Atop a juicy beef filet or passed around as hors d'oeuvres, crab cakes are as delicious as they are versatile. And, for such a sophisticated dish, crab cakes are surprisingly simple — but only if you follow the right steps.
Whether you serve them as an impressive appetizer or a dinner for two, follow these five tips for making the perfect crab cakes.
Tip #1: Consider your crab.
There are several different crab varieties that can be turned into crab cakes.
If you’ve purchased lump crab from the store or eaten restaurant crab cakes, there’s a good chance you ate blue crab. As you may have guessed by the name, blue crabs have bright blue claws and are primarily found near the eastern shore of Maryland. Out on the opposite coast, Dungeness crabs are known for their impressive size.
Another alternative that can be used to create a sumptuous, slightly sweeter crab cake is Jonah crab claw meat. Naturally lean, low in calories and bursting with a unique flavor, Jonah crab claw meat is perfect for mixing into a crab cake.
Tip #2: Quality counts.
The number one indicator for how tasty your crab cakes will be is the freshness of your crab. And when it comes to quality control — you guessed it — the fresher, the better. Although it is possible to make crab cakes with canned crab meat, there is a NOTICEABLE difference in taste when you use fresh and flash-frozen crab meat. This is not the place to cut corners.
Tip #3: Less filler. More crab.
Let your star ingredient shine bright! For the best texture, use minimal fillers (i.e., the ingredients that hold the crab together, like mayonnaise and cracker crumbs).
There is a hot debate surrounding the use of bread crumbs versus cracker crumbs, but we think you should create your own test kitchen and decide for yourself!
Tip #4: Don’t overmix.
When it’s time to mix the filler with the crab meat, don’t overdo it. Gently fold in the crab meat, without ever harshly pressing down. If you overmix, the pieces of crab will break apart — and you want full, juicy crab cakes!
Tip #5: Turn up the heat.
When it comes to baking in the oven vs. sautéing on the stove, there’s really no wrong way to cook your crab cakes. People do both! It comes down to personal preference.
If you’re working with bigger, jumbo-sized pieces of crab, you’ll likely want to bake in the oven. This will help the cakes remain plump and juicy (whereas those that are pan-fried get a bit flattened in order to make the center cook evenly — a process that can make bigger crab chunks fall to pieces).
Whether you bake or pan-fry, having your heat high enough is important if you want to achieve that delightful crunch on the outermost part of the cake. Set your oven to 450 degrees, or saute at medium high heat for best results.
Good news: Crab cakes actually make great leftovers — so go ahead and make a double batch!