CRAPcakes: WTF Happened To A Most Favorite Appetizer???

Monday, September 20, 2010

I love crab cakes.

Correction: I used to love crab cakes. Honestly, what's not to love -- sweet and tender crab meat very lightly seasoned with hints of Old Bay, formed into a little patty cake and fried to give a crispy outside and soft inside. Usually served with a spicier red pepper remoulade sauce for dipping, it's a perfect bite of crabby goodness.

But like all simple and wonderful things, some asshole had to drop by and fuck it up. Now instead of gorgeous and fresh lump crab meat, we are told to use crap in a can. Why? Because it's cheaper. And easier. Crab in a can tastes like crab in a can -- it has a peculiar smell and tinny taste that makes me, at least, have to sniff it a few times to figure out if it's expired or not. That should be your first sign right there. So to mask the Isn't It Obvious This Isn't Fresh taste of canned crab, we are told to pile in every piece of shit in our fridge. Especially celery. Because celery has a very strong flavor to it, so the more you put the more it won't taste like crappy crab. So here is your second clue: when you prefer the taste of celery to something, it's probably not a good thing.

So that's not enough, right? Let's throw in a bunch of over powering flavors: salt and pepper ain't enough -- let's add Old Bay seasoning, some hot sauce or cayenne pepper, diced bell peppers, onion, maybe even a scallion or two, Worcestershire sauce, mayo, and bread crumbs to bind all this crap together. There - now it's fixed. We've managed to completely mask the taste of the shitty crab so it doesn't even taste like crab anymore, but rather like you opened your spice drawer and licked the side.


So just in case this isn't enough to make crab taste good, we've got to fry the ever-loving shit out of them, until they resemble a falafel rather than a crab.

I give you, courtesy of a repeat offender and culinary assassin, none other than Rachel Ray:

Her crab cakes look like falafel hockey pucks. I'm not sure if I should stuff them in pita bread or shoot them in a goal. I'm very, very confused.

A crab cake shouldn't look flat and brown. It shouldn't be loaded with crap. It shouldn't need a sauce on the side to help you digest it because it's so dry and lacking in flavor, the only way it's making it down your throat is with a remoulade sauce and a tall glass of water. And it's shocking how many people do this to their crab! Even my most revered Ina Garten has 18 ingredients going into her crab cake! WTF?! WHY????!!!!!! Don't believe me? Check it out here.

This isn't a crab cake anymore. This is now fried crab salad. And that just sounds disgusting.

So what is a good crab cake then, you ask? This:

[photo from]
Chances are unless you've been to Maryland, you haven't seen one like that, have you?

There are techincally two kinds of crab cakes: Restaurant and Boardwalk. Boardwalk ones are deep fried (like a lot of beach and fair food) while Restaurant types are more meat and less fry, as pictured just above. Crab cakes originated out of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and have been an American treat ever since. But the problem is people have been morphing the two styles into the bastard you just spent $10 at the restaurant on your appetizer for. Either way, it's shitty and not even authentic either way.

My personal preference and the original crabcake notes specific differences than the hockey puck consumed and prepared today:

1. There is real and fresh crab meat there, all in big tender pieces; not canned meat pulverized into oblivion by tinning processing and overmixing.

2. It is devoid of any bell pepper, onion, scallion, caper, or other "filler" alike; the crab stands alone with minimal binders including cracker/breadcrumbs, mayo, some acid (lemon juice or mustard) and tradtional Old Bay seasoning, straight out of Maryland.

3. The accompanying sauce is light and compliments the cake; it's not super thick and heavy to make an already heavy hockey puck weigh a ton.

4. Keep it simple stupid -- a good crab cake will have a touch of Old Bay seasoning and some pepper -- that's it! No bullshit hot sauce, cayennes, and other funky seasonings to mask the crab. I actually had one dickhead put cumin in a crab cake. Seriously dude? Cumin does not a Southwestern Crab Cake make -- now you just made the crab cake smell like it has B.O.

5. They're just formed into a ball -- not a UFO. People like eating balls (meatballs, falafel, mozzarella); they don't like eating UFOs. Not that I'm aware of. If you prefer to eat UFO's then I can't help you.

No fillers, please. You'll need some egg and mayo to create a binder, and some crushed crackers or bread crumbs to told help the cakes puff up a little bit when combined with the egg. A dash of Old Bay seasoning will get you right where you need to be, with maybe a small dash of Worcestershire sauce for classic authenticity and a little tiny bit of mustard for acidity. And. That. Is. It. More than that, and you might as well buy a frozen box from Costco and pop it in the oven. Because even if you're using fresh ingredients, you'll stuff it with so much crap you won't know the difference.

Here's an example of a true, Maryland Crab Cake recipe:

1 lb fresh crab meat (claws and legs combination)
8 saltine crackers
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp mayo
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
small pinch of salt
vegetable oil for frying

Pick over the crab meat, removing any pieces of shell or cartilage, then place in a bowl. Crush the crackers until very fine, then add to the crab. Add the egg, mayo, mustard, Worcestershire, and seasonings. Using a spatula, very carefully combine the mixture, folding it more than mixing it, making sure the crab meat doesn't get broke up. Form the crab mixture into patties (can be anywhere from size of a golf ball to baseball). Place on a plate and cover with plastic wrap, then refrigerate for at least an hour. This will help them keep their form when cooking.

When ready to fry, simply heat some oil in a non-stick frying pan. Fry the cakes, about 3-5 minutes per side (depending on size) and remove. Serve hot.

Funny how the good things are usually the most simplest too! No finely chopping of various vegetables, no ridiculous combinations of cream, spices, and other crap; just crab and some oil. Done. Easy. Voila. Add a glass of wine and some microgreens dressed in olive oil and lemon juice and you've done a very elegent appetizer for a dinner party.

If you need the fucking remoulade sauce, then combine some mayo with fresh lemon juice, and some cayenne and paprika to give it a little heat and that reddish hue. That's all. Don't go in with the scallions and capers and garlic and such -- no need. Simple creamy heat for a tiny dip and you're good to go.

I know no one will listen to me. Real crab cakes are hard to do. You have to buy the crab, get the meat out yourself, then proceed. If you're luck you can buy freshly picked crab meat at your local seafood guy's counter. But trust me -- the taste is worth it.

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