Rule #1. If you want a party to be a success, serve crab cakes!
Rule #2. You can never make too many crabcakes!
I've never hosted a party or attended a party where, if crab cakes are being served, crab cakes aren't the first item inhaled by the guests. I may live in Central Pennsylvania, but "back in the day", the mid-'70's, when I was first married, we visited Philadelphia quite often, and my favorite place to eat was The Frog Commissary/Delicatessen. Later, when we were raising children, we took them to Ocean City, Maryland, to vacation each year, which always included at least one meal at Phillips Crab House (the Phillip's chain's original restaurant which first opened its doors in Ocean City in 1956) . The "true" Eastern Shore is located along shores of Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay, and, it is there where fishermen (or watermen as they are locally called), make their living catching crabs. That being said, the surrounding areas do their part to produce amazing crab cakes, so try not to be too big of a crab cake snob. Let's suffice it to say: On my travels, I have eaten my share of fabulous crab cakes!
"So", you ask, "what makes a great crab cake?" Beauty is always in the eye, or palate, of the beholder, but for starters, the crabcake should always be hand-made, light and have a texture and consistency that barely holds itself together. The "true" Eastern Shore versions are pretty much always sauteed (sometimes you'll find them grilled), using just enough of fresh, white, crustless breadcrumbs along with an egg or two to bind them together with the luscious lumps of fresh, sweet, jumbo lump, blue crabmeat (but any white crabmeant can be used). Mayonnaise, mustard, Old Bay seasoning and Worcestershire sauce are commonly added to the mixture. They are typically accompanied by a wedge of fresh lemon and tartar sauce. These are decandently marvelous, and I do have a great recipe for them, which will be posted at another time, as I serve them as a main course rather than an appetizer. The "alternative" versions, and the one that I am preparing today, are deep-fried. Tried-and-true purists do not approve of this tactic, but I for one say, "don't knock 'em until you've tried 'em", and I first tried them and fell in love with them at The Frog Commissary in Philadelphia where they were: crispy on the outside, soft in the center, full of spicy flavors and held together with pieces of starchy baked potato instead of breadcrumbs!
Note: Adding potato to the mixture is not as odd as you might think. Crab cakes are said to have been introduced to America in colonial times by the English settlers. In England, it is common practice to mix mashed potato with crabmeat to prepare crab cakes and deep-fry them until they are crisp and brown on the outside with a soft, tender center (which is similar to preparing traditional croquettes)!
I worked quite hard at trying to duplicate "the Frog's" tasty deep-fried version just because their recipe was so delicious and unique that I didn't want it to slip through my personal recipe file undocumented or forgotten. I've been serving my version of these at cocktail parties and caterings for about 25 years now and everyone just loves them. The baked potato is indeed a nice touch, and, my version can be mixed, formed and refrigerated one day in advance of frying them, which is fantastic if you are making them for a large get-together!
2 pounds jumbo, lump crabmeat, the best available, undrained
2 11-12 ounce russet potatoes, baked until soft and cooled
8 ounces diced yellow or sweet onion
8 ounces diced celery
4 tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)
2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
2 jumbo eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons lemon juice, preferably fresh, or bottled concentrate
1-2 tablespoons cayenne pepper sauce, more or less, to taste (I use 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup plain, dry breadcrumbs
1 1/2-2 cups additional plain, dry breadcrumbs for coating crab cakes
lemon wedges and your favorite seafood sauce for dipping and/or drizzling
corn oil or peanut oil for deep-frying
~ Step 1. In microwave, bake the potatoes. In my microwave, this takes about 18 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the oven and set them aside to cool completely or until you can manage them comfortably with your hands. Slice the potatoes in half and using a kitchen tablespoon, scoop out their soft centers. Place the centers in a large mixing bowl and using the same spoon, chop them into bite-sized pieces. While the potatoes are cooling:
~ Step 2. In a 10" skillet, preferably nonstick, over low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the Old Bay Seasoning and white pepper. Add the prepped onion and celery. Increase the heat and saute until the onion and celery are tender, but not browned, about 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer to mixing bowl with chopped, baked potatoes.
~ Step 3. Add the 1/2 cup of dry breadcrumbs to the mixing bowl containing the potatoes and vegetable saute.
In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the eggs, lemon juice and cayenne pepper sauce. Drizzle this mixture into the bowl.
Using a large rubber spatula, fold and combine these ingredients together.
~ Step 4. Gently add, fold and thoroughly incorporate all of the crabmeat into the mixture, doing your best to make sure it remains in relatively large lumps. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside, to rest, for 45-60 minutes.
This rest period will allow the starch in the potatoes and the breadcrumbs to absorb moisture and keep the crab cakes from falling apart when fried.
~ Step 5. Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper.
Place the additional breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl or baking dish.
Using a 1 3/4" ice cream scoop as a measure, divide the mixture into 48-54 balls, firmly packing each scoop.
Lightly toss or roll each crab cake/crab ball in the breadcrumbs, just enough to give each a thin, even crumb coating.
~ Step 6. Place the coated crab cakes on the prepared baking pan as you work.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it is time to fry them. The ideal time frame is anywhere between 2-4 hours or overnight, but no longer than that.
Preheat oil in deep-fryer to 360 degrees according to directions.
~ Step 7. Fry crab cakes, in batches of 3-5, a (or what the basket of deep-fryer will hold without crowding the fryer basket), 3 minutes per batch, or until deep golden brown. Using a pair of tongs, gently remove the cooked crab cakes from the fryer and transfer them to a paper towel lined baking pan. Continue this process until all crab cakes are deep-fried.
~ Step 8. Transfer crab cakes to a large platter and serve warm or at room temperature with lemon wedges and your favorite seafood sauce. This being said, if you are frying the crab cakes just prior to the arrival of your guests and want to serve them warm, you can place the baking pan of deep-fried crab cakes in a 200 degree oven for 30-45 minutes prior to serving them. Don't keep them in the oven for too much longer than this, as they can and will dry out quickly.
Spicy, Miniature, Eastern Shore-Style Crab Cakes: Recipe yields 4-4 1/2 dozen small but mighty crab cakes.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; tablespoon; 10" skillet, preferably nonstick; 1-cup measuring container; fork; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" rectangular baking pan; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice cream scoop; deep-fryer; tongs
Cook's Note: As with all crab cakes, they are really at their best when eaten immediately, or at the very least, the same day they are cooked. Leftovers can be reheated in the oven or the microwave (because lets face it, they still taste great for lunch the next day), but are somewhat compromised in texture. If you would like to serve your crab cakes with tartar sauce, you can get my recipe for ~ My Favorite Tartar Sauce (for Crab Cakes & Fish) ~, in Categories 8 & 20.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)