The one thing that I can say about Marylanders is that they love their crabs. Steamed, in soups, crab cakes… it’s what’s for dinner. My first dining experience eating Maryland Blue Crabs was 14 years ago, shortly after I had moved to the East coast. I was invited over to a neighbor’s house for crabs, beer and cards. Up until this point I had eaten all sorts of crabs but the blues. My friend walked me through how to shell the crabs and what you could eat and not eat and that was all she wrote.
It has long since become a tradition that my family gets me a half a bushel of blue crabs for my Mother’s day meal, with potatoes and sometimes large shrimp. My husband says that it’s too much work and not enough gained for all the effort. So he and our youngest son eat steak. And while it’s true I do work for my supper, the dining experience is worth every bit of it. When I have had my fill, I sit at the table and pick the remainder of the crabs for crab cakes.
In the late 19th century, blue crabs were only available along the east and west coasts in the United States and parts of Canada. Crab dishes weren’t a common food for the people in the prairies or mid states as they were not easily found or shipped to these regions. Although crabs were plentiful along coastal towns, they were still not a favorable ingredient for cooking. Crabs were considered to be a nuisance as they clung to fishermen’s nets. They were too dangerous and difficult to eat. Once the art of handling a crab and outsmarting the attack of the front two claws was mastered, crabs became a more easily accessible meal. As a result, the crustacean became one of the most popular additions to coastline cuisine.
The term “crab cake” dates back to the 1930’s in Crosby Gaige’s New York World’s Fair Cook Book. His version of crab cakes was called the “Baltimore Crab Cakes.” People would often eat them in a hamburger bun or alongside fries, onion rings, or mashed potatoes. There are many side dishes you can eat with crab cakes. Although this was the first reference to the term “crab cake,” it is thought that crab cakes were a very common and popular food item in the southern states like Louisiana even before this reference was put into print.
Every Marylander has a special recipe for this dish that is considered to be the best or the true way of making crab cakes. (Mine, of course, is the best.) Unlike the Maryland crab soup, there are three distinctive styles of crab cake along the Chesapeake. They are as follows:
North: North of Baltimore and up into Pennsylvania and Delaware we get the crab cake that is bound together with a thick cream sauce thickened with a roux. This crab cake must be made ahead and allowed to rest for several hours before it can be cooked. This will allow time for the moisture to be absorbed by the starch and the crabmeat itself. It is similar in construction to a very thick cream of crab soup that is then molded and fried. Any number of ingredients can be included in this variation.
East: The Eastern Shore crab cake is known for its lack of any adornment. It is essentially a seasoned crab meat patty bound loosely with egg and lightly coated with flour. This dish highlights the crab meat, and does not include any ingredient or garnish to distract from the natural flavor of the crab itself. It is often scooped onto a tray and fired under a broiler for color and then baked in an oven to set the egg. This has always been considered the truest version of the original concept solely due to its lack of any adornment.
West: The “land lover’s” crab cake or the “continental” crab cake, as it is sometimes called, is what most people think of when they have a crab cake. It is based on the eastern shore crab cake but incorporates a binding agent such as bread crumbs, cracker crumbs of some other kind of filler to help hold the cake together. This recipe can incorporate any number of ingredients and the quality of this cake is usually judged by the amount of filler used in proportion to crab meat. The higher the quality, the closer it gets to the Eastern Shore crab cake. This recipe is an outgrowth of the original and is much more popular due to its texture and ability to incorporate other ingredients and styles of cooking into it.
There is a forth category of crab cake that comes from the European tradition that incorporates pureed shrimp or scallops as a binder for the crab meat, but this recipe is not spoken of along the Chesapeake. The European “seafood cakes” have little or no connection to what is now the definitive dish in Maryland cuisine.
I would have to say that my version of crab cakes favors the “Land Lovers” crab cake. I use an egg, a little bit of bread crumbs to bind them together and added spices. For a low carb / Keto option, the Italian bread crumbs can be substituted with breadcrumbs made from my everything bagel.
What is Old Bay?
Old Bay is a seasoning that’s considered a staple in DC Metropolitan homes, including mine. It’s amazing on many seafood dishes, especially steamed crabs! I also use it in things like dips and potato latkes. To me, a good crab cake MUST include Old Bay.
Fried, Broiled or Baked?
Fried crab cakes are tasty, but broiling truly allows the flavors and textures to shine through. Broil on the lower setting, and take care when flipping so that they do not fall apart. The meat is already cooked; you are simply cooking the egg and solidifying the filling. These crab cakes are delicate because of that beautiful lump meat.
The low broil will give them a nice golden color, but you can adjust the setting to high for the final 30-60 seconds for an even deeper caramelization, if you’re willing to watch them like a hawk.
Baking will technically work, but you won’t get that crisp, caramelized top. Broiling is truly the way to go when it comes to crab cakes. Crab cakes could be enjoyed with a side dish of claw, as part of a salad or as a sandwich.
Maryland Blue Crab Cakes
- June 6, 2019
- 1 hr
- 258 Cals/Serving
- Print this
- 16 ounces fresh jumbo lump crab meat
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup regular mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup Keto Bread Crumbs or Italian bread crumbs
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
- 1/8 teaspoon fines herbs (sold by Spice Island)
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Step 1
- Set the oven to low broil and place the oven rack near the top.
- Step 2
- In a medium-sized bowl, carefully pick through the crab meat to remove any shells. Try not to break up the lumps. Be as thorough as possible.
- Step 3
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and then add in the mayonnaise until combined.
- Step 4
- Add the breadcrumbs and stir to combine. Add the Old Bay, fines herbs and garlic powder. Add the mustard and Worcestershire sauce, stir until well combined.
- Step 5
- Gently stir the wet mixture into the crab meat, one spoonful at a time. This part takes some patience because you really want to avoid breaking up the lump meat as much as possible.
- Step 6
- Carefully form 5-6 crab cakes with a biscuit ring.
- Step 7
- Lightly grease the bottom of a baking sheet (cooking spray works well for this) and place the crab cakes on the sheet. Place a small piece of butter on top of each crab cake.
- Step 8
- Broil on low for 12-15 minutes, keeping a close eye to make sure they don’t burn. Don’t flip them, just allow them to cook on one side the entire time (the lack of filler makes them very delicate). If the tops seem like they’re going to burn, lower the oven rack. You’re not cooking the meat but you want the filling to solidify and the egg to cook through.
- Step 9
- If you want the tops a bit more golden, switch the broiler to the high setting for the last minute or so.
- Step 10
- When the tops are golden brown, remove the pan from the oven and allow the crab cakes to cool slightly before serving.
- Step 11
- I recommend serving them with Saltine crackers and dijon mustard. They also make a great sandwich.
- Step 12
- Notes: I personally like to serve these with a dollop of a sauce that I make which consist of mayonnaise, Old Bay, Hot Sauce and Ketchup. I don’t really have a recipe for this I just mix the ingredients together in a bowl and add to taste.
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