I don’t much care for the state of Maryland. Even though, at its closest, it’s only five miles away from where I’m sitting right now, I hardly ever venture across the border, and when I do I audibly groan. (Probably because some car with Maryland plates just cut across three lanes to make an illegal u-turn.) Really, it’s probably not even entirely Maryland’s fault. I’m from Virginia, and my first (terrible) job was in Bethesda, Maryland, 16 years ago. I had to take two trains and walk halfway across that god-forsaken suburb — which, somehow, is the cosmopolitan part of Maryland? — every day for four months, until I quit, and I’ve probably just never gotten over it. But this is a food blog, so I will spare you any more unhinged ranting about Maryland.
But seriously, Baltimore is a hellhole.
(Edit 9/13: Dear Aggrieved Marylanders, I felt like this was obvious, but the previous two paragraphs are not a serious commentary on your state, they are a commentary on my own illogical dislike of a place that is practically identical to the place I live, just because there happens to be a river in between, and how a particularly delicious food was able to overcome that bias. Please stop sending me grammatically-challenged comments that I have to moderate. Thank you.)
My point is, I don’t like Maryland. Except for two things. Blue crabs and Old Bay seasoning. Which are really just one thing. Blue crabs are caught in the Chesapeake Bay, in both Maryland and Virginia, but for some reason they seem to be more strongly associated with Maryland, and that’s mostly what I see for sale around here, even in Northern Virginia. They also catch blue crabs in Louisiana, but this is the one time in my life when I go out of my way to get something from Maryland. Old Bay, of course, is the finest thing Maryland has ever produced, a salty, slightly spicy, vaguely smokey tasting magic powder that goes particularly well on seafood (and popcorn).
Blue crab and Old Bay are, or should be, the main ingredients in any good crab cake. My ideal crab cake would be about 99% crab meat and 1% Old Bay and held together by magic. Unfortunately, most crab cakes that you get in restaurants are filled with things other than crab meat, like bread crumbs to keep the cost down and make it easier to cook, or green peppers to, um, completely ruin the taste of the crab cake, I guess? You do need some, SOME, fillers to hold the crab meat together while it cooks — a little bit of egg, a little bit of flour — but you certainly don’t need breadcrumbs. (If you look for crab cake recipes online, you will find way too many of them that complain about non-crab ingredients and then tell you to add, like, a quarter cup of breadcrumbs. NO BREADCRUMBS!)
The first time I made crab cake
s at home, I bought live blue crabs, steamed them, picked them, and made… a crab cake. Singular. One. It was delicious. But it took a whole bunch of crabs, and all afternoon, to get that one delicious crab cake. So now I buy pre-picked Maryland blue crab at the fish market for $20 a pound. It’s expensive, but it means that fancy, fancy crab cakes is actually one of the easier meals I prepare regularly.
- 1 pound lump crab meat — I strongly recommend buying a one pound container of pre-picked crab ($20 at the DC Wharf fish market, twice as much at Whole Foods). If you really want to you can go buy live or steamed crabs and pick the meat yourself, but you’re going to need something like 20 crabs and a giant crab steamer.
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1 egg
- 3 tbsp mayonnaise — I use Kewpie mayo for everything, and it seems fine in here too.
- 1 tsp Old Bay
- 100 ml peanut oil — for frying. There are also recipes for baked/broiled crab cakes, but I like the crunchy outside and creamy inside of a nice fried crab cake, so that’s what we’re making.
- Thoroughly beat the egg.
- Combine the beaten egg with flour, mayo, and Old Bay, and whisk everything together until smooth. This is going to be all that’s holding your crab cake together.
- Add the crab meat and VERY GENTLY mix everything together. Actually mix isn’t even the right word. You want to fold it in, like you’re making meringue or something. The goal is to have the lumps of crab as intact as possible when you’re done.
- As gently as possible, again, form the crab cakes. You can vary the diameter based on personal preference, but you want them to be about 2-3cm (1in) thick. About 1/4 cup of crab mixture per cake for small crab cakes up to 1/2 cup for fairly large ones. You want to pack them fairly tightly, so they don’t fall apart, even without much filler.
- In a cast-iron pan, or other sturdy frying pan, heat the oil on medium high, then add the crab cakes. Make sure to leave plenty of space around them for turning them over. For cooking more than three at a time, I usually do two batches or use two frying pans.
- Fry for about 3-4 minutes, until the bottom is golden brown and crispy. Then — GENTLY! — turn over and fry the other side for another 3-4 minutes. The flipping is definitely the most nerve-wracking step.
- Drain or pat with paper towels to remove some excess oil.
You can serve crab cakes with lemon and some kind of sauce, usually tartar or remoulade. Or you can put it on a sandwich, with lettuce, tomato, and remoulade. But I just put so much effort into not corrupting my crab meat with breadcrumbs, that sticking it on a hamburger bun seems wasteful. I usually just eat it plain, with maybe a little lemon on top.