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How to Make Any Crab Cakes in 5 Steps

by • July 15, 2013 13 Comments

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Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: When it comes to making crab cakes, it's all about getting your hands in there. Our head of distribution and partnerships, Maddy Martin, rolls up her sleeves.

Crab Cakes from Food52

Crab cakes are a lot like meatballs: both come together with the help of an egg, breadcrumbs, and a few common minced vegetables and herbs; both are hand-patted and pan-fried; and both have a sidekick sauce -- marinara for meatballs, tartar for crab cakes.

The two dishes part ways when it comes to protein. Ground meat is as low-maintenance as it gets -- just dump it in the bowl and start piling on the other ingredients. Ever the diva, crab meat -- even the kind you buy in tubs at the store that's already been hand-picked -- requires another once-over.

It might seem as ridiculous as booking two massage appointments back to back, but meticulously picking over the crab meat is the single most important step in making crab cakes. Nothing ruins a meal like biting into a shell fragment. (Or worse, having a guest take that bite.) You end up cautiously gumming each remaining bite as if it's about to bite back. If you didn't pick thoroughly, it might continue the assault. In my opinion, given the cost of lump crab, it had better be docile.

Turn on some music, enlist a friend to help, meditate over it, whatever. Just don't get to mixing until your crab has been re-picked.

How to Make Any Crab Cakes in 5 Steps

1. Pick that crab. Designate one little bowl for shell fragments and another bigger bowl for catching the clean crab. Try to keep the lumps intact as best you can.


2. For every pound of crab meat, add in a small handful of minced shallot, another of chopped fresh parsley, a bigger handful of diced red pepper, and another of diced green pepper. You'll use about half of each pepper. If you must, you can sub one full pepper, but it won't taste quite the same (or be as festive!).

Also add an egg, 3 or 4 heaping spoonfuls of mayo, a heaping handful of dry breadcrumbs (or toasted fresh crumbs that have been pulsed till fine), and a squirt each of Dijon and Worcestershire. A few shakes of Tabasco, Crystal, or your favorite thin hot sauce are welcome now, too. Mix everything up gently to avoid breaking up the lumps of crab. If it's too wet, add more breadcrumbs. Too dry? More mayo.


3. Form those patties -- with a pound of lump crabmeat, I get 4 patties for entree-sized cakes or 8 patties for appetizers.


4. Thoroughly dredge each patty in all-purpose flour and fry patties in clarified butter for the best browning.


5. Flip only once. Drain on paper towels, and serve hot with tartar sauce.

Now, for that sidekick sauce. To make a killer tartar, mix together the following, to taste: mayo, relish (or minced pickles/gherkins), capers, dill (preferably fresh), fresh chives, Dijon, and fresh lemon juice. The order dictates the general proportion, with mayo being the main ingredient and fresh lemon juice coming in at just a dribble. The sauce can be made ahead of time so you're not frantically mixing while your cakes cool.

If you do forget, you can also make a super-quick tartar sauce with just mayo and relish.

Or, just sprinkle them with lemon juice. As we've learned, it's all about the crab, anyway.

Crab Cakes from Food52

Still want a recipe? Here are a few for inspiration:

Brigit Binns' Crab Cakes
Crab Cakes with Fennel, Scallions and Green Apple
Mill Creek Crab Cakes

We're looking for contributors! Email [email protected] and tell us the dish you could make in your sleep, without a recipe.

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: not recipes, crab cakes, seafood, dinner, appetizers, how to, how-to & diy

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Comments (13)


about 1 year ago butchie4ever

Shallots and peppers will overpower the delicate taste of the crab... and if you started with jumbo lump crab meat and ended with what you have pictured above, you have over handled your crab meat. I lightly search for shells while not breaking the lumps up. i add mustard (sometimes yellow and sometime dijon) as well as mayo and I use a small amount of old bay. I also add a few crackers or the end slice of bread to a food processor until very fine and add that as well.


about 1 year ago Robin

I lived in Maryland for a while and while the crabs there are just the best, the old bay seasoning can be a little overdone. When you have a premium ingredient like Maryland blue crab with it's delicate flavor, the last thing anyone should do is add a strong seasoning mix. Massachusetts has it right.


about 1 year ago bmorecharmer

flour and peppers in a crabcake? no old bay? sacrilege! in maryland, we do crabcakes a bit differently. we broil them as opposed to pan-frying.


about 1 year ago Robert Hord

I haven't tried them but I have a friend who is a crabber, but he goes almost entirely for Golden Crabs, and I was wonder if their meat could be used?


over 1 year ago Robin

The best crab cakes I ever had were from a restaurant in Wellfleet, Mass. (the Bookstore) that had a version of eggs Benedict with crab cakes replacing the Canadian bacon. They seemed to be 100% crab fried in butter and held together by the chef's mind control. Does anyone have the inside scoop on how that was accomplished?


almost 2 years ago beejay45

No Old Bay? No mayo? ;)

I learned crab cakes in Maryland, and seasoning choices aside, peppers are an alien taste and texture for me, and two eggs, plus flour, makes it more of a crab pancake. The cake should be a little loose once you bite into it, mostly crab, not so much binders. Maybe if you can't get any lump meat, but not with the good stuff. My two cents worth, tastes being subjective.


almost 2 years ago betty carson

I use Panko totally - in the mixture and as a coating. I don't put any peppers in, as I agree, it is all about the crab (I use Dungeness) -- don't want those pepper flavors. I use 2 eggs for binder and 1 finely chop scallion, and small amount of chopped parsley -- worcestershire, salt, touch of cayenne, lemon juice, dry mustard. delicious!!


almost 2 years ago pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

The good thing about Dungeness is that they are in season practically year round from somewhere on the West Coast.


about 2 years ago vicki constan

Would panko work instead of flour?


about 2 years ago CookLikeMad

I'm not sure panko would adhere well enough (being all scraggly and all), but if you wanted them to be crunchy on the outside, you could use standard breading procedure: flour -> egg wash -> panko, and then proceed with the recipe. Hope that helps!


over 1 year ago vicki constan

thanks... sounds like I'd better stick to the recipe....


about 2 years ago pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.



about 2 years ago CookLikeMad

Thanks, pierino -- glad you enjoyed it!