While not local in origin, crab cakes are certainly seasonal, and now through October is the time to enjoy these delicate yet hearty morsels. Crab cakes have been around since the English brought them to the colonies, and have endured due to their versatility, ease of preparation and, of course, their delectable taste. Form them into quarter-sized pieces to make great party noshes, flatten them into 1-inch patties or place two on a plate as an entrée. You will most likely see these tasty morsels listed on upscale restaurant menus, but diners and local pubs feature them as well. What’s more, they are a snap to make at home.
“Crab meat is the medium for creating innovative crab cakes,” says Christopher Kuhns, executive chef for Dining Associates, which includes Phoebe’s Garden Cafe, 900 E. Genesee St., where he is also part owner; the Sherwood Inn, 26 W. Genesee St., Skaneateles; the Colgate Inn, 1 Payne St. and the Hamilton Inn, 4480 E. Lake Road, both in Hamilton. “Crab meat is the common denominator, whether making appetizer- or entrée-sized crab cakes,” Kuhns continues.
The version on Phoebe’s menu comes from the Sea Grill Restaurant in
New York’s Rockefeller Center, where Kuhns was employed at one time.
Ingredients include jumbo lump crab meat, panko breadcrumbs, one egg,
fresh horseradish, salt, white pepper and lemon juice. Panko is a
Japanese-style breadcrumb, less dense than crumbs made from regular
Kuhns likes to put the panko in a food processor to pulverize it into an especially fine texture with a ratio of 4-to-1 of crab meat to crumbs. He then mixes the ingredients, shapes them into patties, then sautés them.
A 4-ounce appetizer size is priced at $10. The patties may also be served as three, 1-ounce medallions, or a 6-ounce entrée. A 4-ounce patty makes a nice sandwich as well. Kuhns dresses up his crab meat platters variously with roasted pea shoots or a ring of jalapenos
“Pairing the delicate cakes with a sauce is very much a part of the final presentation; I love playing with various combinations,” adds Kuhns, revealing a Southwestern-tinged sauce that combines cumin, jicama, cayenne pepper and lemon juice.
Crab cakes at the Sherwood Inn are significantly different than those at Phoebe’s. Here Dungeness crab, with its sweet meat, is used; Dungeness comes from the West Coast, including Alaska. “The crab meat preparation changes even more at both the Colgate Inn and Hamilton Inn,” Kuhns continues. “Both venues utilize sesame oil, ginger, scallions and red pepper, which become Asian-inspired crab cakes.” Kuhns adds a sprinkle of pepper flakes for color.
And speaking of Asian, the crab cakes at Lemon Grass Restaurant, 236 W. Jefferson St., in Armory Square, are unlike the Western mixtures. “It is called ‘boo jah,’ explains Max Chutinthranond, Lemon Grass’s owner. He doesn’t feel it is necessary to use the most expensive crab, which can be priced as much as $30 for a pound can of fresh lump crab meat.
“The meat from fins and claws are perfect,” he explains. He adds ground pork to the crab meat, along with a dash of white pepper, chopped garlic and dried breadcrumbs. The mixture may be made into patties, but Chutinthranond creates an interesting presentation by packing this medley into a crab shell. Sriacha, a Thai hot sauce, adds a bit of zing to the boo jah; a plum sauce makes for a lighter alternative. To make a complete meal the chef suggests accompanying the boo jah with a bowl of rice.
Canned crab meat is readily available in seafood departments at Wegmans and Price Chopper, but foodies often head to Fins and Tails Seafood Store, 3012 Erie Blvd. E. Owners Margaret Ringler and husband Tom Farmer are celebrating their 25th anniversary of Fins and Tails ownership, and have accumulated many years of expertise in providing the finest quality of fish and seafood to Central New Yorkers.
“Fresh, canned crab meat always comes cooked,” says Ringler, adding that the canned product is also pasteurized and may be kept refrigerated for about two months. One-pound cans of claw meat are priced art $12.99, while jumbo crab meat is pricier at $28.95. Fins and Tails also stocks Jonah brand crab meat from Maine. This domestic crab comes frozen.
Canned crab meat found next to canned tuna fish in supermarkets is a lesser-known product, although it has been around for years. A six-ounce can labeled “pink crabmeat” and canned by Bumble Bee, is priced at about $1.29. Lump crab meat costs considerably more at about $4.49 per can.
Fins and Tails offers a full supply of fresh fish and seafood. In
addition there is a generous display of seafood salads, all made on the
premises by Ringler. The crab cake lover has long ago discovered her
succulent crab cakes. “I mix fresh blue crab, onions, butter, garlic,
eggs, mustard, Old Bay Seasoning and coat with dried bread crumbs,” she
She shapes the cakes into little domes. “I tell customers to flatten the cakes when sautéing or baking them,” she instructs. These crab cakes come eight to 10 to a pound and are priced at $13.95 a pound. Incidentally, in their display case, Price Chopper sells crab cakes along with salmon or lobster cakes that have been frozen and defrosted. Crab cakes sell for $1 each. In Price Chopper’s frozen food department, you’ll find crab cakes, two to a package, for $6.95.
Get into the groove of making your own crab cakes to discover a variety of condiment toppers. You can make your own versions or experiment with chutneys, relishes and even simple combinations of fresh herbs or lemon juice with sour cream or mayonnaise.
Go global by mixing crab meat with spices from around the world. Try sage-based stuffing mix for a touch of Thanksgiving Day. Toss in jalapenos for a bit of Mexican flair. Adding pesto creates an Italian version. Smoked salmon lends a Scandinavian flair. Ginger turns the cakes into Asian fare and a dab of cinnamon makes them Moroccan. Coat crab cakes with coconut for a Caribbean island snack.
Breadcrumbs in the mix may be either fresh for a softer patty or dried for a denser texture. Coating the cakes with panko or a dusting of flour makes for a protective shell and adds crispness to each bite. Saute them in butter or oil, bake or broil them, or even deep-fry them. Put the crab cakes between two slices of toasted bread, masked with one of the sauces, for a hand-held treat.
Or try out these recipes.
Crab Meat Canapes
This timeless recipe is from the 1953 edition of The Joy of Cooking.
Mash 1 can crab meat with a fork. Add to it sufficient mayonnaise or French dressing to make a creamy paste. Spread on rounds of toast. Sprinkle with grated cheese and heat under a broiler until brown.
Seafood Cakes with Mustard Cream and Watercress Salad
This recipe is from the October 2009 issue of Cooking Light
Add shrimp to your crab meat for a less expensive dish, plus a more dense texture than crab meat alone.
½ cup light sour cream
6 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
1 tablespoon stone-ground mustard
½ teaspoon black pepper
Combine sour cream, 2 tablespoons parsley, mustard, and ½ teaspoon pepper, stirring with a whisk until blended. Set aside.
7 teaspoons canola oil, divided
¼ cup finely chopped red onion
¼ cup finely chopped celery
8 ounces peeled and deveined medium shrimp, chopped
8 ounces lump crab meat, drained and shell pieces removed
¼ cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon canola oil to pan and swirl to coat. Add onion and celery; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Combine shrimp and crab in a large bowl. Stir in onion mixture, remaining pepper, remaining ¼ cup parsley, cheese, salt, egg whites and egg; stir gently. Add panko; stir gently. Divide mixture into 8 equal portions; flatten to ½-inch-thick patties. Heat skillet over medium high heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add patties to pan; cook 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Carefully turn over; cook 3 minutes until done. Serve with sauce. Makes 4 servings.
Combine 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar, ¼ teaspoon pepper. Toss with 5 cups trimmed watercress.