Last week, I saw Ina Garten make Crab Cakes on an old episode of Barefoot Contessa. What especially intrigued me was the bell peppers. I know that crab cake purists say the fewer additives, the better, but if I want pure crab, I don’t bother with crab cakes, I get whole crab and crack it with my teeth. That’s how I roll. I thought the veggies might be a really welcome addition. I mentioned the crab cakes to my sister-in-law, who said that she uses canned crab for crab cakes. “CANNED????” I thought….“THE HORROR!” But what she said made some sense, which is that with all of the other flavors, you don’t taste the crab as much as you might think. Especially the binding ingredients, which you pretty much can’t do without, the mayo and the breadcrumbs. So so canned is perfectly acceptable and saves you some money.
So I decided to do a taste test, and make crab cakes for dinner, 1/2 with fresh crab (lump crab meat that I bought at the seafood counter of my favorite grocery, not whole crabs), and 1/2 with canned crab. First, I sauteed the veggies along with Tabasco, Worcestershire, etc.
Then, I added the crab. See how the crab mix on the right has texture, and big lumps of crab? Mmmm. See how the crab on the left looks kind of strange and shredded? That’s canned crab. My SIL clearly doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
But look…when you actually COOK the crab cakes, see how they suddenly look a lot more similar, more delicious and like, suddenly, it looks like my SIL might know what she’s talking about. I should have known better, because she’s smart and usually DOES know what she’s talking about. I was just so shocked at the idea of canned crab, I think I over reacted.
I will say, I read the reviews of the recipe and I changed it a bit. First, I used a whole lb of crab rather than a half. In order to keep the binding, I also doubled the bread crumbs. Lastly, Ina fries hers in oil, and the comments complained about the crab falling apart and making some kind of crab mix soup. This happened to me recently with zucchini fritters, so I followed one suggestion that said to bake the crab cakes for 20 minutes at 350, then broil just to crisp.
The results? Yummy. Very yummy. The fresh crab cakes had a better texture (nice to find a big piece of crab), but they were saltier. I’m sure that wouldn’t happen if you bought a whole crab and cracked it yourself. The canned crab had a more uniform texture, but was less salty. Other than the salty vs. texture issue, my SIL was right. (She usually is, so not a shock, really) There was no real difference between the fresh and canned. No big crab taste to one that the other didn’t have. Canned crab was about $5 for 4 oz, so that was $10 for that half. Fresh crab was $28 a lb, so that was $14 for that half. Not a LOT more. But more, especially if you were making crab for a party and needed a lot. You decide.
This is Ina’s recipe, so it only has 1/2 lb of crab, 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, and it’s fried instead of baked. I think the time in the fridge, chilling, is important.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3/4 cup small diced red onion (1 small onion)
- 1 1/2 cups small diced celery (4 stalks)
- 1/2 cup small diced red bell pepper (1 small pepper)
- 1/2 cup small diced yellow bell pepper (1 small pepper)
- 1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained
- 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (recommended: Tabasco)
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons crab boil seasoning (recommended: Old Bay)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 pound lump crabmeat, drained and picked to remove shells
- 1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup good mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup olive oil
Place the 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons oil, onion, celery, red and yellow bell peppers, parsley, capers, hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, crab boil seasoning, salt, and pepper in a large saute pan over medium-low heat and cook until the vegetables are soft, approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, break the lump crabmeat into small pieces and toss with the bread crumbs, mayonnaise, mustard, and eggs. Add the cooked mixture and mix well. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Shape into bite-sized crab cakes.
Heat the butter and olive oil for frying over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add the crab cakes and fry for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, until browned. Drain on paper towels; keep them warm in a 250 degree oven and serve hot.