These seasoned patties are filled with chunks or flakes of crabmeat combined with binders such as bread crumbs, mayonnaise, and eggs. Seasonings may include green onion, a dash of hot sauce, seafood seasoning, and a snipped fresh herb, such as dill or Italian parsley. You can also add veggies such as sauteed shredded zucchini or carrot to the mix. After forming into small patties, the crab cakes are pan-fried or baked until browned. Crab cakes seem like an indulgent treat fit for a special occasion. However, once you understand the basics, whipping up a batch will take about 20 minutes prep time and result in a delicious meal for friends or family.
Purchasing the Crabmeat
While chefs may argue that using fresh crab is the best, there are perfectly acceptable -- and much easier -- options. Crabmeat is available canned, frozen, or pasteurized, all of which deliver crabmeat that has already been cracked from the crustacean and cooked. For frozen crabmeat, make sure you leave enough time to thaw it. For canned crabmeat, drain any liquid, remove cartilage from the crabmeat, and gently flake the crabmeat. Pasteurized crabmeat has been heated at a high temperature, similar to canning, to extend shelf life and can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 6 months. Look for pasteurized crabmeat in the refrigerator case. It is a fresher-tasting option than shelf-stable canned crabmeat.
Types of Canned or Frozen Crabmeat
- Lump crabmeat is the most expensive and refers to large pieces of crabmeat from the body of the crab. This makes showy crab cakes with nice chunks of crab.
- Flake crab meat is made up of smaller pieces, also from the crab's body.
- Claw meat is the least expensive option, yet is still very flavorful.
Tip: If using the meat from cooked crab legs, purchase about 1-1/4 pounds crab legs to get 8 ounces crabmeat, which equals 1-1/2 cups chopped crabmeat.
One general guideline to follow in making crab cakes is to let the crab flavor shine through. It's easy to get caught up adding an abundance of ingredients, which may cause you to lose the essence of crab taste. The point of the other flavors should be to help highlight the crab and adhere the crabmeat into a patty that will not fall apart.
Ingredients needed in a crab cake recipe fall into two basic categories:
- Binders such as eggs, mayo, bread crumbs, and cornmeal to help the crab cake hold together.
- Flavor enhancers including mustard, fresh or dried herbs, onions, peppers, and seasonings to help complement the crabmeat.
Combine the crab cake ingredients in a bowl, stirring in the crabmeat last. Once the ingredients are combined, use your hands to mold them into patties of the same size so they cook evenly. Some recipes even recommend refrigerating the crab cakes for 30 minutes to 1 hour so they hold together better during the cooking process. Others call for a quick dusting of flour or bread crumbs over the formed crab cakes, which can help hold them together during cooking and encourage browning.
3. Cook the Crab Cakes
- To bake the crab cakes: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place the cakes in a greased shallow baking pan. If desired, toss a few tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs with a drizzle of cooking oil and sprinkle atop the cakes, pressing to adhere. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until light brown.
- To pan-fry the crab cakes: If desired, toss a few tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs with a drizzle of cooking oil and sprinkle atop the cakes, pressing to adhere. In an extra-large skillet heat a 2 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the crab cakes and cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until brown, turning halfway through cooking. Transfer browned cakes to a paper towel-lined plate to remove excess oil.
Crab cakes usually follow a basic formula, but there's a lot of room for creativity when it comes to serving. Shape into bite-size crab cakes for party hors d'oeuvres. Make into small crab cakes and serve over a bed of greens for an appetizer or lunch salad. Serve with hollandaise sauce and eggs for a different twist on brunch or, to jazz up dinner, serve with condiments such as tartar sauce, horseradish sauce, or red pepper relish.