using a high quality ingredient like lump carb you don't want anything else to compete.

    As always, awesome. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Velva

    ReplyDelete
  48. Sam, I love crab cakes...and yours look great...with lots of crab meat :) Thanks for the tips!
    Hope you are enjoying your week and again thanks for this awesome recipe :)

    ReplyDelete
  49. Great recipe and thanks for the great tips! I am crazy about crab cakes and yours look perfect!

    ReplyDelete
  50. I will pass this on to my crab loving sister, Gay. Perhaps she and I will try our hands at crab cakes since we never find really good ones in restaurants.
    Thanks again for sharing. I will look for Pat Conroy's cookbook. I enjoy his books.

    ReplyDelete
  51. They look wonderful! The best I ever had is the one my friend Cathy at Wives with Knives shared.

    ReplyDelete

I enjoy reading each and every comment. If you leave a comment with a question or that requires an answer, please leave an address or way for me to get in touch with you. I appreciate your taking the time to visit my blog and I hope you'll return again soon.
Sam