Though seemingly a staple on the Eastern seaboard, crab cakes are pure decadence to me. Properly prepared, they are exquisitely light yet sinfully rich, a perfect balance of tangy zing and buttery goodness.
If you live near the coast where fresh crab comes right off the boat, consider yourself among the chosen few. Fortunately, even for those who don’t live near the water, or for those who get the hankering for crab cakes when the side-crawling critters are not in season, good quality crab can be found in a tin. The crab meat itself is graded based on which part of the crab’s body it comes from and the overall size of the crab. Both “special” and “lump” grades are readily available; you have to look a little harder for the “jumbo lump” grade. Jumbo lump meat is brilliant white and comes from the two large muscles connected to the swimming legs of larger crabs. Lump meat is composed of broken pieces of jumbo lump, while special meat comprises shreds and small flakes of white meat from the body cavity of the crab. Don’t even think of making crab cakes unless you can get jumbo lump or lump grade crab.
The hand-formed cakes can be prepared either pan-fried or breaded and deep-fried, but I prefer the pan-fried version. As a butter booster, this recipe uses Ritz crackers in lieu of breadcrumbs or saltines.
This recipe, recently published in the Wall Street Journal, comes from Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, authors of Canal House Cooking, a series of seasonal recipes that is part up-scale magazine, part down-home cookbook. The two authors worked together at Saveur magazine, and in 2006 they started a photo and design studio for cookbooks and magazines. From their loft workspace, a former newspaper office on the towpath of the Delaware Canal, they self-publish Canal House Cooking, now up to Volume 6. With the photographic and food-styling backgrounds of the seasoned pair, it is no surprise that the photos in the Canal House collection are absolutely stunning. In my world, that alone makes the cookbooks worth buying.
2 tablespoons butter
3 ribs celery, minced
3 scallions, minced
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
8 Ritz crackers, crushed into coarse crumbs (1/3 cup)
1 16-ounce can jumbo lump crabmeat, drained well
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add celery and scallions and cook until soft, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
Whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, Old Bay Seasoning, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Stir in the cracker crumbs and the cooled celery and scallions. Add the crabmeat and mix together very gently with your hand. Don’t break up the crabmeat.
Make 12 small, plump 2-inch crab cakes, gently pressing each cake together in your hands, and arrange the cakes on a parchment-lined tray. It may seem like the crab cakes are in danger of falling apart, but chilling them will hold them together. Loosely cover the tray with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.
To cook the crab cakes, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter and the vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium to medium-low heat. Fry the cakes until golfer brown on each side, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve hot with lemon wedges, tartar sauce, and saltine crackers, if you like.