Friday, September 14, 2007


Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 20 - Chesapeake Bay Classic Crab Cakes with Spicy Remoulade

The theme of this month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge, as hosted by Sara at i like to cook, is Show and Tell, for which one is to describe a cookery book from one's collection. This month's book that I am accessing for this challenge is an anomaly in my collection. As much as I love single-subject cookery books, I usually steer clear of any books along the vein of "101 Ways with..." because I generally find them to be badly written and haphazardly collected. However, Tom Douglas' I Love Crab Cakes is not tacky, despite the multicoloured font on the cover.

It was my angelheart Eric who (finally) turned me on to crab cakes this year, and they are now my usual entree/appetizer. It was at the end of last year that I started to eat crab again, on account of the thick and sweet meat of Alaskan King crab. Before then, no crab meat had passed my lips for 16 or so years as puberty prompted a disavowal of all seafood. I have had different and many riffs on crab cakes, from those with loads of lump crab meat, some filled with a combination of lump crab meat and corn, and (the worst ones) consisting of more filler than crab meat.

To my mind, the best crab cakes have barely any filler other than lump crab meat (which is from the body of the blue crab). I say 'barely' because I want more in my binding ingredients than egg yolk, canola oil and Old Bay seasoning. In our quest over the last week to make the most simple yet perfect tasting crab cakes, my angelheart Eric and I have gone through (and subjected others to) three pounds/1 1/2kgs of lump crab meat (one pound fresh, two pounds pasteurised) and many cups of breadcrumbs and panko to decide how we best like a straight-forward crab cake, specifically Tom Douglas' Chesapeake Bay Classic Crab Cakes.

The main reason this book doesn't fall into the "tacky" category of made-for-a-quick-buck-cookery books is the author's perspective. Before settling in Seattle, a gorgeous city on the Pacific Northwest coast, Tom Douglas was raised in the mid-Atlantic, the home of crab cakes. Additionally, in this book there is sufficient information regarding which crab meats work best for crab cakes, and Mr. Douglas succinctly explains how to form, dredge, and cook them. There is also an explanation of the key larder and other comestible items largely used. I learned about Old Bay seasoning, a traditional fish seasoning that is used all over the Atlantic states. If you do not have it to hand, use any fish seasoning and supplement the ingredients you are lacking by using - or follow outright - Aliza Green's recipe. Concerning the recipes, the book is split into the following chapters: American Crab Cakes, Global/New Wave Crab Cakes, Brunch and Breakfast Crab Cakes, Crab Cake Sandwiches, Cool Crab Cakes, and Sauces and Salsas.

This recipe uses one pound of lump crab meat and makes approximately eight crab cakes. You will find our preferred substitutions in the ingredients' lists and Mr. Douglas' suggestions in parentheses. Before using any crab meat, drain it in a sieve and squeeze out any excess liquid while simultaneously combing through for any remaining cartilage or shell. Regarding the method of frying, butter is problematic because one wants the temperature high enough to fry, but butter does not have a high burning point. Combine butter and olive oil for both flavour and a high burning point, or you could just use olive oil, as we did. The remoulade recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups, so there will be leftovers, perfect for spreading on slices of bread when having steak sandwiches, as one would with mustard or mayo (at least, that is something I did with the leftovers).

Chesapeake Bay Classic Crab Cakes with Spicy Remoulade Sauce
(Adapted from Tom Douglas' I Love Crab Cakes)

For the crab cakes, you need:

1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar (or cider vinegar)
1/2 cup canola oil (or peanut oil)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
2 tablespoons tarragon (or 1 tablespoon scallions/green onions, minced)
1 pound/1/2kg lump crab meat, fresh or pasteurised
3 cups bread crumbs (fresh, or use 4 cups if not using panko)
1 cup panko
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil (or butter, or a half-and-half combination of both)

1) In a blender or with a whisk, process egg yolk, Old Bay seasoning, mustard, lemon zest and juice, and vinegar until smooth.
2) Slowly pour in the oil (with the machine running, if using a blender) until the mixture emulsifies, forming a mayonnaise.
3) Season with salt and pepper.
4) Fold in the tarragon and crabmeat until well combined.
5) Combine bread crumbs, panko, and parsley in a shallow bowl.
6) Form crab cakes by quickly tossing them in the palms of your hands, as you would a meat patty, or use an ice cream scoop of 2 ounces to collect your crab meat. You can also lightly pick up 1/4 cup of crab meat with your fingers to form crab cakes. To dredge, either scoop the meat onto the bread crumb mixture and push crumbs around the cakes, or you can flip the meat in the bread crumb mixture, nudging it around the sides as well. The crab cakes should not be larger than 3" wide and 3/4" inch high.
7) Refrigerate, covered, on a bed of the bread crumb mixture for 30 minutes to one hour. If you are using panko, I do not suggest leaving the crab cakes to sit in the fridge for more than 30 minutes as the crab meat actually absorbs some of the bread crumb mixture.
8) In a 10" cast iron or stainless steel skillet/frying pan over medium heat, pour in two tablespoons olive oil.
9) Pat off excess bread crumbs and place 4 crab cakes in the skillet. Lightly fry until done (internal temperature should be 155 F), approximately 4 minutes per side. Turn carefully with a spatula as the interior is moist and fragile.

For the remoulade, you need:

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup celery, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (use one tablespoon if you want it mild)
1 tablespoon shallot, minced
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce (or ketchup)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teapoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (or 1 teaspoon Tobasco sauce)
1/2 teapoon garlic, minced
kosher salt

1) Put all ingredients into a bowl with the mayonnaise going first, forming a bed for the others.
2) Stir to combine.
3) Season with salt to taste.
4) Store in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to serve.

There are endless variations on crab cakes and serving sauces, and Tom Douglas provides recipes to suit all tastes. I may next try one from the Global/New Wave Crab Cakes chapter in which crab cakes are made using fresh ginger and are coated with coconut - perfect for a Kiwi Summer barbeque. Presently, I prefer this classic American crab cake with an intense and sweet crab taste, highlighted by the herbs and made piquant with the remoulade. Of course, you could always dip them in a cocktail sauce, but I adore the spiciness of horseradish. We served our crab cakes with lamb's lettuce (mâche), providing a mild and velvety contrast to the crab cakes when not smothered with remoulade.
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Shaun what a fun book! I too only recently learned to love crab cakes. They look wonderful. I am interested in the Breakfast and Brunch section of the book - hope you'll share with us one day! Thank you so much for being at WCC.
Oh yum! Crab cakes are an addictive food, one that I just can't get enough of. When I lived in Washington, DC I had access to good ones, and I had a roommate from the "Eastern Shore" (the Maryland portion of the Delmarva penninsula). I learned a spice mix from being around her and her family that I use instead of Old Bay, and I can't say exactly why I like it better than Old Bay, but I do. Perhaps it is because it is attached to some mighty fine memories.

Thanks for refreshing my great crab cake memories, and I can't wait to smell them frying in my pan again.

Where do you get your lump crab meat?
Crab - mmmm, mmmm, mmmmmm. As a child my favourite uncle introduced me to stuffed-crab backs.

I've never had a proper crab-cake, most of the times when I've ordered it (in the US) It's always a compact, pasty mixture with no hint of crab. I wish I was nearby to enjoy some of yours, Shaun.
Your crab cakes look so delicious, I haven't eaten them for too long.

A really fun sounding book too :)
Shaun, you could subject me to three pounds of crab meat anytime. Just got back from New England; you'd THINK I'd had my fill. My first post back will be about crab. These look scrumptious. Thanks for introducing and reviewing this cookbook. If you, an unavowed fish fan, recommend it, then it must be worth space on the shelf.
Hi Shaun - I am visiting you through Christina's blog. Your crab cakes are mouthwatering! These cakes are one of my favorites! I also make a shrimp one that is tasty also, just substituting shrimp for crab, since shrimp is abundent here.
wow - a whole book just on crab cakes! I've never eaten a "real" crab cake before. Just ones which had more other ingredients than crab, so I would like to try making my own. I'll have to see where i can get crab meat without having to do it myself Coincidently, last night I had a seafood broth that had a crab in it and it was a reminder of how I'm not good at getting to the good stuff! It always gets very messy :-)
These have to be the best recipe for crab cakes I have seen to date!LOve everything about them including the remoulade.
Sara, darling - Indeed, Tom Douglas' "I Love Crab Cakes" is a fun book. I love all the variations and advice. More than anything, I'm just glad to know how to make these for Eric and me. I look forward to fiddling around with the recipe and including my own favourite herbs and spices.

Christina - Yes, it is partly because of the addiction that I bought Tom Douglas' cookery book in the first place. I'm intrigued by this "other" spice mix your friend and her family taught to you. What is in it? Eric and I only tried two different places for the crab meat - Wild Oats and Whole Foods, both of which you can find in the Pasadena area. Whole Foods had more variety, though the one variety at Wild Oats was good, too.

Cynthia - Wow, with what did your uncle stuff crab backs? I have had similar experiences with crab cakes and in my experience the more expensive restaurants serve better crab cakes than your run-of-the-mill place. Having said that, I haven't eaten any the eastern seaboard yet. Next time you're in town, let me know, and I'll gladly make some for you.

Kelly-Jane - This recipe is incredibly delicious. I haven't had crab cakes since, for I ate far too many, but I know that once Summer arrives in NZ, I'll be hungry for them again.

Susan, lovie - This type cookery book, small scale and single-subject, isn't my usual fare, but Mr. Douglas is concise and offers many interesting variations on the classic crab cake recipe, but a classic is a classic for a reason. I look forward to eating them on the East Coast just as you have. I look forward to reading your post on crab, too. I love it that we're in synch...

Winedeb - Thank you for stopping by! I love Christina's blog, for it is very well-written, so evocative of time and space. I bet that shrimp are great in cakes and that they can probably stand up to stronger tasting ingredients.

Nora B - I wouldn't want to extract the crab meat myself, either. There are many good seafood purveyors that offer fresh lump crab meat in the US. I need to see if the same is on offer in New Zealand as you would have to in Australia. It is probably best to go to a reputable fish monger, though, instead of the supermarket. I hope you enjoyed your broth. I can't quite manage eating seafood broth - I'm still, slowly, opening up my palate again to seafood.

Valli - Welcome to this blog! Thanks for leaving such a kind comment. This recipe really works, and it can easily be built on. The remoulade is incredibly good, but I'm partial to horseradish.
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