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Crab Cakes

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Three grades of crab render variety of cakes

It's only fitting that we do a seafood recipe during this time of Lent and just past Mardi Gras season. We are going to go through a basic rendition of one of my most requested recipes ~ crab cakes.

My philosophy on crab cakes is very simple; I use almost entirely a top quality, blue crabmeat back-fin style (East Coast crustacean or preferably lump crabmeat, if you can find it. The back fin variety is more readily available in this area. Note that I add a little Dungeness crabmeat to the recipe. This is because of the flavor profile it lends. I am not a real fan of a crab cake made entirely of Dungeness and definitely do not recommend buying pre-made ones for any reason.

Blue crabmeat is packed in three specifications: No. 1 grade is jumbo lump meat. No. 2 is back-fin, and No. 3 grade is unacceptable because it has a mealy texture and makes an inferior cake. Back fin usually has some lump crab and nice pieces of white meat. If you can find a good quality back-fin, it will make an outstanding crab cake mix.

The No. 1 choice is next to impossible to find in retail stores. I have a difficult time making sure I have an adequate amount to meet my needs. I buy from a fish monger on the East Coast or, if I am in a pinch, I have bought back-fin meat from Costco and found that it is more than acceptable. I have also heard that Blue Bounty in Reno has a supply of blue crab and back-fin.

When blue crabmeat is being canned, it is pasteurized so that it has a longer shelf life. This makes it a good, safe product. Blue crabmeat is delicate and sweet. It makes a superior crab cake versus using West Coast Dungeness.

When you open the can of crab, be certain to place the meat in a bowl and carefully (without breaking the crabmeat) drain any excess liquid and check for any shells that may have been left in the meat.

When assembling the ingredients, take care to finely dice and chop the pepper and onions. You want them to compliment the crab cake, not overpower it. Also, take care not to break up the pieces of crab when you are mixing the other ingredients with the crab. You want to leave the meat as intact as possible. This gives a good texture and structure to the cakes, which separates it from a mediocre versus and excellent cake.

At the assembly stage, you have two options. I like to make the cakes tall and round like a cylinder, slightly larger than a golf ball. Mine are typically 1 1/2 inches high and 2 inches in diameter (approximately three ounces per cake.) Ther option is to make tem more like a pancake, with an approximate diameter of 3 inches and a thickness of about a half inch.

In the restaurant, I serve the cakes with a lemon caper or saffron Buerre blanc. You can also use your imagination and make a relish style sauce or salsa. Both of these go well with crab cakes.

Add a little brightness to your crab cakes with fresh lemon juice. Be sure to squeeze the fresh lemon over the cakes as soon as you remove them from the oven; do not let them cool. The recipe to follow is for a Creole style rouille, which I think you will enjoy.

My wine recommendation is a big oakey style chardonnay or crisp sauvignon blanc. I particularly like th Shenandoah, Amador County sauvignon blanc or the Domaine Alfred, Chamisal Vineyards 2000 chardonnay for Edna Valley.

(Serves 8 appetizer or 4 dinners)

  • 1 pound back fin crab

  • 1/4 cup scallions

  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped

  • 1/4 cup Dungeness crab

  • 1 cup panko (Japanese style bread crumbs)

  • 2 T. mayonnaise

  • 1 T. yellow mustard

  • 2 tsp Tabasco sauce

  • 1/4 tsp white pepper, to taste
  • To prepare the crab bakes, for service, assemble the ingredients and form into either a cylinder shape with your fingers and palm or your hand or a pancake shape. Then lightly flour the cakes. Place in half inch of olive or canola oil in a 12 inch sauté pan and heat on medium high. If makin the cylinder shape, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly brown the cakes on all sides. If you have made the pancake style, they will be ready to serve immediately. For the cylinder style, place them in the oven for approximately 15 minutes to complete cooking. The pancake style can be placed in the oven to keep warm, if you serve them with a sauce.


  • 1 large head of garlic, peeled

  • 1 pinch of sea salt or kosher salt

  • 3 T. fresh lemon juice

  • Cayenne pepper, to taste

  • Crushed chili flakes, to taste

  • 1 T. Dijon mustard

  • 1 T. Tabasco sauce

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 large red peppers, roasted and peeled
  • Roast peppers and peel, remove seeds. If desired, roast peeled garlic in 1/2 cup of olive oil. I like to place it in the oven for approximately 30 minutes to infuse the oil with the garlic. It gives the rouille an awesome flavor.

    In a blender, add the garlic, salt, eggs, Tabasco, mustard, chili peppers, cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Cover and blend for about 3 minutes. Add the olive oil by drizzling it into the mixture. Be sure your blender is on a low or medium setting. The consistency when the oil is added should be like a very thick mayonnaise. You may have to use a rubber spatula to help rotate the top of the rouille to the bottom so that is thoroughly mixed.

    Add the roasted red peppers. Once blended, add salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

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