A lot of people, like my stepmother, are so obsessed with crab cakes they'll order them whenever they appear on a menu. I've had a few restaurant crab cakes in my time, but they've never been much to write home about. Too aggressively spiced, too pasty, too fried. And since mayonnaise, such an integral part of the crab cake construction, is the kind of substance I'd be happy to never have to ingest again in my life, I've never really been too tempted to make these at home.
But then Regina Schrambling had to go and write a mouth-watering article about the glories of crab cakes done right, and since she had such kitchen luminaries as Tom Douglas and David Lentz expounding on their mama's crab cakes (and providing, I assume, some amalgam of those ladies' kitchen wisdom in the accompanying recipe), I couldn't help but run out and practically mortgage my apartment to buy lump crab meat and get to work.
Since I simply could not bring myself to actually buy a whole jar of mayonnaise, I substituted some low-fat mayo left behind by my San Francisco-bound roommate, but otherwise, I stuck to the recipe. Jumbo lump crab meat, Old Bay, panko bread crumbs, chopped parsley, sliced green onions, salt, pepper and an egg. The cakes seemed like they'd barely hold together as there was so much crab in comparison to the binding and filler. I chilled the cakes while I whizzed together a piquillo pepper sauce for dipping (more mayo - egads, some jarred piquillos, sherry vinegar, parsley, and a bit of pimenton de la Vera to add a faintly bitter, smoky note.)
After an hour of chilling, I melted butter with oil in a pan and gently fried the cakes until they were browned and crispy on both sides. Served hot with the cold, creamy, smoky sauce, they were quite a delicious meal eaten outside in the evening breeze. The sweet, plump crab really shone through, but the crunch and vegetal brightness of the onions and herbs and spices turned these into well-balanced flavor bombs (in a good way!).
I love this plain, simple recipe - it's a classic. And If I make these again, when I've won the lottery and can afford to do so, I'll definitely be trying sauce gribiche alongside them, which seems like a more sophisticated take on tartar sauce and a bit more up my alley, sauce-wise.
1 pound jumbo lump or Dungeness crabmeat
4 green onions, green part only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (or cilantro)
1/2 cup panko or fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (or to taste)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1. Pick over the crabmeat to remove any cartilage, trying not to break up the chunks. In a bowl, gently toss the crabmeat, green onions, cilantro, panko and Old Bay. Again, try not to break up the crab.
2. Gently fold in the mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Add the lightly beaten egg and fold just until the mixture is well combined.
3. Shape the mixture into eight fat ball-like cakes. (They will flatten slightly during cooking.) Place them on a platter or a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Drape a second sheet of wax paper over the top. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
4. In a large skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Carefully lay the crab cakes into the butter and oil and fry until crusty and browned, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Serve hot, with a chilled sauce.