The hard-shell blue-claw crab is found in the bays up and down the East Coast, but the most prominent home of the crab has always been the Chesapeake Bay.
The typical way to serve the boiled hard-shell crab was on a picnic table with newspapers and a hammer to crack the shells. It was a labor of love.
Upscale restaurants can’t serve crab this way so they have perfected the art of the crabcake. At its best it is a handful of fresh crabmeat barely held together by some kind of binder, such as egg and mayonnaise. Chefs have many secret recipes for the seasoning and the accompanying sauce.
Here are a couple of suggestions for the home cook:
Empty into a bowl 1 pound of lump crabmeat, either fresh or pasteurized.
Gently separate the meat and pick out any pieces of cartilage. Add 1 cup milk to the crab and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat 1 egg along with 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 1/2 teaspoons mustard powder and 2 minced scallions. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce and a dash of Tabasco.
Strain the crabmeat, discarding the milk. Fold the crab into the above mixture along with 1/2 cup panko crumbs.
Mold it into 8 patties with your hands, squeezing it so that it just holds together.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
At service time, dip the crab cakes in panko crumbs to coat and sauté in canola oil until golden, about 3 minutes per side.
THE LUXURY CRABCAKE
Pick over 1 pound of jumbo lump crabmeat as in the above recipe. If it is pasteurized crab, soak it in 1 cup milk for 30 minutes and drain.
Toast 1 1/2 cups finely ground panko in a dry skillet for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Finely chop 1 cup celery, 1/2 cup onion and 1 teaspoon garlic. Sauté vegetables in 2 tablespoons butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Season the vegetables with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper before cooling.
Peel and de-vein 4 ounces of shrimp and cut them into small pieces. Add the shrimp to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add 1/4 cup heavy cream and pulse until combined, about 6 pulses.
Combine the shrimp mousseline with the sautéed vegetables and add 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning.
Fold in the crabmeat with the shrimp and vegetable mixture, being careful to not break up the crabmeat.
Form the crab into 8 balls and gently press them into half-inch-thick patties.
Place on a foil-lined sheet pan and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. At service time, press the crabcakes into the toasted panko and sauté in canola oil until golden, about 4 minutes per side.
Serve with lemon wedges and remoulade sauce.
Combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon capers, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 2 chopped sweet gherkin pickles, 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Place these ingredients in a food processor and pulse until combined but still a little chunky. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Note: Crabmeat is available both fresh and pasteurized in refrigerated cans. They are both quality products and similar in taste. The fresh crab has a very short shelf life, of about three days. The pasteurized crab is good for about two weeks and about two days after being opened. They are both equally expensive. The grades you can choose for crab cakes are jumbo lump, lump and backfin. The jumbo lump will cost about $35 per pound, the lump about $28 and the backfin about $22.
Much of the pasteurized crab comes from Indonesia and the fresh usually comes from the Chesapeake Bay area. Crabmeat is very rich and 1 pound will make 8 appetizer portions or 4 entrée portions.
(These recipes were adapted from the excellent “America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School” and the book “Restaurant Favorites at Home” by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated.)
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected].