Some dishes are so associated with a single ingredient in my mind that when I come across a recipe without that ingredient, it’s almost a red flag. So it was when I happened across this recipe for Gulf Coast Crab Cakes. In this case, it was the complete absence of Old Bay Seasoning that threw me for a loop. I cannot remember a time I made a crab cake absent this 77 year old seasoning mix of mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger. Old Bay was invented by a German immigrant named Gustav Brunn. Before the Second World War, crabs were in such high supply that they were offered free at bars in Baltimore. Salty seasonings like Old Bay created a thirst which built bar businesses. The Crab Cake itself is far older than Old Bay. In fact, it’s a lot older than I ever imagined.
1999), the term Crab Cake dates in print to 1939 in “New York World’s Fair Cookbook”. They were called Baltimore Crab Cakes. And to many people the only crab cake there is is a Chesapeake Bay or Baltimore Crab Cake. I was among them. But I was hardly alone. Go to any of the great recipe anthologies–The Gourmet Cookbook, The Bon Appetit Cookbook or the New York Times Cookbook—and you’ll see a single recipe for Maryland/Baltimore/Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes. The truth is that both the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico also harbor the right conditions for Blue Crabs. They are one of the most popular of more than 4500 species of crab worldwide. Once you’ve cracked the shell of a steamed crab, the work of deep diving for the crab meat begins. Much simpler by far is the crisp-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside, crab cake.
First off, as I try to do whenever I cook seafood, please check with http://www.seafoodwatch.org/. This will take you to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch where you can single out sustainable crab meat from some dubious crab meat sources. There’s a free app that you can install on your phone and take to the fishmongers with you. Never buy canned crab, always look for fresh or pasteurized. While this looks time-consuming, much of the time is spent cooling ingredients and chilling the crab. This makes the crab cakes hold together. The goal is to have as much crab as possible with as little binder as possible. The mark of a bad Crab Cake is too much filler and not enough crab. Here is the recipe:
How to Make the Crab Cakes:
1. Sauté bell peppers, yellow onion, and garlic in 2 Tbsp. hot oil over medium-high heat 8 to 10 minutes or until tender. Stir in mustard and next 4 ingredients. Add breadcrumbs, and sauté 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Cool 15 minutes.
2. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter with 2 Tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 4 crab cakes to skillet; cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from skillet, and keep warm in a 200° oven. Repeat procedure with remaining oil, butter, and crab cakes, wiping skillet clean after each batch. Serve with Lemon Butter.