Inside-Out Crab Cakes

Westend61/Getty Images
Westend61/Getty Images

Everyone loves a good crab cake, but let’s be honest: Most of the time you’re just eating expensive stuffing. The best ones I’ve ever had were back in culinary school when a chef from Baltimore rode up on his motorcycle with fresh-caught crab strapped to his bike. He made the cakes from nothing more than the crabmeat, salt, a little mayo, and mustard — and that’s it. It was a testament to simplicity (and good crab).

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But you don’t need this morning’s catch to make perfect crab cakes. The Baltimore chef’s other trick was to bake rather than fry them. Baking lets you ditch the filler, which usually gets grease-logged anyway. And you can still get the crispness by sautéing bread crumbs in butter and then packing them onto the exterior of the cakes. The result is unadulterated crab and crunch.

Easy-Bake Crab Cakes

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • Kosher salt
  • Zest and juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • Hot-pepper sauce (optional; see right)
  • 1 lb lump or jumbo lump crabmeat
  • 1 tsp fish sauce
  • 1 egg
  • Vegetable oil, to grease baking sheet
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  1. Melt the butter with the garlic in a sauté pan over medium heat. When the garlic starts to take on color, add the bread crumbs. Stir constantly until they are a rich golden brown. Season with salt, and spread on a plate to cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. In a bowl, mix the lemon zest, mayonnaise, mustard, and hot-pepper sauce, if using. Gently fold in the crabmeat, and season with fish sauce and lemon juice. In a separate bowl, beat the egg with a pinch of salt, and fold into the crab mixture.
  3. Lightly oil a baking sheet. On it, place four 1½ tbsp–size piles of bread crumbs, leaving plenty of space between each. Spoon the crab onto the 4 piles, dividing the meat evenly. Pat down to form cakes, and sprinkle more crumbs on top.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cakes are hot all the way through. With a wide spatula, remove each to a plate. Scatter more bread crumbs and the parsley on top, and serve.

Add heat to your crab cakes — or any other dish — with this DIY hot sauce.

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Hot-Pepper Sauce

  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 1 habanero pepper
  • Kosher salt and fresh pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • ½ cup white-wine vinegar

Slice the Peppers Thinly: Discard stems and seeds, set the slices in a glass bowl, and add 2 tsp of salt plus a few grinds of pepper. Mash well and let sit for 1 hour.

Brine the Peppers: Make a brine by stirring 2 tsp of salt into 1 cup of water. Add just enough brine to submerge the peppers, and weigh them down with a smaller, empty bowl. Cover all with a paper towel, and secure it with a rubber band. Let sit at room temperature for 5 to 7 days. Check it daily; if any white mold forms (this is normal), skim it off.

Infuse the Vinegar: Place garlic and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool entirely.

Finish the Sauce: Pick the garlic from the vinegar and the peppers from the brine, reserving the liquid from each, and pureé them together in a blender. Once smooth, add the vinegar and blend. Want more heat? Add a splash of pepper brine. For sweetness, add honey. The sauce will last for months in the fridge.

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