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The first time my toddler daughter tasted a crab cake, she danced. That one was from Chris’s Marketplace at the DuPont Circle Farmers’ Market — still there, among other spots, and still dancingly delicious. Alas, I no longer work or live near Chris’s venues and so have been left to my own devices. I had low hopes.
First, I had to launch a search for crabmeat. Not just any crabmeat, but the pinnacle product — Chesapeake Bay blue crab. Callinectes Sapidus, a combination from the Ancient Greek and Latin for beautiful tasty swimmer, has suffered a bit from consumer enthusiasm lately, but yields are edging up and it’s available, though costly. Unlike other species, the blue crab is expected to fare reasonably well with global warming.
My unwavering preference for this variety I suspect has pretty much disqualified me from ever returning to my native Oregon, where Dungeness reigns supreme. But I’m sorry, in flavor and texture, it’s no contest. For some of us, a genuine Maryland crab feast with butcher paper table cloth, malt vinegar, hammer, nutcracker, and Old Bay seasoning is a kind of spiritual experience. For those with no appetite for the hard-won slim pickings yielded by this ritual, crab cakes are the answer. Patties full of sweet backfin lumps — and very little else, ideally — are transportingly delicious. In Old Town Alexandria, we’ve been fortunate to find glorious Chesapeake Bay crab at our beloved MAS seafood market.
Armed with the highest caliber raw material, our fearless KD publisher, Nancy, her wine maniac husband and I have all tested as many versions of crab cakes as possible — all in the guise of research. The recipe below was a gift from my dear friend Catherine Clinger, who thinks she can’t cook. That’s ridiculous, and this crab cake is a winner — as is the tartar sauce you should most certainly make to go with it. Experience has taught me that packing the crab cake mixture into a quarter- or third-cup stainless measuring cup, then banging it out onto the baking sheet, plus having them spend the night in the refrigerator helps these cakes hold together. I leave out the celery. The texture is too distracting.
My toddler is now in her late twenties, having eaten hundreds of crab cakes along the way. There are two that still fill her with joy: Chris’s and this one. I hope they make you dance.
- 2 large eggs
- 2½ tablespoons mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
- 1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup finely diced celery, from one stalk
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 pound (454gr) lump crab meat (see note below)
- ½ cup (1.18ml) panko
- Vegetable or canola oil, for cooking (I use butter)
- 1 cup (237ml) mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
- 1½ tablespoons sweet pickle relish
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon minced red onion
- 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean-up.
- Combine the eggs, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, Old Bay, salt, celery, and parsley in a large bowl and mix well.
- Add the crab meat (be sure to check the meat for any hard and sharp cartilage) and panko; using a rubber spatula, gently fold the mixture together until just combined, being careful not to shred the crab meat.
- Shape into 6 cakes (each about ½ cup) and place on the prepared baking sheet.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. This helps them set.
- Preheat a large nonstick pan over medium heat and coat with oil or butter. When the oil is hot, place the crab cakes in the pan and cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Be careful as oil may splatter. Serve the crab cakes warm with the tartar sauce.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, relish, mustard, onion, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Cover and chill until ready to serve.
- Make-Ahead Instructions: The crab cakes can be formed, covered, and refrigerated a day ahead of time before cooking. The tartar sauce can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.
- *Note: If you can only find jumbo lump crab meat, you may need to break the pieces up a bit. If the clumps are too large, the crab cakes won't hold together well.
- I leave out the celery. It’s a texture thing.
- I also subbed crushed Ritz crackers during a household panko shortage, and it worked just fine. Butter for frying instead of oil.
- To keep the cakes intact: pack gently but firmly into a stainless 1/4 or 1/3 cup measuring cup, then bang them out onto the baking sheet.
- Then cover and store them in the fridge over night. Shorter times might work, but this timing never fails me.
Victoria Sackett is a speechwriter and editor who uses cooking as an antidote to Washington, DC dysfunction. Nothing counteracts chaos like measuring out ingredients in tiny dishes, arranging them in proper order, blending them together, and watching magic happen. Namaste indeed!