Everyone who loves crab cakes eventually gets to the big question… which are the best ones in America? For me, it comes down to two candidates… Commander’s Palace in New Orleans… and some dive I stumbled into along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. They are very different but both were so incredible that the memory of them is indelible.
The Commander’s Palace version doesn’t use any bread crumbs and very little binder, allowing the pure exquisite crab flavor to come through. The ingredients are placed in many individual small round metal cylinders about 2 1/2 inches wide, which sit right on a cast iron skillet. When they are about to be served, the metal rings are removed.
At Commander’s Palace, one of the greatest restaurants in America, when the crabs are in season, and this decadent meal goes on their menu, it is a thing to behold. Have it with the extraordinary Gumbo or Turtle Soup… you will remember this meal forever.
The other best choice of mine is a glowing memory, and if you live in Maryland, you will be nodding your head now with an “Amen”. The time and distance since I was there has obscured the name of this simple shack by the water, but the memory is ever present. A wooden picnic table by the Bay, butcher paper on the table. Boiled crabs dumped on the paper and smashed apart. And then the crab cakes are ready and you pick them up at the window.
The crab meat is so sweet and succulent, the buns are toasty and buttery, and the flavor of Old Bay seasoning unforgettable… again proving the old rule, ingredients are everything. Oh Maryland!
My crab cakes seem to teeter between these two archetypes. Generally my theory is this… if you have access to in-season fresh crab from New Orleans or Maryland, reduce the liquids in your recipe, and that will reduce the need for binders, like bread crumbs. Crab is a fabulous delicacy, and crab cakes are at their most sublime in the places that have fresh sources of the best America has to offer, made within each region’s long standing local traditions, which is why this question brings out all the deep passions of the lovers of crab. And the next question? Which is better, crab cakes or lobster rolls? Let the arguing begin.
1 pound crab meat, (if you don’t have freshly cracked crab, store bought Blue Crab lump is best)
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper (1 medium pepper)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 lemon, squeezed
1/4 cup olive oil, for frying crab cakes
4 garlic cloves, fresh or first simmered in olive oil for patina
1 cup crusty bread crumbs
1/4 stick butter
1 teaspoon capers
1 tablespoon Dijon or Cajun mustard
1/4 cup Italian parsley
1/2 cup celery and leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 jalapenos, oven roasted (if you like it spicy)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
3/4 cup ketchup
1 whole lemon, squeezed
2 tablespoons rice vinegar or white vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons fresh horseradish
Roast 2 jalapenos. Skin, chop and set aside.
In a medium bowl combine crab meat with finely chopped onions, shallots, red bell pepper and celery.
Add crushed garlic, capers and roasted jalapenos.
Stir in dry mustard, Dijon or Cajun mustard, mayonnaise and 2 eggs beaten.
Stir in lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce.
Stir in bread crumbs, chopped Italian parsley.
Now add salt and pepper.
Form crab mixture into patties and place on a baking sheet lined with foil. Cover with Saran Wrap and chill in refrigerator for 1-3 hours. Crab cakes can also be prepared the day before cooking.
In a 12 to 14 inch fry pan (cast iron works best), melt the butter and on low to medium heat, add the olive and fry each side of the crab cakes until toasty.
Make sure the inside is fully cooked. Serve hot with a choice of both Cocktail Sauce and Tartar Sauce. Seriously good, rich and filling… this is another awesome umami feast from the ocean.