May 30, 2023 - Written by: Victoria Sackett
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First Impressions

Chris's Marketplace from Freshfarm websiteThe 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.

Crabcake Research

My unwavering preference for this variety I suspect has pretty much disqualified me from everNNOAA Fisheries website image of blue crab 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

Winner, Winner

Vicky sackett crabcakes frying in KD kitchenArmed 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. 



Maryland Crab Cakes with Quick Tartar Sauce
Yields 6
A Maryland staple, these crab cakes are made from fresh lump crab meat and just enough filler to bind the crabmeat together.
Cook Time
10 min
Cook Time
10 min
For the crab cakes
  1. 2 large eggs
  2. 2½ tablespoons mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
  3. 1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
  4. 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  5. 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  6. ¼ teaspoon salt
  7. ¼ cup finely diced celery, from one stalk
  8. 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  9. 1 pound (454gr) lump crab meat (see note below)
  10. ½ cup (1.18ml) panko
  11. Vegetable or canola oil, for cooking (I use butter)
For the tartar sauce
  1. 1 cup (237ml) mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
  2. 1½ tablespoons sweet pickle relish
  3. 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  4. 1 tablespoon minced red onion
  5. 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
  6. Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the crab cakes
  1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean-up.
  2. Combine the eggs, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, Old Bay, salt, celery, and parsley in a large bowl and mix well.
  3. 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.
  4. Shape into 6 cakes (each about ½ cup) and place on the prepared baking sheet.
  5. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. This helps them set.
  6. 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.
For quick tartar sauce
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, relish, mustard, onion, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  2. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
  3. 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.
  4. *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.
  1. I leave out the celery. It’s a texture thing.
  2. I also subbed crushed Ritz crackers during a household panko shortage, and it worked just fine. Butter for frying instead of oil.
  3. 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.
  4. Then cover and store them in the fridge over night. Shorter times might work, but this timing never fails me.
Adapted from Once Upon a Chef website
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10 months ago

Celery in a crab cake?! That’s as sacrilegious as the red pepper my step mother put in. Maryland born and raised. You start on crabs and beer young. The rest of it looks okay. I’d ditch the parsley – it’s distracting and pointless, but shows my disdain for parsley. And it really should be saltines, not panko, for the binder. And I’m really okay with broiling them not frying. I finally got my grandmother’s recipe from my sister and it takes me right back.

10 months ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Ah, yes, the beer! That’s what I forgot! Cheers!

Janet Hirshberg
10 months ago

Victoria (and Jennifer), with the exception of the celery, two eggs instead of one (and the addition of 1T melted butter), this is thiiiis close to the recipe on the back of the Philips pasteurized crabmeat container. Yes! Fresh is waaay better. But at upwards of $65 per pound for jumbo lump here in DC, this is a luxury dinner. Note: I mix up the binder without the panko first, gently add the crab, and then sprinkle the panko on, folding as I go. During the fridge phase, the panko absorbs the egg mix. For one egg, I’d use much… Read more »

10 months ago

Sounds delicious! I’ve broiled Chris’s crab cakes and they were marvelous!

10 months ago

I don’t like Bay seasoning – or Hellman’s mayo – and have had Duke’s mayo in the fridge for a very long time. I’m a Kraft person all the way. But it’s the Bay seasoning that I really can’t do. Here in Alexandria – Carlyle in Shirlington has the best crab cakes. All crab. No breading. The best!!

10 months ago
Reply to  Janet

Nancy is Bay Seasoning averse too. And she always makes her own mayo. Even so, she loved these. We should try some substitutions — and the Carlyle!

10 months ago

Although I am not Old Bay averse, I reserve it for my hard cabs and therefore boost the salt by another 1/4 tsp. Also, have to agree about leaving out the celery – just feels wrong to me. Otherwise, this is soooo close to my recipe, but I pair it with a lemony, creole mustard beurre blanc that Jeff Tunks taught me 20 years ago. It plays beautifully with the crab.

10 months ago
Reply to  BBK

Wow! Please feel free to share the lemony creole mustard beurre blanc recipe. Yum