Michelle grew up in Baltimore, where they make the world’s best crab cakes. I don’t let her order crab cakes anywhere besides “Bawlmore” or DC, because they never taste as good as the ones back home and her disappointment makes her–shall we say—a little crabby. Since Michelle’s mother, Doris, has been visiting us for the past few weeks, I asked her to cook up a batch of Maryland Crab Cakes for Michelle’s birthday party.
“If you want to make Maryland crab cakes,” Doris told me, “you have to use Maryland crab.” According to Doris, Maryland blue crab is the sweetest crab you can buy. Phillips is the big name in crab meat in Maryland, so even though it’s a lot more expensive than the stuff you find in the tuna fish aisle, we went over to the fish counter at the grocery store and bought 6 8-ounce cans of Phillips crab meat. The lump meat is the best part of the crab, but it costs more, so we economized by buying 4 cans of lump and 2 cans of the claw meat.
Doris learned how to make crab cakes from her mother and doesn’t use a recipe, but I watched her make the cakes and wrote down what she did so that you, dear reader, can make the world’s best crab cakes at home.
First, she opened up all those cans of crab meat (3 pounds) and emptied them into a large bowl. Then she mixed in two tablespoons of mustard. According to Doris, you can use any kind of mustard, but we used French’s because I think it adds a little tang as well as a little bite. She added about ¾ cup of mayonnaise (we used light).
She cracked 4 eggs and added them to the mix, along with 1 tablespoon of Old Bay, several dashes of Tabasco, and black pepper. Then she asked me for red pepper, but since we hadn’t bought any at the store, we didn’t put it in. We also didn’t have any lemon pepper, so I squeezed about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice into the bowl. She usually uses parsley flakes, but since I had some fresh parsley in the fridge, I chopped that up and added it, too.
Another secret to making great crab cakes, according to Doris, is not to use a lot of filler. You need some binding, but if you put too much in, you can’t taste the crab. Some people like to use bread crumbs, but Doris’ family prefers Ritz crackers. She opened up a whole sleeve of Ritz crackers and kind of crushed them with her hands before she added them to the bowl. She thought the mixture seemed too dry, so she added 3 more eggs, for a total of 7.
When she’s home, Doris uses an ice cream scoop to form the cakes, but since we don’t have a scoop, I found a nice round spoon that probably holds about 3 tablespoons. She scooped up crab cake mixture and then used her hands to squish it into a 3-4 inch round cake, which she flattened a little once she put in on a plate. We had enough mixture for about 4 dozen cakes.
Outside of knowing the right consistency for the crab mixture, the hardest part about making the crab cakes was frying them. At home, Doris said she uses a cast iron skillet with just a little bit of canola oil, so we got out our skillet and heated up 2 tablespoons of oil. Unfortunately, however, we don’t use our cast iron skillet very much, so it’s not well seasoned, like Doris’. So the first batch of crab cakes stuck to the pan and didn’t brown evenly. We tried a nonstick skillet and the cakes stuck in that one, too, so we went back to the cast iron and make sure that the pan was well coated in oil for the last two batches. The results were nicely browned.
Now you know how to make the world’s best crab cakes, I have to teach you how to eat them, Bawlmore style. Get out some crackers—the Ritz crackers you used in the cakes will do, but Doris prefers Keeblers Reduced-Fat Club Crackers—and make a little sandwich with the French’s Mustard. The sweet, dense, juiciness of the crab cake blends with the tang of the mustard, the salt of the crackers, and the result is a taste of heaven.
Now, you, too, can eat Maryland crab cakes outside of Maryland – you just have to make them yourself.