This Spicy, Buttery Crab Pasta Is Just About Foolproof

August 19, 2019

A good crab cake is hard to find. The more crab, the better. But also: The more crab, the more likely it is to fall apart. And when it falls apart, all you’re left with is an unshapely, buttery, Old Bay-y crab and salty cracker mixture…

Wait, why is this a bad thing?

A crab cake that has fallen to pieces may not be on purpose, but it can be reborn as many other meals. You could scoop it up with more crackers. Spread it on toast. Fold it into a quesadilla. Roll it into sushi. Or, my favorite, toss it with hot pasta.

In fact, you could skip the Oh no! My crab cakes are ruined! part altogether, and fast-forward right to making crab pasta. It’s a dinner that feels special enough for a birthday or date night, but is just about impossible to mess up.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Tempted to try this but with Ritz crackers instead of saltines, which I don't care for. Too buttery (is that even possible?) or even better??”
— Noreen F.

Here’s how it comes together:

Sautéed vegetables. Onion and celery are classic in a crab cake. In this recipe, we’ll ditch the onions and swap in two other alliums: scallions and leeks. I love their bright colors and grassy flavors.

Jumbo lump crab meat. This is even chunkier than lump crab meat, which means by the time you’re done tossing the pasta, you’ll still end up with lots of big pieces. That said, it’s also more expensive—so if you want to opt for lump instead, that works, too. Just toss extra carefully.

Short-shaped pasta. Short-shaped pasta is ideal for lots of mix-ins (versus, say, a saucy marinara you’d ladle on spaghetti). It could be farfalle, rigatoni, penne, you name it. As for me? I love the shells’ beachy vibe and the way they hug the crab.

Old Bay sauce. The ingredients for this no-cook sauce are plucked straight out of a crab cake recipe: mayonnaise, Old Bay, Dijon mustard, and Worcestershire. (Psst: Keep this on call as a dip for roasted shrimp cocktail.)

Buttery Saltines. Smashed crackers are used as a binder in crab cakes. Here, they’re going to be a crunchy-crumbly garnish. You could just break up some Saltines on top—of course, this would be good. But what’s even better is if you break up the saltines into a hot, buttery skillet, and let them get golden and extra-crispy.

Serve this with an extremely cold bottle of white wine. And if you can find a way to eat it outside, even better.

What’s your favorite summer pasta recipe? Tell us in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • doctormat
  • Roslyn Long
    Roslyn Long
  • Sharon in DC
    Sharon in DC
  • Connor Adrian
    Connor Adrian
  • Noreen Fish
    Noreen Fish
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


doctormat November 21, 2019
Oh, perfect crab cake. No problem once you realize the physics. you have large smooth objects that have to be knit together, You have something that changes to a solid but isn't strong, you have filler, that's right, crab cake IS CONCRETE. egg with some flour cements it. panko is filler, lump crab is lumps.
here's the recipe.
I am working on a rebar omellette.
Roslyn L. September 1, 2019
As an Australian I have never heard of 'Old Bay' can you please explain what is in it so i can try to replicate flavour
Noreen F. September 3, 2019
Hi, Roslyn: Here's a link to a homemade version of Old Bay from Epicurious, although by the time you buy all of these spices you might be better off getting some shipped to you! :^)
Roslyn L. September 4, 2019
Thanks Noreen
Emma L. September 4, 2019
Hi Roslyn! Celery salt, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne (all mixed to taste) would be a good start—but as Noreen noted, it's hard to replicate Old Bay exactly since there are so many spices in the blend.
Roslyn L. September 5, 2019
Thanks Emma, I think I will need to make up a jar of this as there appears to be a few recipes I like the look of that call for Old Bay. I did look it up on Amazon to see about buying on-line but all there small containers are sold out so this was not an option.
Julia October 6, 2019
I’d be glad to send you some if you want to try it. It can be used for so many seafood dishes.
Roslyn L. October 6, 2019
Thank-you so much for this offer Julia, it is a very generous offer but I have discovered that I can buy it on Amazon so I am just waiting for it to arrive before giving it my own thumbs up of approval.
Clatterbuck October 11, 2019
Old Bay is a spice blend from the Maryland/Delaware area of the US. You can buy it online, just Google Old Bay. I really don't think you can make it at home and have it taste like authentic Old Bay. I'm born and raised here in Maryland and I put it on french fries, eggs, popcorn, etc. It's delicious on popcorn. If you're not familiar with Old Bay I would recommend going light with it at first. You can always add more if you like it.
Sharon I. August 22, 2019
How about an Old Bay sub? I'd rather more crab taste than the Old Bay taste. . .
Emma L. August 22, 2019
Hi, that's a tough one! Old Bay has 18 different herbs and spices, so it's pretty unique. You could reduce the amount, skip it altogether (and add a couple pinches of black pepper), or add a few coins of thinly sliced chile to the sautéed vegetables.
Connor A. August 20, 2019
Is there a substitute for mayonnaise?
Emma L. August 20, 2019
Hi! You could swap in soft butter—just adjust the amount to taste.
Noreen F. August 19, 2019
Tempted to try this but with Ritz crackers instead of saltines, which I don't care for. Too buttery (is that even possible?) or even better??
Emma L. August 19, 2019
Ritz crackers would be great—go for it! Just salt them to taste (since they're less salty than Saltines).
FrugalCat August 20, 2019
Yes to Ritz crackers. And I was also thinking...Cheez-its? Some say cheese with seafood is a no-no, but I'm really intrigued.
Emma L. August 20, 2019
Yum, Cheez-Its sound great to me!
Mari H. September 13, 2019
Both Ritz and Cheez-Its sound like good alternatives to the saltines. Perfect “excuse” to make the dish twice.