~ Holiday Appetizers 101: Make Lots of Crab Balls ~
As I always tell people, "You can never be too rich or too thin, and, when it comes to holiday entertaining, you can never make too many crab balls." Crab balls are to the cocktail table what rum balls are to the dessert buffet. You do not want to risk running out of either one. I've never hosted a party or attended one where the crab balls weren't the first appetizer to be inhaled by the guests -- and nobody can eat just one. I plan on a minimum of three-four per person.
"So", you ask, "what makes a crab ball a great crab ball?"
The same thing that makes a crab cake a great crab cake (the crab ball's larger disc-shaped relative): It should always be hand-made, and have a light texture and consistency that barely holds itself together. "True" Eastern Shore crab cakes or crab balls use just enough fresh, white, crustless breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs 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). Common additions to the mixture are: mayonnaise, mustard, and Old Bay seasoning, along with lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and/or cayenne pepper sauce. Some folks add minced celery, onion and bell pepper too and they'll get no criticism from me. Many eateries offer 3 options for how you want them cooked: deep-fried, pan-seared or broiled.
Rule #1. If you want a party to be a success, serve crab balls!
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 called locally), make their living catching crabs. That said, the surrounding areas do their part to produce amazing crab cakes, so I try not to be too big of a crab cake and crab ball snob -- with few exceptions, I've eaten some primo crab cakes on my travels. Back when we were raising three boys, we took them to Ocean City, MD, 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). I loved their crab cakes and was pleased when they published their recipe -- which I used for years .
More recently, Joe and I have had several occasions to visit Baltimore. The last time I was there (which was 3-4 years ago) I had what I thought was the best crab cake sandwich I ever tasted. It was at a place called Faidley's located in Lexington Market. Founded by John Faidley, Sr. in 1886, this still-family-run business is one of the oldest seafood restaurants in the Chesapeake region.
Their crab cake extraordinary: loaded with jumbo lump crabmeat, crispy on the outside, flaky and tender on the inside, and spiced to let the crab meat shine through. I was told the little bit of filler that was used was crushed saltine crackers. I was thrilled to find out that Faidley's published their recipe too, and, I've been using it to make crab cakes and crab balls ever since.
For my all-time favorite crab ball appetizers:
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry English mustard
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon sugar -- this is not a mistake, I said sugar, not salt
1 cup crushed saltine crackers, crushed, not crumbs, about 24 saltines
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley, 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes may be substituted
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, the best available
corn oil, for frying crab cakes
Note: This is my personal favorite blend of flavors (no lemon juice for me), but feel free to taste and adjust the seasonings to suit your palate.
~ Step 2. Place the saltines in a large food storage bag and seal closed. Using a rolling pin, process until crushed into small pieces. When it comes to making crab cakes, you do not want fine crumbs.
Note: This rest period is important. It will give the crushed crackers time to absorb moisture and soften, which is "the glue" that holds the crab cakes together. You will now have about 1 1/2 pounds of total crab cake mixture.
~ Step 6. Line a baking pan with parchment. Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 24 firmly-packed scoops of crab balls on pan. Alternatively, use a kitchen scale to measure and form 1-ounce balls by hand, gently but firmly compressing them between palms.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 - 8 hours prior to frying -- they can be made a day ahead too. Do not remove from refrigerator (keep chilled) prior to frying (as directed below).
~ Step 7. Place 1/8" of oil in a 12" skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Add the crab balls and fry, until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, about 3 1/2-4 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towel-lined baking pan to drain and rest, about 5 minutes prior to plating and serving with your favorite sauce.
Note: I almost always fry my crab ball several hours before my guests arrive, especially when I am making multiple batches for a large crowd, and, if you want to freeze crab balls, you must fry them prior to freezing. Place them on a rack that has been placed in a baking pan. When it's time to reheat, place pan on the center rack of a preheated 350° oven for about 8 minutes.
Plate & serve w/your favorite tartar or cocktail sauce:
Special Equipment List: whisk; 1-gallon food storage bag; rolling pin; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; kitchen scale (optional); 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; plastic wrap; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large nonstick spatula; paper towels
Cook's Note: Looking for an elegant alternative to crab cakes for a start to a fancy-schmancy sit down dinner? I've got just the thing. Try my ~ Crab-ilicious! Maryland Lump Crab Imperial ~. Simply click on the Related Article link below.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)