In the mid-Atlantic home of the Chesapeake and Delaware bays where I grew up, everyone feasted on blue crabs boiled with loads of Old Bay spice. In fact, my very first restaurant job was making crab cakes – with blue crab – at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware.
After moving to Seattle at the age of 19, I discovered for the first time the local delight of sweet, briny, meaty Dungeness that are three- to four-pound monsters compared to those small, Atlantic blue crabs. To my surprise, I couldn’t find crab cakes on a single Seattle restaurant menu at that time. Well, I fixed that and put fresh Dungeness crab cakes on my Café Sport menu where they became an instant hit. Thousands of crab cakes and 35 years later, at Etta’s and Dahlia Lounge, we’re still selling those crusty, golden-brown cakes filled with pristine Dungeness crab with plenty of chunks of claw and leg meat. Here I offer a few of my crab cake making tips to the do-it-yourself types and those who are cruising further afield.
Herb Marinated and Grilled Flank Steak
From I Love Crab Cakes by Tom Douglas (Morrow, 2006). Yields 2/3 cup.
Put the tomatillos in the bowl of a food processor and process until coarsely pureed. Remove the tomatillo puree to a sieve, drain off the liquid, and discard. Put the drained puree in a bowl and stir in the vinegar, sugar, green Tabasco, garlic, mustard seeds, and horseradish.
Note: To toast spices, place them in a small heavy skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, shaking or stirring constantly, just until they are lightly browned and aromatic.
Dungeness Crab Cakes
Adapted from I Love Crab Cakes by Tom Douglas (Morrow, 2006). Makes 8 crab cakes (serves four to eight depending on whether you serve one crab cake or two)
To make the crab cakes, put the crabmeat, mayonnaise, lemon zest, scallions, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Mix everything together gently with a rubber spatula. Add the half-cup of panko and mix again. Pour the remaining two cups of panko into a shallow container. Form the crab mixture into eight patties. Pat them gently into shape without pressing them too much. Drop the patties into the panko and turn them to coat both sides, patting to shake off the excess. If you have time, you can let the crab cakes chill in the refrigerator an hour or more before frying. When you are ready to fry the crab cakes, preheat the oven to 450°F. Put two large non-stick skillets over medium-high heat and add about two and a half tablespoons of butter to each pan. As soon as the butter is melted, add four crab cakes to each pan. Leave the pans on the burners for a minute or slightly less (the butter should not be starting to brown), then place the pans in the oven. Cook the crab cakes until they are heated through and golden brown on both sides, about 12 minutes, carefully turning them with a spatula about halfway through the cooking time. Remove the pans from the oven and transfer the crab cakes to plates. Serve with the green cocktail sauce and lemon wedges.
Note: Panko or Japanese bread crumbs are coarser than ordinary bread crumbs and stay nice and crisp when fried. Panko can be found in Japanese fish markets and in many large supermarkets.