Making crab cakes that hold together

BURNING QUESTIONS

May 23, 2007|By Erica Marcus | Erica Marcus,Newsday

I have a problem with crab cakes. I have been using the recipe on the back of the Old Bay Seasoning container, and the cakes always fall apart. I've tried more/less eggs, more/less bread, more/less crab, etc.

Crab cakes present all sorts of frying problems because of their moist constitution and irregular surface. I am ever mindful of the sage advice of my cooking idol, Marcella Hazan: "Wet things won't brown." To that, I add: "Wet things won't allow the formation of a sturdy enough crust to keep the thing from falling apart."

With those dictums, I took your crab-cake problem into my kitchen. I left out the egg and tried to make a crab-cake mixture that was both firm and crabby, and that would allow the creation of a sturdy exterior.

I bumped up the mayonnaise and substituted Dijon mustard for Worcestershire sauce. I also added fresh parsley. Because the mixture contained no raw egg, the cakes would have to cook only long enough to achieve an exterior crust.

I knew I wanted to dredge (coat) the cakes with bread crumbs to facilitate browning, but I found that the irregular shards of crab meat made an even dredging impossible. So I handled each cake liberally, applying pressure, to make the surface as smooth as possible, and I shaped them not into traditional tapered patties, but into hockey pucks about 1 1/2 inches high.

This hockey-puck shape was key, because it allowed me to flip the cakes by grabbing them with silicone-tipped chefs' tongs as opposed to getting under them with a spatula.

I dredged the cakes in bread crumbs and pan-fried them in a wide skillet. I didn't skimp on the oil; I made sure there was enough so the crab cakes really fried. My crab cakes turned out moist within, crisp without. And, most importantly, they turned out in one piece.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday. E-mail your queries to burningquestions@newsday.com, or send them to Erica Marcus, Food/Part 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747-4250.

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