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Crab Cakes 101

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Joined: 19 Oct 2007
Posts: 1041
Location: central PA

PostPosted: Sun Feb 01, 2015 7:21 pm    Post subject: Crab Cakes 101 Reply with quote

I grew up on the water - the east coast bays with blue claw crabs. at home we didn't do crab cakes much - we were much more into the steam/heap-on-table/pick-til-you-drop scene.

crab cakes we ate in local joints - and to be clear, I'm not talking about the pasty-bread-filled-seasoned-with-strange-stuff-breaded-deep-fried crab cakes ala 'in a box in the frozen section' - I'm talking about seasoned, tasty crab meat formed into a patty and pan fried.

even today, aside from some bayside local places, you can't get that kind of crab cake in a restaurant or from the supermarket - they are strictly DYI. buy some crab meat, get out the frying pan.

but I have never managed to make a good crab cake. they fall apart and we wind up with crab hash instead of a crab cake.

so I set out to fix that.

first, let's talk crab. east coast blue claw crab is what I base my history on. one will find "(swimming) blue crab" from South American and Asian waters. the Asian crab is regrets to say not the same species and regrets to say does not taste the same as Chesapeake / Delaware/east coast blue claw crab. if you've have crab dishes that for some odd reason didn't really taste so crabby - now you know why - the marketing types label it "blue crab" - but it really ain't - and no, it really does not taste the same.

crab meat is not cheap. a crab cake dinner will run $5 to $10 per person in raw ingredients. if you can't find blue crab "Product of USA" - you might want to reconsider your degree of desperation. the "not really" stuff is "not really" any cheaper, but it sure can be severely more really disappointing.

there's a couple aspects to really good crab cakes: taste, texture and physical integrity.

texture - I first learned good texture is best achieved with a mix of smaller and larger pieces of crab meat. "Lump" is always the most expensive - I've found that I need about 50-50 lump and something smaller. depending on what is available and quantity to be made, I've bought (for example) a pound of lump, divided it into two piles, and 'chopped up' half. if you can find smaller quantities of the size grades, the more economical approach is to buy 50% lump and 50% 'Special'

the seasoning bit is not all too difficult. salt, pepper, Old Bay - and a few thousand other variations. what I have learned is: whatever it is - onion, scallion, green pepper, olives, celery.... anything non-powered has to be finely chopped / minced because my biggest issue has always been:
they keep falling apart - which is what brought me to this point.
(seasonings aside) I found two basic recipes for making crab cakes:
- mix in mayonaise as a binder
- mix in egg as a binder

the mayo approach has never worked for me - it just melts and everything turns into crab hash.
tried the egg route, not much better.

so, to paraphrase Sherlock "The Crab' Holmes - when you've have eliminated all the stuff that does not work, only the stuff that does work remains.

taking a page from my salmon patty approach:
whisk two (USDA size large) eggs in a bowl and allow to warm
50-50 lump and special - in the two egg amount - 8 oz / 225 g lump grade and 8 oz/225 g special grade

drain well; allow to come to room temp
in a large bowl, toss/fold/mix and spread out the crab meat 'up the sides' into a one inch / 3 cm layer
add seasonings - note the issue here - mix seasoning and any other additives to incorporate the whole mass into a uniform state by folding before adding the binder.
re-whisk and add eggs, "fold" eggs and crab meat mixture with cupped spatula as to minimize breaking up lump crab chunks.
spread out the mixture 'up the sides' of the bowl into a one inch / 3 cm layer. you will very likely find some liquid accumulating at the bottom.

sprinkle panko bread crumbs ove the mixture, re-fold the mixture 'up the sides' of the bowl into a one inch / 3 cm layer.

wait about 5 minutes and recheck liquid status.
repeat "add panko & fold" process until the mix shows no free liquid. note: you have to "sneak up" on this "dry" point. if one 'over pankos' the mix right out of the box, it will probably turn out too dry.

for one pound of crab meat + two eggs, less than half a cup of panko needed - but this is going to vary.

using a serving spoon heap the crab mix into a ring mold - press down on the crab to get a firm patty. I make them about half-inch / 12mm thick - ring mold is about 3 inches / 8 cm in diameter. one pound will make six crab cakes. of this size.

too thick they burn before the middle is warmed up.

what I was missing was the amount of compaction needed to keep them in patty form - this makes for a very meat crab cake without all the gloppy filler!
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Joined: 29 Dec 2005
Posts: 61
Location: on the boat, Annapolis, MD

PostPosted: Mon Feb 02, 2015 2:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are a number of pretty good restaurant crab cakes around the Chesapeake:

Mike's Crab House
Crab Claw
Davis' Pub
Annapolis Seafood Company

I'm sure there are other good places around the Bay.

If you come to Annapolis DO NOT go to Cantler's. The place has become a real pit.

I think you have hit on the underlying issue of poor crab cakes: restaurants use the excuse of a binder to use filler and keep their costs down. The food suffers.

When we make our own I use eggs as binder with just a little oil (remembering that mayo is an emulsion of eggs and fat). I pack the mixed crab and binder into a tuna-sized can with the top and bottom removed as a form, pack them down, and press them out into the pan.

With care you can use a fish grate on a grill and make wonderful crab cakes.
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Joined: 19 Oct 2007
Posts: 1041
Location: central PA

PostPosted: Mon Feb 02, 2015 7:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

...tuna can

giggle. if memory serves, my batch of "rings" I saved up when making english muffins - from cat food cans. not a lot of cans that still have a top&bottom one can cut out.....

....great grills....
the grates on my 1980's charcoal grill are about rusted out. having issues finding new cast iron same or bigger size so I've been thinking about.....

our 'deck' is roughly 10 ft off ground level - been pondering getting a stainless 'over the stern' marine type I could mount on a 4x4. any recommendations on those? household of two - don't need a football field size.....
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Michael Chu

Joined: 10 May 2005
Posts: 1639
Location: Austin, TX (USA)

PostPosted: Sat Feb 07, 2015 6:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wonderful write up. I love the idea of a great crab cake, but rarely experience it. I'm going to have to surprise my wife with this soon.
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