I grew up in Southern Maryland, St. Mary’s County to be exact. This is important because it is surrounded by rivers, creeks, and small bays, all tributaries off the Chesapeake bay and when I was growing up, you could pretty much toss a chicken neck into any body of water and catch enough crabs to feed a family of four.
Although roasting a pig is typical of gatherings here in NC, a very typical afternoon social gathering in St. Mary’s County would involve a couple of picnic tables covered in newspaper or plastic, a bushel or two of steamed crabs, and a keg of beer. This is still the way I prefer to eat crabs, sans beer, although I’ve gotten pretty good at making crab cakes. In the middle of winter, fresh local crabs were not readily available. Instead, you had to rely on crab meat that had been picked and frozen earlier in the year and so the holiday crab dish that you would usually encounter would be hot crab dip which was little more than mostly crab meat, enough cream cheese to hold it together with a wee bit of mayo and worcestershire. This would be served with crackers or bread or served in a bread bowl and was one of those buffet items you simply had to walk away from lest you devour the whole plate and lick it clean.
I have mostly converted my family to enjoying crab although its usually in the form of crab cakes or bisque and not hand picked crabs. They leave the picking up to me. Picked crab meat can be very expensive so I will usually wait until whole blue crabs or frozen dungeness crab halves go on sale at the grocery store and I’ll pick the meat and freeze it for later. Regardless, having had a number of just awful crab cakes down here in NC, I felt the need to share this recipe.
Rule 1: Don’t put fish or other meat in your crab cakes. It doesn’t taste the same and just ruins it. Also, we all know that crab meat isn’t pink. (I have no idea what was in that “crab cake”.)
Rule 2: Crab cakes should not be less than 75-80% crab meat. No need to add onions and bread and peppers and whatever else you want. Crab is wonderful all by itself.
Rule 3: You can bake, broil, or fry your crab cakes, but they should be served warm.
In St. Mary’s County, we don’t put other junk in our crab cakes. They are literally crab with just enough other ingredients to make them hang together and maintain some moisture. Although the jumbo lump crab is very buttery and dense, it tends to be mild in flavor so I always add some leg meat because I find it adds some more flavor and sweetness. Whether purchases or previously picked by yourself, always pick through your crab meat before making anything with it. You will almost always find additional bits of shell. And even after you’ve picked that out, you will find more when you are mixing everything together, and again when you are making your patties.
To about 3 lbs of crab meat, I add a sleeve of saltines that have been crushed in the food processor and then about a tbsp of Old Bay. You can add more if you like, but I like to keep the outside flavorings as subtle as possible. Think enhance, not change.Then I combine 2 eggs with a half cup of Duke’s mayo and 2 tbsp of Dijon and mix in a large measuring cup before dumping it in with the crab meat and mixing it all together with my hands. When forming the patties, I try and keep them about 1.5 inches thick and about 4 inches wide. You can fry these, grill them, or simply bake them at 400 for about 15 minutes.
For these crabcakes, I lightly fried them in my electric skillet for about 3-4 minutes on each side at 375 with vegetable oil about 1/4 inch deep. I drained them on paper towels and put them in the fridge to reheat the next day.
You can serve these plain or with the sauce of your choice and they make an excellent breakfast if you top them with a poached egg, some pico de gallo, and some sour cream mixed with a bit of lemon juice. If you make your own tartar sauce, I think the best recipe is about a half cup of Duke’s mayo with 1-2 tablespoons of sweet relish and a tablespoon of prepared horseradish.
For great frozen crab meat with fast shipping, try Cameron’s Seafood.