Whoever it was who said “there is no bad pizza,” clearly never had a bad crab cake. While I (mostly) agree with the pizza sentiment, crab cakes are a whole other ballgame. When they’re bad, they can be really bad. The truth is, while most everybody loves a good crab cake, fewer people it seems know how to set about making them. And of course, by making them, I mean making them well. Simply put, there are a few things in life that I am a flagrant and unapologetic snob about, and a good crab cake is one of them! I believe it’s all about the freshest, simplest ingredients, not the least of which is beautiful, fresh jumbo lump crab meat, without a bunch of extra stuff to muck it up. And by “stuff” I mean fillers. The whole point of a crab cake is CRAB! Let it shine! It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at just how many people overlook that little detail.
Which brings us to the subject of “Krab,” with a K. What is that stuff anyway?! It’s like the Spam of the seafood counter! All the ground up and pressed together “parts” of I’m not sure what, with its sprayed-on psychedelic red color. It scarcely qualifies as an ingredient in cat food, let alone a crab cake! It’s just not right and frankly, I’ve never quite understood the point of substituting the star ingredient of a dish with its sad, inferior imitation. Don’t even get me started on Tofurky! But back to crab cakes. When you’ve had them the way they were meant to be had, prepared the way they’re famous for in Maryland, the taste experience borders on the transcendent!
I had just such a crab cake moment of nirvana the first time I visited my friend Jimmy Yeager’s restaurant in Aspen, CO., the aptly named Jimmy’s. Jimmy definitely understood the art of the crab cake. As it turns out the only things more famous than Jimmy’s legendary tequila selection, which is said to be one of the largest in the country, are his crab cakes. They’ve entered into a sort of local mythology and rightfully so, because let me tell you, they ROCK! They were sweet and succulent with just the right amount of lemoniness, and they were seasoned perfectly with very little filler! I was so taken with them that I was immediately inspired to step up my own crab cake making game. Jimmy kindly shares his recipe with anyone who asks. In fact, it’s posted on his site.
The recipe below is the version I make at home. Perhaps one day Jimmy and I will have a friendly crab cake throw down. Jimmy, if you’re reading this, the gauntlet has been thrown!
Just finished the crab cakes at Jimmy's. I was honored to sign the "Jimmy" wall
Crab cake nirvana!
Real Maryland Crab Cakes with Herb Remoulade
I serve these dressed simply, spritzed with lemon and just a touch of herb remoulade sauce on the side.
Makes 4 cakes
FOR THE SAUCE
½ cup good mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
Juice of ½ lemon
Kosher salt & freshly cracked pepper, to taste
FOR THE CRABCAKES
1 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked through for shell fragments
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 ½ tablespoons good mayonnaise
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Several dashes of hot sauce, or to taste
5 Saltine crackers, finely crushed, or a ¼ cup of plain bread crumbs
2 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Lemon wedges, for garnish
To make the sauce, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, parsley, dill and lemon juice in a small bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
To make the crab cakes, place the crabmeat in a large bowl and pick through, making sure there are no shells. In another small bowl, whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Add wet ingredients to the crabmeat, along with the cracker crumbs, scallions, parsley and pepper, to taste. You’ll notice I don’t suggest the addition of salt to the mixture. That’s because the crackers themselves are salted and I find additional salt unnecessary. Gently combine being careful not to overwork. The mixture will be wet. With your hands, form the meat into 4 cakes of equal size.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and gently slide the crab cakes into the pan. Pan fry until the cakes are golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Serve warm with herb remoulade sauce and lemon wedges.