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Crab Cakes, Done Right!

Contributed by: Charlie Burke

Crab cakes are ubiquitous, found from Washington State to Baltimore and from New England to New Orleans. They are served in diners and in high end restaurants.

They are usually bad.

The reason for this is found in the ingredients and in the proportion of crab meat to filler. I recently saw a cooking show where the guest's recipe included whipped cream, whipped egg whites, celery, red pepper, onions, garlic, Cajun seasoning, mustard, bread and, yes, some crabmeat. The sweet, mild flavor of the crab didn't stand a chance mixed with all the other assertive flavors. The crab also becomes lost when it is mixed with too much filler, usually bread crumbs. If a crab cake is perfectly formed, dense and comes to you intact, you will probably taste more filling than crab.

Less is more when it comes to the other ingredients in crab cakes. For four cakes, I use two 6 ounce packages of crabmeat and no more than 2/3 of a cup of bread crumbs. Other flavors should be in the background, serving to complement the crab.

In New England, fresh crabmeat from Maine is always available and is notable for its sweetness; it has a more delicate flavor than lobster. Some mix an egg to bind the filling, but I just accept that a good crab cake is fragile and can be patted back into shape on the plate if it fragments.

We often serve the cakes over our greens with a lemony vinaigrette for a great summer lunch; the cakes usually break up some, following the contour of the greens for an appealing affect. This recipe serves four as a first course and can be doubled for a main course.

For four cakes:

  • 12 ounces fresh Maine crabmeat
  • Scant 2/3 cup of fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 11/2 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon chopped scallion, shallot or chives
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon chopped flat- leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Butter and olive oil for frying

Thoroughly mix mayonnaise, mustard, scallions, parsley, lemon juice and cayenne; add breadcrumbs and crabmeat. Toss gently to mix, leaving crab in chunks. Add salt and pepper to taste and add more lemon juice or cayenne if you wish. Form into four cakes.

Heat a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat and add approximately a tablespoon each of olive oil and butter. After the butter has foamed, add the four cakes and cook just until golden brown on each side. If they break apart somewhat as they are turned; simply reform them with a spoon or spatula.

Serve immediately with a salad and dressing or serve with mayonnaise that has been mixed with a few capers, lemon juice and Tabasco sauce. They go well also with remoulade sauce and with tartar sauce. Vary the flavoring of the cakes according to your taste, and you will soon have made the recipe your own.

About the author:

An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of the New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association ( His column & recipes appear weekly in The Heart of New England's newsletter... get a free subscription by sending a blank email to: or visit

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