As a personal chef for almost 13 years, I’ve tried numerous crab cake recipes. In that period of time, none has been requested more than my dear friend Bea Smith’s Maryland-style crab cakes. These are the real deal!
This recipe was handed down to Bea from her mother, who settled in the Baltimore area after emigrating from Europe. Bea’s mother learned to make crab cakes from the locals and Bea herself lived in the Baltimore area for much of her 90 years, so this recipe has deep, authentic roots.
A piece of advice Bea gave me about making crab cakes is you never want to add herbs, spices or other ingredients that will detract from the sweet flavor of the crab — crab cakes are all about the crab. She prefers only Maryland blue crab, but that’s not always easy to find in many areas. At the very least, try to use crab caught in U. S. waters.
For uniform cakes, I like to mold them in a 1/3-cup measuring cup. I fill it about two-thirds of the way, invert onto a baking sheet, then gently tap the measuring cup on the baking sheet until the formed cake comes loose. A good chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes will help them set up so they hold together better when browning.
You always want to make sure your oil is hot before cooking. Placing them in oil that isn’t hot enough can cause them to be soggy and possibly fall apart. When the oil is shimmering and looks ready, add a pinch of the cracker crumbs or panko to see if they brown easily. If they do, then it’s time to add the crab cakes.
To easily remember which crab cake went in first (which means it’s the first one you should turn), place the first one near the handle of the skillet or sauté pan, then work in a clockwise motion with the rest of the cakes. If you have room to cook one in the center, it would be the last one you place in the pan and subsequently the last one you turn.
As a dinner for two, this recipe makes twice what two people can eat in one sitting; however, these and other fish and seafood cakes freeze and reheat very well. As busy professionals, we well understand the value of cooking once and eating twice from the effort.
Bea doesn’t serve these crab cakes with a sauce, and my client’s don’t request a sauce either, but you may enjoy a remoulade, tartar sauce or something as simple as a squeeze of lemon.
These also make a great appetizer that you can prepare ahead of time in any size and brown just before serving.
3 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
16 saltine crackers, crushed, plus more for coating crab cakes (or panko)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (or to taste)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
— black pepper, to taste
1 pound lump (or special) crabmeat (picked over for shells)
— canola oil, for frying
Heat butter in a skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion, reduce heat to medium-low and cook 8-10 minutes or until soft and light golden (do not brown). Transfer to a large bowl to cool.
Stir in crushed crackers, dry mustard, Worcestershire, mayonnaise, egg, salt and black pepper and mix well. Fold in crabmeat.
Form into 10-12 even cakes. Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Coat cakes with cracker crumbs or panko. Heat canola oil in a skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown cakes 2-3 minutes per side or until nicely browned, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent over-browning or burning. Drain on a wire rack. Repeat with remaining cakes.