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Caught Crab vs. Consumer Crustacean Cakes - By Z

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with some friends on a camping trip. We spent the night on a bitterly cold and windy beach in a tent that was better suited for a heated patio. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t my greatest camping adventure. Although I woke up with a crick in my back from sleeping in a car, I received a fairly decent consolation prize: fresh crab.

My friend had taken a boat out on Bodega Bay and returned with a pretty big catch. He cooked the crab and gave me a bagful. He warned me that it wasn’t particularly good, but I was simply looking forward to using it to soak up a bunch of clarified butter. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to use it immediately and had to freeze it. This compromised the texture even further, so I figured that there was only one thing to do… fry ‘em up as crabcakes.

The first thing to do was to get them out of their shell. At first, I despaired because I didn’t have a nutcracker… then I realized that any smashing device would do.

I opted for a hammer.

Smashing crab shells is pretty decent stress relief... picking crab meat out of the shells, however, is not.

I wrapped the hammer in a few layers of aluminum foil, because I’m all about sanitation.

A lot of work for very little meat.

Next chop up some crunchy vegetables and prepare the rest of your mix ingredients, including breadcrumbs, egg, and mayo.

Red and green bell pepper, Ritz crackers (for breadcrumbs), scallions, and shallots.

Notice that I used Ritz crackers for the breadcrumbs… well, in addition to regular breadcrumbs… and panko breadcrumbs.

I decided, due to the aforementioned textural difficulties, that these were going to be a rather filler-heavy crabcake.

There are two crabcake camps and, like most things related to food, I am in both, because it means I get to eat more. I know them as the traditional, filler-heavy crabcake and the other as the gourmet/foofy, lump crabcake. Apparently, in Maryland, they are known as the Boardwalk and Restaurant crabcakes respectively. Now, as I said, I like both, but if I was forced at gunpoint to choose, I’d go with the foofy type.

I just prefer big chunks of meat, pretty much as a general rule.

Of course, that’s provided that the meat is good quality. In this case, while it wasn’t terrible (and I should know, because I ate quite a bit while shelling it), it wasn’t great either. Plus, I ended up chopping it too finely (as pictured below).

Conclusion: Go with the traditional Boardwalk style and throw in some other flavors (as pictured above).

I tried to chop it roughly, but the pieces still ended up shredding.

I really am not sure of the proportions and shot for an approximate texture instead. I added one beaten egg, about 5 crumbled Ritz, red and green minced bell pepper quarters, mayo, some Worcestershire sauce, a few shakes of paprika, and a few more of cayenne. That was for approximately two big handfuls of crab meat.

You should be able to somewhat easily form balls with the mixture.

I made two terrible mistakes here. The first was my choice of breadcrumbs–I went with panko. While I love panko breadcrumbs for some things (like chicken strips), they are far too much crunch for crabcakes. Next time, I will go with simple seasoned breadcrumbs. My second mistake (and I really should’ve known better, even without experimentation) was to pre-make the crabcakes and fry them the next day. I wanted to save time because I was going to bring them to a friend’s house and didn’t want to have to be breading there, but it ended up making the breadcrumbs soggy and compromising the texture of the crust. Worse, the extra moisture caused more oil splatter, which–despite being relatively inured to burns at this point–is hardly pleasant.

Actually, that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is that… the store-bought crabcake was far superior to my own.

I went to the store earlier in the day in search of a bit of crab meat to augment my own, but it was FAR too expensive ($12.99 for a baby food sized jar). However, the butcher/fishmonger (yeah, it was a Safeway) gave these frozen crabcakes such a ringing endorsement that I felt like I would be insulting him not to buy at least one package. I figured I could do a comparison and show the world how superior my delicious homemade crabcakes were. However, my Bobby Flay-like hubris caught up with me and I was [easily] bested by the frozen food.

In the left corner, wearing panko breadcrumbs... Homemade! In the right corner, covered in plastic wrap... Store-bought! Let's get ready to fryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

The store-bought ones were the “restaurant-style” lump crab meat kind and simply had better texture overall. This is not to say that mine weren’t good. They simply couldn’t stand up to the appeal of big chunks of crab.

I fried them both in peanut oil for a few minutes per side.

Getting ready for the final showdown in which <SPOILER ALERT> frozen food defeats homemade and fresh.

Yes, everyone pretty much agreed that the frozen crabcakes were better than mine. The bigger pieces of crab simply tasted better than my filler crabcake.

However, I consoled myself with the fact that my sauce (shown above in the glass and below on the left) was superior to the frozen crabcakes’ sauce (shown above in the plastic pouch in the mug of hot water and below on the right).

My crabcakes are on the left and the store-bought ones are on the right.

A good crabcake, like any good fried item, should come with a delicious sauce.

I Googled and asked people on Facebook and Reddit for sauce suggestions. Remoulade and Hollandaise topped both lists, but I wanted something with a bit more bite.

I decided to go with a garlic cilantro shallot aioli, based partially on my mood, but mostly on my available ingredients.

From L to R, spiraling inward: cilantro, horseradish, lemon, fresh egg, garlic, shallot.

Basically, an aioli is an emulsion similar to mayonnaise, though not as creamy. Some aiolis are barely creamy at all, but I wanted something that would at least mimic a remoulade or hollandaise, so I decided to include egg in my aioli. Plus, I had fresh eggs.

On the board: Horseradish, cilantro, shallot, and garlic; In the bowl: lemon, mustard, and yolks (one was dropped from too high up); On the table: wire whisk

I made a quasi-Hollandaise, whisking the eggs as I drizzled olive oil in, then slowly added the minced ingredients. The result was a bit thinner than I wanted, but I suspect it’s because I used too much lemon juice. Another egg might have helped. Overall, I don’t even know if you can call it an aioli, but I’m gonna do so anyway. I also pre -made the aioli, which was nowhere near as terrible an idea as pre-breading the crabcakes. Most aiolis will last a couple of days in the fridge.

Overall, this wasn’t one of my more successful recipes, but they still were all eaten and I’ve learned some important things about crabcake making (use bigger chunks of crab, no panko breadcrumbs, and don’t pre-bread them). Furthermore, the crabcakes’ shortcomings kept no one, least of all me, from eating all of them.


  1. I would like a crab cake for breakfast, served alongside a hammer on a flowery plate :)

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 5:22 am | Permalink
  2. Z wrote:

    Crabcakes with a side of hammer… breakfast of champions.

    Also, as I’m sure you know, crabcakes benedict is wonderful and would have been a great use for these crabcakes rather than eating them alone.

    Guess I should listen to Asad when he says “Hollandaise… always hollandaise.”

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink
  3. PeeJ wrote:

    Put a finer dice on the veg.

    Yes, lump style.

    Your biggest problem was completely blowing it on the spices. SALT! And some Old Bay seasoning. Try it, you’ll be amazed at the difference.

    btw, which coast are you on? More to the point, blue crab (east coast) or dungeness (west)? Dungeness crab takes a substantially different approach.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink
  4. Z wrote:

    According to my friend, these were red and rock crabs.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  5. B wrote:

    Why the long hiatus? I need more food posts.

    Monday, June 28, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. [...] This dish was inspired by the copious amount of crab stock that I made in order to do something productive with the pile of crab shells I had laying around after my attempt at crabcakes. [...]

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