This recipe for authentic Maryland Crab Cakes uses only a touch of Old Bay seasoning and just enough “filler” to hold them together.
Crab cakes come in lots of different forms, but in my humble opinion, the classic Maryland style is undoubtedly the best.
Perhaps I’m biased from my east coast upbringing, but I just think a properly made Maryland crab cake has the most satisfying crab flavor. I ate plenty of crab cakes when I lived in Louisiana, and they were mostly all very good, but none of them ever really compared to the ones I grew up eating. I’ve had Asian style crab cakes, Latin inspired crab cakes, Italian crab cakes, you name it. Some are better than others, but none of them have ever really done it for me.
This is the best way to make a crab cake, or at least I think so. They taste like pure, unadulterated crab, with only a touch of seasoning and just enough “filler” to hold them together. The people of Maryland know their crabs, and they most definitely know their crab cakes.
We were incredibly lucky to bring home a boatload of big, meaty Maryland blue claws a few weeks ago after visiting my dad in Annapolis. Dad, Em’s, Chaser, and myself all woke up at the butt crack of dawn to spend a few quality hours laughing and catching crabs. Dad figured out a new system this year, so we can now actually go out and catch our own crabs unlike last year when, well… go read the post.
The night before, we baited a line with chicken necks every few feet. In the morning, before the sun even came up, we boarded the boat, and headed out onto the Chesapeake. We dropped the line with an anchor on one end and strung it out as far as it would go, then dropped another anchor at the other end. We propped the line up onto a rig made out of PVC pipe and motored as slowly as possible while watching to see if any crabs took the bait. There’s a name for this method of crabbing, I just don’t recall what it is.
As soon as we saw one coming, Dad would yell “JIMMY JIMMY JIMMAAAAYYYY” while Chaser and I scrambled to scoop it up before it got away. I think we only lost about 3 or 4 keepers, and they were all mostly Chasers fault (wink). Em’s hung out on the back of the boat to cheer us on and take all these awesome pics (thanks Ems!).
By about 7am we had caught close to a bushel. Dad and Em’s have been crabbing all summer, so they let Chaser and I take them all home. After a long drive back to Brigantine and little nap to recuperate, we cooked them all up and had ourselves quite a feast. A few friends came by to help us eat them, and then we stayed up until almost midnight picking away. Lots of cold beer and good company made the time whiz by. We had just about a pound of meat leftover, which was the perfect amount for making these beautiful cakes the next day.
Since we picked this meat ourselves, the lumps weren’t quite as “jumbo” as what you’ll find at the store. But the upside is that this meat was fresher, sweeter, and more flavorful since we cooked it with vinegar, Old Bay, and beer. Store bought crab meat works perfectly well in this recipe, but somehow it always tastes better when you’ve picked it yourself.
There once was a time when I believed panko breadcrumbs were the only way to go for light, minimally bready crab cakes, but my Maryland friends have since enlightened me. The secret to the best textured crab cakes? Saltine crackers. Not too many, crushed up nice and fine. A little bit of Old Bay seasoning is a must, along with an egg, a touch of mayo, some mustard powder for bite, and a dash of Worcestershire to enhance the sweet, meaty flavor of the crab. Don’t add any extra salt – the saltines, Old Bay, and crab meat will provide plenty of seasoning. I like to throw in some thinly sliced scallions for a little added texture and flavor, but they are by no means traditional.
Use a measuring cup to scoop out your desired portion – I went with 1/2 cup, but you can go even bigger if you wish. Pack them a bit with your hands to keep them from falling apart, but don’t pack them too tight. Place them on a sheet pan and refrigerate for at least a half hour or until you’re ready to cook. This will help them hold their shape.
Another essential: frying them in butter. I love using salted butter since it gives them such an irresistible crust. The outside gets seared crisp while the inside stays creamy and full of tender crab. You can serve them with cocktail or tartar sauce if you insist, but I find a little squeeze of lemon is all they need, if anything.
One Year Ago: Savory Peach Galette with Caramelized Shallots and Blue Cheese, The New York Times Famous Plum Torte, Warm Potato Salad with Bacon + Long Hots
Two Years Ago: Salted Chocolate + Caramel Ice Cream Cake, No-Cook Sun Gold Tomato Pasta, Pickled Shrimp with Fried Green Tomatoes and Creole Remoulade
Three Years Ago: French Tomato + Goat Cheese Tart
Four Years Ago: Roasted Beet, Green Bean + Shaved Fennel Salad with Blue Cheese + Hazelnuts
Makes about 8 crab cakes (serves 4)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 large or 4 small scallions, green parts only, very thinly sliced
- 8 saltine crackers, crushed into crumbs
- 1 lb jumbo lump crabmeat, picked for shells but leave lumps intact
- 4 tablespoons salted butter, for frying, plus more as needed
- lemons, for serving
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, Old Bay, mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce, and scallions. Add the crushed saltine crackers and mix to combine. Add the crabmeat, then use a rubber spatula to gently mix, being very careful not to break up the lumps.
- Use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to portion out even mounds of the mixture. Use your hands to gently pack them together to form a cake, but don’t pack too tight. Set the cakes on a sheet pan, then cover with plastic and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.
- When ready to cook, heat 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add as many crab cakes as will fit in the pan without overcrowding (4 is a good number). Cook for about 3 minutes or until golden brown, then flip and cook on the other side. Add more butter if needed and repeat with the remaining crab cakes.
- Serve immediately with lemon wedges on the side. If not serving immediately, keep crab cakes warm by covering and placing in a 200 degree oven for up to one hour.