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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Crab Cake Comparison

I love crab cakes. My husband does not. This makes me sad, as I never get the chance to make them at home. But, alas! My chance as come! He had to go out of town for work, so I sat down and mulled over all the crab cake recipes I've saved, just for this very occasion. The problem was, I couldn't just pick one. How would I know which one I liked best unless I made them all? And what better way to compare than to make them all at once? I am a huge fan of Bridget's comparison posts and figured this would be a great time to copy emulate her.

How I Like My Crab Cakes
I don't quite remember if I've ever made them at home before. I've certainly had a nice sampling from restaurants over the years, though. I love a nice coating on the outside... something to break into with your fork. Also, I like there to be something there besides the crab. I kind of like a little filler. Of course, I still want that crab flavor... just, enhanced. On the cooking side, I'd love a recipe that works well being baked. Also, how well it holds together is important.

For sauce, I made a fantastic Paule Deen remoulade once but lost the recipe. The one I used here is all I could find of hers, but I don't think it's the right one. Anyway, this one is pretty good, and I used 2% greek yogurt in place of the mayonnaise.

The Plan
I narrowed down my list of recipes to four, then scaled them all down based on 4 ounces (1/4 pound) of crab meat. This would be enough to get two cakes from each recipe: one for baking and one for pan frying. Here are the four recipes I chose to test:

1. Christine of Chronicles of a Fledgling Cook. I've had this recipe printed out and in my recipe box for years. Figured it was about time I made it!
2. Ellie Krieger of the Food Network. I definitely wanted to throw one in there from someone who stance is healthful food.
3. Cook's Illustrated. They seem to know what they are doing, right?
4. Katie of Good Things Catered. I've been drooling over hers since January!

The Process
I will warn you now - this experience was a true testament to the name at the top of this page. I have zero flipping skills, especially when it comes to delicate items. I am moderately embarrassed by the unfortunate demise of half these cakes, but hey - it's just me at home today. When I make them for company, I will be that much the wiser.

I only made one minor ingredient adjustment. I (really, really) don't care for fresh parsley, so I used cilantro in the three recipes that called for it. Also, I see no issue with using canned jumbo lump crab meat. Cook's Illustrated gave their blessing on that front, so that was enough for me. (Plus, I live in the midwest. Any "fresh" fish scares me!). One note about the canned crab - only got roughly 3.5 ounces of crab from each 6 ounce can, so plan accordingly! Also, all the cakes were chilled for 2 hours before cooking.

1. Christine's recipe (actually an adaptation of a Paula Deen recipe) requires the most prepwork. red pepper, garlic, and shallots are sauteed before being combined with the other filler ingredients, then folded into the crab meat. I found the filler to be more of a paste, which was difficult to blend into the crab without overworking. Later I realized I didn't use the proper amount of egg, so that probably affected the mixing. It didn't seem to hold together well while handling, which made it difficult to coat with the cheese/bread crumbs mixture. Ultimately it was the easiest recipe to flip in the pan, holding together very well where it counts.

2. For Ellie's recipe, the filler ingredients are combined in a bowl, then added to the crab. Bread crumbs are added last, then the cakes are coated in breadcrumbs. This didn't hold together well, either. The pan frying was a disaster, it completely fell apart!! Flipping was a disaster. The baked cake was easier to flip, I think because since it's baked, the whole cake is cooking instead of just one side when pan frying.

3. The CI recipe threw everything together except the egg, which was folded in last. It had a good moisture level and held together better than the others before going into the fridge, but then was hard to dredge in the flour before cooking. The recipe is a little confusing, it calls for ground black pepper in the ingredient list, but the directions call for white pepper. I only have black, so that's what I used. This was another flipping disaster! And, like Ellie's, it fared better in the oven. I probably should have used more breadcrumbs, as the recipe instructs you to do if it isn't holding well.

4. Katie's recipe was had the best moisture level, not surprising with the bread soaked in milk. The directions didn't say what to do with the bread when adding it to the crab, so I just tore it into pieces before throwing it in. It seemed to hold together the best pre-chilling. While cooking, it was the second easiest to flip.

The Results

1. I loved the flavor of the red pepper in Christine's crab cakes, but I was missing something important - the crab! At first I thought that I had just chosen the wrong weekend to make these, as I have come down with a cold and my taste buds are sleeping. But after trying the other recipes, I realized that this recipe just falls flat. It takes the most work, and while it holds together the best, it just didn't work for me.

2. Ellie's recipe also had the great flavor from the red pepper. The hot sauce gave it a great, subtle kick in the background that complemented the other flavors. The crab flavor finally surfaced here, though it was not as strong as the next two recipes. The baked cake had a nice crunchy coating, but the pan fried cake completely fell apart during cooking. This one was my overall favorite. It is perfect for baking, had a moderate level of crab flavor with great complementary flavors.

3. When I got to the CI recipe, the first without red pepper, I expected to miss that flavor since I loved it so much in the first two. That was not the case at all! The crab flavor really came out in this one, accented by the green onion. Also, this cake had that certain je ne sais quoi that only mayonnaise can provide. However, I had a problem keeping it together while flipping in the pan. If you love crab cakes that really give great crab flavor and a hint of onion, this is a good recipe to try. Hopefully everyone else is better at flipping than I am!

4. My notes on Katie's recipe start with "pure, unadulterated crab." This is a great recipe if you have fantastic, fresh crab and love to let it shine. It held together better in the pan than it fared in the oven. Perhaps because it was the 4th one I flipped, I started to get better at being gentle. It's very similar to the CI recipe in terms of flavor, really just without the green onion. So if you love letting the real crab flavor shine, this is a fantastic choice.

The Bottom Line
My personal favorite is Ellie's recipe. I love the flavors and that it can be baked, holding together reasonably well. With practice I think I will improve upon that. For real crab loving company, if I can get my hands on some fresh crab, I'll probably make Katie's recipe and pan fry, since it was easier to work with than the CI recipe. If the CI recipe held together better (perhaps by following the directions?), it would also be a good choice for those without aversion to onions.

The Recipes

Crab Cakes
Source:Christine of Chronicles of a Fledgling Cook

extra virgin olive oil and butter
1/2 large red pepper, finely diced
1 shallot, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tbl heavy cream
1 egg, beaten
1 tbl italian parsley, chopped
1 tsp Horseradish Mustard
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 lb crab meat
lemon, cut into wedges

-Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Saute the shallot, pepper, and garlic until the pepper is limp, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cream, mustard, 1 egg, parsley, old bay and 1/4 cup bread crumbs. Mix well and then gently fold in the crab meat. Form the mixture into 4 cakes, about 1/2-inch thick.
-In a separate mixing bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs with the Parmesan. Pat this topping onto both sides of the cakes. Place cakes on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
-In a medium skillet, combine more oil and butter (about a tbl of each) over medium heat. Saute the crab cakes approximately 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Crab Cakes
Source: Ellie Krieger of the Food Network.

* Nonstick cooking spray
* 1 egg, lightly beaten
* 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
* 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
* 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
* Dash hot sauce
* 1/2 teaspoon crab boil seasoning (recommended: Old Bay)
* 1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
* 1 scallion, including green top, finely chopped
* 1 pound lump crab, picked over for cartilage
* 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* Freshly ground black pepper
* Smarter Tartar Sauce, recipe follows


-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
-In a medium bowl mix together the egg, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning and hot sauce. Stir in the bell pepper and scallion. Gently fold in the crab, 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs and salt and pepper to taste. Put the remaining bread rumbs in a shallow dish.
-Divide the crab mixture into 8 mounds. Shape 1 mound into a round and coat in bread crumbs. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and flatten the crab cake to form a patty about 1-inch high. Repeat to form the remaining crab cakes.
-Bake until golden on the bottom, about 10 minutes. Gently flip the crab cakes and cook until the second side is golden, 5 to 10 minutes longer.

Maryland Crab Cakes
Source: Cook's Illustrated, July 1995
Serves 4
The amount of bread crumbs you add will depend on the moistness of the crabmeat. Start with the smallest amount, adjust the seasonings, then add the egg. If the cakes won't bind at this point, add more bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon at a time. If you can't find fresh jumbo lump crabmeat, pasteurized crabmeat, though not as good, is a decent substitute.

1 pound fresh jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over to remove cartilage or shell
4 scallions, green part only, minced (about ½ cup)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herb, such as cilantro, dill, basil, or parsley
1 ½ teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
2 to 4 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
¼ cup mayonnaise
Salt and ground white pepper
1 large egg
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup vegetable oil
Lemon wedges or dipping sauce

1. Gently mix the crabmeat, scallions, herb, Old Bay, 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, and mayonnaise in a medium bowl, being careful not to break up the lumps of crab. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Carefully fold in the egg with a rubber spatula until the mixture just clings together. Add more crumbs if necessary.

2. Divide the crab mixture into four portions and shape each into a fat, round cake, about 3 inches across and 1½ inches high. Arrange the cakes on a baking sheet lined with waxed or parchment paper; cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes. (The crab cakes can be refrigerated up to 24 hours.)

3. Put the flour on a plate or in a pie tin. Lightly dredge the crab cakes in the flour. Heat the oil in a large, preferably nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Gently place chilled crab cakes in the skillet; pan-fry until the outsides are crisp and browned, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Serve immediately with lemon wedges or dipping sauce.

Real Maryland Crab Cakes
Source: Katie of Good Things Catered

1 lb. fresh lump crab meat
1 egg
1 Tbsp light mayonnaise
1 slice bread, crust removed, soaked in milk
1 tsp old bay seasoning, plus extra for topping
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
3 Tbsp oil

-In large bowl, combine crab, egg, mayo, bread, 1 tsp old bay (or more if desired), salt, pepper, parsley and mix to combine thoroughly.
-Pat into 4 inch cakes and place into fridge to set for 20-30 minutes.
-In medium fry pan, add oil and heat over medium low heat until almost smoking.
-Place cakes into pan carefully, making sure not to break, and let pan fry until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.
-Carefully flip cakes and let pan fry until other side is golden brown, about 5-8 minutes more.
-Carefully remove cakes from the pan and place on paper towel lined plate.
-Sprinkle tops of cakes with old bay and serve immediately.

Remoulade Sauce
Source: Paula Deen

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves (I used cilantro)
1/3 cup chopped green onions, white and green parts
1/4 cup capers, with juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup mayonnaise (I used 2% greek yogurt)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

To prepare sauce, place the parsley, green onions, capers, and garlic in a blender or food processor and combine. Add the mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice and mustard. Blend well. Chill until ready to serve with seafood. This keeps in a covered container in the refrigerator for several weeks.


Bridget said...

Stefany, I love the way you set up this comparison. It was so straightforward and easy to follow. And I love the annotated photos. So far, I've been too lazy to do it for my comparison posts.

I have to admit that the only crab cake recipe I've ever made is Cooks Illustrated's. It's just so freakin' good that I can never bring myself to try another. It's always held together for me in the pan, but I'm always concerned when I first form the patties.

I'll definitely have to check out Ellie's recipe. I've never made anything by her, but I hear such good things. And baking is so much easier, neater, and healthier than pan-frying.

Stefany said...

Wow, thank you! I am glad to hear that CI's recipe holds together better in more capable hands. I'll get the hang of it someday!

Anonymous said...

Great job!

Anonymous said...

HAHAHA! I was soooooooooooooo nervous when I first started reading this b/c I was TOTALLY nervous that my recipe would flop. Glad it worked out. I can TOTALLY live with the results. And btw - I LOVE these comparisons!!! :)

michelle said...

Great job, I love the pic's! Now I want some crab cakes!

Anonymous said...

Great comparison post! My husband loves crab cakes and has always wanted me to make them at home, so this is SO helpful!

Woman with a Whisk said...

Love this comparison!

Angie Verburg said...

This is a great comparison...I love to make crab cakes and want to start baking them so I'll definitely try Ellie's recipe.

Jade said...

Thanks so much for the comparision. I have never made crab cakes, but think I will try in the near future. I am not a fan of frying either, so thanks for also baking them.

Kerstin said...

I love this post! I've never made crab cakes at home either, but I should because I always order them at restaurants too. :)