Crabs and crab-based dishes have always been restaurant food to me. Maybe that’s because I used to let crabs intimidate me. But after my recent foodbloggers trip to the J.M Clayton Co. crab processing operation, I got courageous and set out to make my own Maryland-style crab cakes.
Our hosts told us that J.M. Clayton sells fresh-cooked crabmeat to the MidAtlantic Whole Foods stores. Sure enough, there it was, in the seafood department of my local (Northwest DC) Whole Foods. At $22 a pound, backfin crabmeat is an expensive treat. Still, a home-cooked crab cake dinner would be much less expensive than a restaurant meal, so I gulped and forged ahead.
After I did the math I felt better. A pound of backfin crabmeat makes 6 good-sized crab cakes, so each one costs about $4 to make. At 2 crab cakes per person, my Maryland-style crab cakes, with salad, wine, and dessert cost us about $15. Even compared to the prepared Whole Foods crab cakes, I was still saving money. Those cost $6, 30% more than homemade. I’ve tasted them and (not to brag) they aren’t as good as the ones you can make using this recipe.
Crabmeat freezes, as do crab cakes, so making 6 crab cakes with 1 pound of crabmeat and freezing several uncooked works fine for multiple meals.
Maryland-style crab cakes are easy to make. All you need is good crabmeat (fresh or canned), binding ingredients, seasonings, and a small amount of butter or oil for frying or baking. Although you can make them without any breading, I prefer to add a small amount.
My only caution on crab cake-making is to approach the task with a light hand. If you mix them calmly and just a little, the crab cakes will be light and yet stay together. If you attack the mixture with a vengeance, they will come out hard-packed instead. They will stay together if you flip them carefully; being rougher is likely to yield a crab hash. It’s still delicious, but not exactly the presentation you sought.
After reviewing at least 10 crab cake recipes I drew up this list of ingredient variations:
Maryland-Style Crab Cake Ingredients
Binding ingredients to hold the crabcake mixture together – Egg (1 egg per 12 -16 oz of crabmeat), Optional – mayonnaise – as little as 1 tablespoon per pound (in the Old Bay recipe) up to as much 2/3 cup per pound (in the recipe from Karson’s Inn in Baltimore)
Bread (all the recipes had at least ½ cup, and a few had over 1 cup) – Saltines, breadcrumbs whether homemade or store-bought (including Panko, Japanese-style crunchy breadcrumbs) or cubed or torn apart shreds of white bread
Odd hint – The company that makes Old Bay recommends adding a tablespoon of baking powder per pound of crabmeat to make the crab cakes light.
Most inventive substitution – A gluten-free reviewer of the Bon Appetit version suggested using tortilla crumbs instead of a wheat-based bread product. (I had never heard of them before but found them online – they are made with corn and lime.)
Here is my recipe:
Laura’s Cross Border (DC-made), Maryland-style Crab Cakes
Serve with lemon wedges and seafood cocktail sauce.
Note: If you prefer to bake the crab cakes, lightly brush them with oil or butter, sprinkle a dash of paprika and bake for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees F on an oiled sheet. A few recipes suggested broiling them on an oiled sheet for 10-15 minutes but I thought that would overcook them. I definitely wasn’t interested in another suggested cooking method – deep fat frying. After pan frying and baking crab cakes, we did a taste test. Our vote (2-0) was for the lightly fried version, which was more tender and had a nice crunchy outside.