Crab cakes are certainly one of the best summertime foods in the whole world (for me at least). They are also one of the worst. Order crab cakes in your average restaurant and what do you get? Chances are it will be loaded with as much breadcrumb and vegetable and who knows what else as it is crab meat. Some of the versions I've had were so poorly executed, it seemed a sin to even call them crab cakes. If you think about it, crab cakes are really about the crab meat. Crab meat has a delicate flavor and although it can be complimented by many things, it's not hard to overwhelm it or mask it by getting overly complicated or cluttering up a recipe. I decided that the only way to really get to the heart of the matter and make a top notch crab cake was to do it myself.
I start with a good quality crab meat. Yes I do resort to canned, there are good brands out there. I look for Jumbo Lump and prefer crabs sourced from the U.S. or Mexico to Thailand or the Philippines. Costco puts out a good quality product or if you're really looking to go top shelf you can buy from these guys:
I'll even use Phillips in a pinch. It is sourced from Thailand or the Philippines, but the quality is very good.
The recipe below is about minimalism. There is just enough work to season the crab and bind it. Give them a light coating of bread for a crust and cook them up.
Minimalist Crab Cakes
-1lb. good quality jumbo lump crab meat (picked over for shell fragments)
-3 scallions green and whites very thinly sliced
-3 TBSP Hellman's (yeah, I know, but it's good)
-1/2 tsp ancho chile powder
-3/4 cup panko flakes
Combine the first four ingedients, mixing lightly so as not to break up the lovely lumps of crabmeat. Check the seasoning. I did not require salt because the mayo was sufficiently salty. Carefully shape the mixture into patties (I made bigger ones yielding 4 from the pound of meat) and bread with the panko. Saute' over medium heat in olive oil or butter.
I will typically accompany this with another of my summertime faves, corn salsa. With all the fresh corn I've been buying and cooking there are usually a few ears left over. This straight forward salsa works really well with the crab cakes or shrimp or burger or sausage or...
Fresh Corn and Tomato Salsa
-1/2 red (bermuda) onion diced small
-4 cooked ears worth of sweet corn kernels
-6 ripe plum tomatoes seeded and diced
-1/4 cup of basil chiffenade (about 12 leaves)
-1/8 cup of cilantro chiffenade (large pinch of whole leaves)
-6 scallions green and whites sliced thin
-juice of 1 lime
-1 1/2 small green habanero chiles, seeded and very finely diced (about 1 Tbsp)
-salt and black pepper to taste
-3oz EVO (extra virgin olive oil)
Mix it all together. I try not to break up the corn too much. Re-check for S&P and EVO.
This is the perfect counterpoint to the crab cakes because here is where complexity works. Sweet corn and onions, the fleshiness of the ripe tomato, the heat of the chilies, and the unique flavor of the cilantro, all harmonize to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Wine pairing here offers many opportunities. Personally, I like something that makes you think sweet but really isn't. An Austrian Riesling like the Fred Loimer Riesling Kamptal would be a superb choice. Crisp and fruity at the same time it packs enough acid and mineral flavors to make your mouth think "sweet." I would also be happy with a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand such as Yealands Marlboro with its bright happy citrus flavors and zingy acidity.
Overall this approach to crab cakes is not as labor intensive as some of the other recipes I've seen but delivers a better product for what is left out. I would guess that putting in "extenders" such as diced peppers and breadcrumbs lowers cost and is the reasoning behind why it is difficult to find a minimalist crab cake on a the average restaurant menu. Me? I just couldn't settle for more.