There are some foods, like crab cakes, that taste amazing when you go out, but seem impossible to make at home. I’m looking at you, mozzarella sticks, macarons and paella.
Until now, making crab cakes at home seemed to be an exercise in futility. Is it really possible to make crab cakes that taste great and actually stay together in the pan instead of exploding into a bunch of dry, vaguely crab-scented crumbles?
Thankfully, the answer is yes. These professional chefs are giving us the scoop on how to make perfect crab cakes at home. The seafood lover’s Holy Grail just got a whole lot easier to achieve.
1. Go easy on the extras
One of the biggest mistakes people make when cooking crab cakes at home? According to Michael Nelson, executive chef at GW Fins in New Orleans, it’s “using mayonnaise because hot mayo is gross. Also, using too much breadcrumb because you lose the crab.” He just uses a small amount of panko breadcrumbs to bind his cakes.
And don’t add too many eggs in your quest for crab cakes that don’t fall apart. “The ratio for perfect crab cakes is one egg per one pound of crab,” according to Juan Muñoz, executive chef at Pacific Beach Fish Shop.
2. Be gentle
Crab is delicate. You want to keep the meat as intact as possible, so you should toss, not stir, the crabmeat with the other ingredients before lightly pressing it into patties.
Likewise, be gentle on the grill. Place your crab cakes on the pan and let them cook, without moving, until the bottom is nicely browned and crispy.
Another trick to keep delicate crab cakes from falling apart in the pan?
“Lightly coat the outside of the crab cakes with panko and finely grated parmesan cheese, then freeze them and cook from frozen,” suggests Chef Brian Lippert of Jig and Lure Fish Company restaurant and Domaine Madeleine Bed and Breakfast.
3. Season as you go
One key to making great crab cakes is to season as you go. You want the mixture itself to be flavorful with seasonings. Then you’ll want to add additional salt as needed as soon as the cake comes out of the pan.
Nelson’s tip for his crab cakes works as both a binder and a flavoring agent.
“I reduce heavy cream down until it’s thick, like mayo. You can add flavors to the cream while it reduces to inject flavor. I add ginger and lemongrass to my cream reduction,” he told us.
That being said, don’t overseason the crab. You may be using strong ingredients like Dijon mustard, Cholula and Worcestershire sauce, but you only need a bit of each. “Respect the crab. Keep it light, simple and let the crab shine,” encourages Muñoz.
More: Crabcake sliders
4. Choose the right crab
Every chef we talked to had a different preference when it comes to what kind of crab to use for crab cakes. Basically, you should choose what you like — something with a bit of sweetness works best.
Suggestions from the pros included blue crab, Dungeness crab, stone crab, jumbo lump crab, and Jonah crab.
That said, some chefs prefer certain parts of the crab for their cakes.
“The claw meat is a little more sweet and has a much better texture, and holds up very well to make a beautiful cake,” Chef Ryne Harwick from the Hunt Club Steakhouse in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, told SheKnows.
And if possible, “don’t use canned pasteurized crab,” implored Nelson.
5. Don’t over cook
It’s important to remember that most crab meat you’ll be using as a home cook is already cooked through. That means you don’t need to crank up the heat — you only need to get a nice, crispy exterior on the crab cake before serving.
“Start with a hot pan and lower the temp to let the cake gently get dark brown on the first side without sticking. This ensures a good-looking and crispy crab cake,” explained Hardwick.
With these tips, you’re well on your way to making perfect crab cakes at home.