I am not ashamed to admit that when we first moved to New England the thing I was most excited about was the seafood. And why should I be? I am also not ashamed to admit that when friends and family, playing devil’s advocate, would offer potential deterrents for leaving the Midwest for the East Coast I would rebut, with total confidence and seriousness, with “but… seafood!” I might be slightly ashamed in admitting that it was this seafood, as well as the strong Italian influence (read as “Italian food”), that was my major deciding factor in a favorable vote for the move. But that’s only slightly.
Since moving here I have indulged in and enjoyed whatever fresh frutti di mare that the bay offers up to local markets and restaurants. The comparison is a bit like corn. That sounds strange, but stay with me on this, I have a valid point. In the fall, winter and spring, we are all happy as clams with frozen corn; it tastes and works just as well as fresh corn, we tell ourselves. You can even pick up fresh cobs in the produce section of your local grocery store in the middle of winter and, while we know its not locally in season, we reason that where ever it hails from it must be. We saute it; make it into chowders, salsas, salads and relishes; we mix it into to black beans for a Tex-Mex feast and we do so with perfect content. That is, until we’re in the full sunburst swings of summer and we get a taste of fresh corn, straight from the farmer’s field. Its crisp, sweet and slightly starchy brightness makes us relent our former forbidden love with those frozen yellow kernels. Seafood is the same way. We can get frozen fish filets and shrimp out of freezer cases, or previously frozen and imported seafood from the counter and, mostly, are content with it. Frankly, for some of us, that’s the only option. I’m strapped to think of a time I was able to buy fresh, never frozen wild-caught shrimp in Michigan. But when we do get our hands on the freshest catch of seafood, all of those notions of their frozen counterparts boasting equal superiority are fleeting, even if just for a moment. See… seafood is like corn, right?
That said, I don’t use fresh crab for these. I am perfectly happy using those tubs of crab meat at the seafood counter here. In fact, I have used those cans of “Premium” crab that you find at the seafood counter, also–the ones that require refrigeration and only have the shelf life of a month or two. Despite my love for the freshest of fresh seafood, I also sing the praises* of what’s available to me frozen, canned or in a tub because, as already mentioned, sometimes that’s all that is available.
What I think is most important with crab cakes is nothing revolutionary; it should highlight and feature the crab. So many crab cakes seem like they are more like a white bread and mayonnaise cake, with only the slightest inkling of a crab-like flavor, should your taste buds be attuned enough to pick them up. The bulk of a crab cake should not actually be just bulk; it should obviously, I would hope, be crab. There should only be enough “filler”, if you can even call it that, to hold them together. Sure, you can feed more people if you pump them full of breadcrumbs and mayo but I’d rather feed fewer people something good than feed more people a bunch of filler that just plays dress-up as good. I also don’t like store-bought tartar sauce because, to me, all it tastes like is slightly soured mayonnaise and its so easy to make your own.
So, while this post might be a bit long winded, the preparation and cooking of these are just the opposite.
First, start by mixing up the ingredients for the tartar sauce: mayo, wholegrain mustard, parsley, chives, white wine vinegar, chopped kosher dill pickles, lemon juice and a little salt.
Cover it with plastic wrap and throw it in the fridge for at least an hour but up to 12.
Then, mix up some of the “filler”: a little mayo, Dijon, Old Bay seasoning, Worcestershire, parsley, chives, some minced celery (either a tender, inner stalk or leaves), an egg and some salt…
… And pour it over a pound of crab meat (claw, lump, jumbo lump or a combination of any of them).
Gently mix all of that together with a fork, kind of in a fluffing motion like you would for fluffing steamed rice. Once its all mixed pretty well, sprinkle over some panko and keep on forking.
Form these into cakes. You can serve anywhere from 4 to 6 people with these. To serve four people I make 8 smaller patties, serving each one on half an English muffin, open face-style. To serve six, I make 6 cakes and make them into sandwiches. Sure, they’re a little soft as a sandwich and might make a bit of a mess so if that’s an issue for you serve them open face, too. Either way, cover the cakes and stash in the fridge for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, heat a thin layer of vegetable oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Once hot, fry the crab cakes in batches for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast some English muffins…
Then flip the crab cakes and let them go for another 4 – 5 minutes.
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* I’m not actually going to sing… that would be awkward.