A few days ago, I blogged about my culinary bucket list, a two-part list of things I want to eat, and cook, before my life is over. And after making that list, I went to my local seafood market, Welton’s Seafood, and picked up a pound of backfin crab meat.
I have had crab cakes many times. Living in coastal Virginia, it’s a Mid-Atlantic staple. Almost every restaurant around here has a crab cake on its menu, and without really realizing it, diners in the Hampton Roads become crab cake connoisseur. We have feelings about spice, the amount of filler, the method of preparation (broiled or fried) and what foods we like to accompany our crab cake. (I’m a big fan of the sandwich, not so much of the salad.)
But I had never really gotten my hands dirty and made crab cakes. I’ve picked blue crabs before. The process is almost meditative. I remember going to my friend, Andrea’s, mom’s house. She bought a bag of steamed blue crabs from the local market, all hard little creatures with a good caking of Old Bay seasoning. I was going through a particularly hard time when I went there, and as of late, I had not been able to stomach food. I could eat, but not much, and I didn’t really digest it.
I sat at the table, and watched and listened as Andrea and her mom showed me how to pick my crab. I got the hang of it after my first crab, and dove in, pulling off legs, flipping off the backs, scraping out the yellow mustard-looking stuff that is not mustard. The process became rhythmic, and I realized I zoned out so completely that once I returned to earth, so to speak, I had no idea how much time had passed, what Andrea and her mom were talking about, or how many crabs I had consumed.
Out of body experience by blue crab. My hands were dirty, my belly was full, and miracle of miracles, I managed to digest my food without my stomach attacking me. It was a phenomenon.
But to actually make a crab cake. I had never done it, and I wanted to. So I did.
I scoured the Internet for tips, recipes, and searched for patterns. I knew I liked Old Bay seasoning, so I would definitely be using that. I wanted substantial, flavorful filler, so I stayed away from bread crumbs and went for crackers. I weaved recipes together, and came up with a pretty tasty one.
The first step, however, comes not from mixing ingredients, but from picking through the meat. Unlike lump crab meat, backfin crab meat typically has more little shells to contend with, and you want to pick those out before you start making your crab cakes. To do this, empty the meat out into one bowl, and then have another close by. Pinch out small amounts of crab meat, and pinch, rolling between your fingers, changing directions so that you can feel for any shells that are adhering to the meat. As you find them, flick them into the sink, or a bag nearby. Once you know the meat is shell-free, drop it into the new bowl. Repeat until you get through the first bowl. (Remember how I said picking crabs is meditative? So is searching for shells. So quiet, so busy, so intent.)
Once that’s done, then start assembling your crab cakes. I find that it all really depends on taste and preference, but here’s the recipe I used.
1/4 cup crushed Ritz crackers
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pound crab meat (lump or backfin)
1. Pick through crab meat and remove any shells. (See above.)
2. Combine cracker crumbs, baking powder, parsley, mustard powder, pepper, and Old Bay. Set aside.
3. In large bowl, whisk together Worcestershire sauce, egg, mayonnaise, and butter. Mixture will be smooth and somewhat thick.
4. Add crab meat to wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula (or fork), gently fold crab meat with wet ingredients until coated.
5. Add dry ingredients to the crab meat, again, gently folding until thoroughly combined.
6. Assemble your patties. Have a greased cookie sheet nearby. Using your quarter cup measuring cup (if you want small cakes) or a half cup for larger ones, scoop out the mixture, and drop into your hand. Gently transfer the ball back and forth between your hands. You can also take this moment to feel for any lingering little shells that may have snuck through. Once the ball is adhering well, hold it in one palm, and pat down lightly until it flattens into a patty. You don’t need it to be flat, and I particularly like a little height to my crab cakes.
7. Place patties on baking sheet, cover lightly with saran wrap, and put in refrigerator for at least a half hour to set. (I kept mine in the fridge while I prepared my Turnips au Gratin.)
8. Once your crab cakes are set, broil them for five minutes. Then flip each crab cake over, being gentle so as not to break them. Broil five-six more minutes. Remove from oven, and enjoy.
It feels good to cross items off my bucket list, but as my bucket list tends to operate a lot like my to-do list, I’ll likely just add more items to it.