September 23, 2009

Rachel's Homestyle Baltimore Crab Cakes

1 shallot, minced
16 oz backfin blue crab meat
16 oz lump blue crab meat
2 eggs, beaten
2 slices white sandwich bread, torn into small bits
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1-2 tablespoons Old Bay
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the crab meat in a large bowl. Add the spices and mix to incorporate, without breaking up the chunks of crab meat. Add the remaining ingredients and gently mix in by hand.

Cup handfuls of the crab mixture and mold into balls.

Cook immediately or refrigerate until ready to cook, up to overnight. Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a large skillet and fry the crab cakes until golden, flipping once. A large, shallow spoon makes flipping and removing crab cakes from the pan a breeze. Drain on paper towel lined plates before serving.

Yield: about 10 crab cakes

My thoughts:
Here in Baltimore where to get the best crab cakes is a hotly debated topic. Blood is drawn, friendships are lost, and families are divided as people debate which restaurant has the most flavorful crab cakes with the largest chunks of crab and the least filler. Almost as controversial are the crab cake recipes people make at home. Often they are a closely guarded secret trotted out only on the most special of occasions. Fortunately for you, I don't feel the need to keep my recipe to myself. My recipe has been refined over the years, building up from the very simple Old Bay, backfin, egg and bread cube version my mother makes.

My version uses both lump and backfin crab meat for a couple of reasons. Backfin is finer and easier to form into cakes but it is wonderful to bite into succulent lumps of crabmeat, so it is worth it mix some lump in. Lump, by itself, is rather difficult to bind without using a lot of filler and is more expensive than backfin, so mixing the two is easier, cheaper and tastier than using just lump. I also like to add a bit of mustard and extra celery seed to the mix to give it a bit of a kick without being spicy. The trick is to season your crab cakes thoroughly enough that it needs no adornment but not so much that you can't taste the crab. The crab is the star!

My recipe is sort a cross between the old-fashioned, homelier crabcakes typically made by native Baltimoreans at home and the broiled jumbo lump-only crab cakes one finds at restaurants. Of course, there are as many ways to make crab cakes as there are crabs in Bay but these are tastiest I've made and easy to make at home.

Quick tips:
Often small bits of shells and cartridge can be found in packages of crabmeat, even if the label says it has been picked over. Take a minute to check over the meat before forming the crabcakes.

The moisture level of the crab varies from batch to batch. If the crab mixture is very wet, making it difficult to form a cake, add a small amount of bread or cracker crumbs until the mixture can hold its shape.

If you are so inclined, lump and jumbo lump crab meat can be used instead of the backfin and lump but it will be more difficult to mold into crab cakes.