Bill’s birthday was last week, and when I asked him what he wanted for dinner, he asked for crab cakes, seaweed salad, some kind of fish on the grill, and tiramisu.
We also had sauteed asparagus, steak, and a simple garden salad.
But Bill said the crab cakes were his favorite part of the meal.
So here’s how I made them.
I’ve tried a number of crab cake recipes over the years, and we’ve had crab cakes in a variety of restaurants.
Most of the time, the cakes fall into one of two categories: light and ethereal, or hockey puck. Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but often the crab cakes are so loaded with filler – be it bread crumbs or cracker crumbs or potatoes or spackle, that there’s very little of the actual crab involved, except where it’s printed on the menu.
We like our crab cakes to taste of crab, and to be comprised, for the most part, also of crab.
I didn’t have time to buy live crabs, cook them, and pick all the meat out, so I bought canned lump crabmeat because it was quick and easy.
I bought two 6 oz cans of the lump, and also a 6 oz can of “pink crabmeat” (which is made up of all the leg bits and pieces, minced together) for color.
And to help hold things together somewhat, I used bread crumbs, but I opted for panko because they’re lighter and don’t seem to get as soggy and heavy as standard crumbs do.
Now, for another dimension of flavor and color, I minced some onion, green bell pepper, and garlic.
But instead of adding them in raw (because then they’d stay crunchy and kind of take away from the whole “light and ethereal” thing I was going for.
(And Alex wouldn’t have liked them at all. Which…now that I think about it…would have meant more for Bill and me…hmmm…mental note for next time…make them so the kids DON’T like them.)
Anyway, this time around I softened the onion, pepper and garlic in some butter.
When they were softened and beginning to take on a bit of color, I shut off the heat, let them cool a bit, and then added them to the crab and panko crumbs.
I added some salt and pepper, mixed everything together, and tasted the result to see if it needed more of anything.
A bit more pepper, a squeeze of lime juice (you could use lemon – I had limes), and then it was time to add some egg white.
I had 3 egg whites in a large bowl, and I whisked them.
And whisked them.
And whisked them.
Until I had firm, but not dry, peaks.
I encourage you to do this by hand with a whisk. It doesn’t really take long, and it probably burns a couple of calories, and when you’re done, you can look at your glossy egg white peaks and marvel at your accomplishment.
Anyway, the next step is to fold the whites gently into the crabmeat mixture.
Once that’s done, shape the crab mixture gently into cakes. Actually, the way I do it is to form balls about the size of…billiard balls. Smaller than a tennis ball, but larger than golf balls. But you can go with whatever size you want. Then I put them on a plate, covered everything with plastic, and chilled them for a couple of hours.
When it was time to brown them, I rolled each ball in some more panko crumbs (you could also roll in egg white and then in the panko), and then, when I placed them on the lightly oiled griddle, I pressed them down into cakes. They were about 3/4 of an inch thick.
(I liked the addition of marmalade, but Bill didn’t, so when we ate the remaining 3 cakes at lunch yesterday, I just mixed mayo and sriracha and Bill was happier.)
These crab cakes are so light they barely hold together, which is the way we like them here.
If we had more than a couple of leaves of cilantro in the garden, I might have added some to the cakes. Or a little tarragon. But those additions will have to wait a bit.
You could omit the green pepper if you wanted to.
In fact, when I’m making things like this, I don’t really follow a recipe to the letter anyway. I just play with what I have on hand, and usually the result is successful.
We polished these last few off pretty quickly.
Here’s the recipe.
Crab Cakes for Bill
(makes 8-9 cakes about 3” in diameter)
About a pound of crab meat – mostly lump. (The three cans I used made up 18 oz instead of 16, but that’s okay.)
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 small onion, minced
1/3 small green bell pepper, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 egg whites
lime or lemon juice to taste
salt and pepper to taste
What to do:
1. Pick through crabmeat to make sure there are no bits of cartilage. Combine crab with panko crumbs in a large bowl. Set aside.
2. Soften minced onion, pepper and garlic in a pan with a little butter and a pinch of salt. When the vegetables are beginning to turn golden, they’re ready to go. Turn off heat and let them cool for a few minutes.
3. Add onion, pepper and garlic to crabmeat mixture and mix well to combine. Taste a little bit of it, and add lime juice, salt, and pepper if desired.
4. In a medium-sized wide bowl, whisk the egg whites until firm, but not dry, peaks form.
5. Gently fold the whites into the crab mixture.
6. Shape crab mixture into balls about the size of billiard balls (bigger than golf, smaller than tennis) and place on a plate. Cover with plastic and refrigerate an hour or so to firm them up.
7. When you’re ready to cook the crab cakes, lightly grease a pan or griddle, roll each crab ball in panko (you could also dip in beaten egg white before rolling in the panko), then place on hot, oiled griddle and flatten gently into a cake about 3” wide and about 3/4” thick.
8. Cook cakes over medium heat, undisturbed, until golden brown on one side. Flip them over carefully (one of mine completely fell apart because I was too exuberant in my flipping) and continue to cook until golden brown on the other.
9. Serve with or without the sauce of your choice. They don’t really need a sauce, actually, but they don’t seem to object.
Now, like I said, we also had other things along with the crab cakes.
And Bill’s been in a grilling mood lately (especially last week when we had a few very warm days in a row), so he actually grilled the steak and cod loins for his own dinner.
And then, when we sat down to eat, Alex asked me to take a picture of his plate.
Doesn’t every family do this?
And then, because I took a picture of Alex’s plate, I had to take one of Julia’s, too. Only it didn’t come out as nice because I was in a hurry (and hungry).
Anyway, that was Bill’s birthday dinner.
Oh – and one more funny little adorable why-I-love-my-kids story.
A different night last week I’d made something for dinner…chicken tetrazzini, maybe, with leftover roast chicken and gravy. Anyway. We sat down to eat and Alex said “I feel sort of sad.”
We asked why, and he said “Because Mom did all this work to make us a nice dinner and we don’t do anything for her.”
Where did this boy come from??
Then Julia agreed with Alex, and they said other nice things about me while I protested half-heartedly and Bill muttered “I do things, too!” before we stopped talking and started eating.
Oh, and lest you feel bad for Bill, the kids are just as likely to proclaim him the best Daddy in the world as they are to sing my praises. It just happened to be my turn that day.
I adore my family.