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City Paper Crab Cakes

Henry's Recipe (Latter Mikulski Variant)

Diagrams and photo by Henry Hong
Fig. 1
Fig. 2

By Henry Hong | Posted 3/5/2008

I use a modified version of the popular and widely cited "Senator Barb's Favorite Crab Cake Recipe," which in turn closely resembles the recipe printed on Old Bay cans. They all share the most common seasoning component: mustard. I've found Dijon adds unnecessary complexity, and dry mustard lacks the balancing acid component of prepared yellow, which I prefer. My recipe yields a pretty loose mixture that's a bit difficult to work with, so I've developed some extra steps designed to bolster cake structural integrity. I highly recommend frying over broiling, since broiling seems to lead to drier, blander crab cakes at home.

1 pound jumbo-lump crabmeat (domestic preferred over imported)

1 teaspoon yellow mustard

1 egg

1 1/2 slices Wonder Bread (or any soft commercial white bread)

2 tablespoons mayonnaise (use light or fat free at your own peril)

2 teaspoons Old Bay

A small dash Worcestershire sauce

A little milk

Optional: a little ground white pepper, no more than 1 teaspoon chopped parsley (curly preferred over the more intense flat-leaf)

1) Open and invert the container of meat onto a cutting board and tap firmly, releasing the meat. This minimizes potentially harmful handling. You'll be left with a container-shaped mound of meat, à la canned cranberry sauce.

2) Very gently separate the meat, making every effort to keep lumps and lump clusters intact, and look for shell pieces. Each individual lump needs not be separated, just do a cursory inspection.

3) Gently transfer meat to a large mixing bowl. Using a knife, scrape any residual meat and liquid into the bowl as well. Sprinkle half of the Old Bay onto the meat and fold, using your hand to scoop from the bottom of the bowl and lifting, gently mixing in a vertical motion (figure 1).

4) Tear or cut bread, including crusts, into small pieces, about one inch square. In a small bowl, combine bread with enough milk to soak.

5) In yet another bowl, thoroughly mix the egg, mustard, mayonnaise, Worcestershire, and remaining Old Bay, plus white pepper and parsley if you want.

6) Squeeze excess milk from bread pieces and add them to egg mixture. Taste for seasoning, add salt or Old Bay as necessary. A little raw egg won't kill you, but if you must, nuke a small bit for 30 seconds, then taste.

7) Pour the mixture over the crabmeat, and fold to incorporate. Try to be thorough, but be extra careful not to break up the lumps. Go slow.

8) If the crab-cake mixture is very loose, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes to tighten it up.

9) Refrigerate for at least another half hour, turning them over once halfway through. This helps flatten both sides of the cakes.

To fry, carefully shape mixture into four flat cakes. (I've found the shape and size should correspond closely to that of a White Castle slider--bun and all--if that helps.) If the cakes aren't keeping their shape well, place them in pairs on a piece of plastic wrap (figure 2), then wrap securely.

Heat a nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron pan (doesn't seem to make a difference) to medium-low, and add either butter or a neutral-flavored oil like canola or safflower. Do not use olive oil. Unwrap the cakes and slide them into the pan, two at a time (a crowded pan makes flipping more difficult).

Fry uncovered until a brown crust has formed, then carefully and slowly flip (leaving them uncovered helps the cakes to self-heal if damaged during flipping). If the cakes break, gather them back together and knock on wood. When the second side is browned sufficiently, remove to a plate. You're done.

If broiling, then shape into four cakes, place on a plate and cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Carefully transfer the cakes to an oven-safe pan or baking sheet and place on oven rack fitted to the highest rung (i.e., closest to top). Keep the oven door open and broil until browned, turning the cakes to allow for even cooking. If you have an oven-safe pan, you can lightly fry the cakes (just the bottoms) before broiling them, thus achieving more complete browning. That's it.

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