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Crab Cakes, Done Right
By Charlie Burke

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Crab cakes are ubiquitous, found from Washington State to Baltimore and from
New England to New Orleans. They are served everywhere from  diners to high
end restaurants.

They are usually bad.

The reason for this is found in the ingredients and in the proportion of crab meat
to filler. I recently saw a cooking show where the guest’s recipe included
whipped cream, whipped egg whites, celery, red pepper, onions, garlic, Cajun
seasoning, mustard, bread and, yes, some crabmeat.  The sweet, mild flavor of
the crab didn’t stand a chance mixed with all the other assertive flavors. The crab
also becomes lost when it is mixed with too much filler, usually bread crumbs.
If a crab cake is perfectly formed, dense and comes to you intact, you will
probably taste more filling than crab.

Less is more when it comes to the other ingredients in crab cakes. For four cakes,
I use two 6 ounce packages of crabmeat and no more than 2/3 of a cup of bread
crumbs. Other flavors should be in the background, serving to complement the

In New England, fresh crabmeat from Maine is always available and is notable
for its sweetness; it has a more delicate flavor than lobster. Some mix an egg to
bind the filling, but I just accept that a good crab cake is fragile and can be
patted back into shape on the plate if it fragments.

We often serve the cakes over our greens with a lemony vinaigrette for a great
summer lunch; the cakes usually break up some, following the contour of the
greens for an appealing affect. This recipe serves four as a first course and can
be doubled for a main course.

For four cakes:

12 ounces fresh Maine crabmeat
Scant 2/3 cup of fresh white breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
11/2 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped scallion, shallot or chives
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoon chopped flat- leaf parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice or to taste
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Butter and olive oil for frying

Thoroughly mix mayonnaise, mustard, scallions, parsley, lemon juice and
cayenne; add breadcrumbs and crabmeat. Toss gently to mix, leaving crab in
chunks. Add salt and pepper to taste and add more lemon juice or cayenne if
you wish. Form into four cakes.

Heat a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat and add approximately a
tablespoon each of olive oil and butter. After the butter has foamed, add the four
cakes and cook just until golden brown on each side. If they break apart
somewhat as they are turned; simply reform them with a spoon or spatula.

Serve immediately with a salad and dressing or serve with mayonnaise that has
been mixed with a few capers, lemon juice and tobasco sauce. They go well also
with remoulade sauce and with tartar sauce. Vary the flavoring of the cakes
according to your taste, and you will soon have made the recipe your own.

About the author An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the
vice president of the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association (
org) and helps run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne,
he grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in
Sanbornton, NH.  
The Heart of New England
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