When we're staying near the North Carolina coast while on vacation, we like to stop at our favorite seafood market and pick up their freshly-made crab cakes to cook for dinner. Consisting primarily of succulent chunks of crab rather than fillers, these crab cakes are sublime on their own, although a little dab of crab cake sauce does serve to complement without overwhelming the delicate flavor.
The accompanying photo is from the crab cake dinner I made last weekend at home. I served fried okra on the side with the crab cakes, along with a simple salad of sliced cucumbers, tomato and basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with coarse Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper. I must confess that I fried the okra and crab cakes in bacon drippings (blended with some grapeseed oil to raise the smoke point), which of course isn't as healthy as using only oil. However, the okra and salad veggies plus the basil were picked that evening from a friend's garden and were bursting with the flavors of summer as well as peak nutritional value.
Here is a recipe that comes as close as I can get to the mouthwatering crab cakes we enjoy at the Carolina coast.
1 1/2 Tbs butter
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced bell pepper
1 lb fresh crabmeat, picked over to remove any shell pieces or cartilage
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs (tear up some bread into small crouton-size pieces)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbs mayonnaise
1/4 tsp dried parsley OR 1 tsp finely minced fresh parsley
Dash of hot sauce, such as Texas Pete
Dash of paprika
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
Oil for frying (or 50/50 combination of oil and bacon drippings)
Melt the butter in a large heavy skillet (preferably cast iron), add onion and pepper, saute until softened. Remove from heat, add the crab and soft bread crumbs, stir to combine thoroughly and set aside to cool a little. In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard, mayonnaise, parsley, hot sauce and paprika. When the crab mixture is cool enough to handle, add to the bowl. Using wet hands, incorporate the crab mixture into the ingredients in the bowl, then shape into balls about the size of a golf ball or a little larger for a total of 4 to 6 balls. Use the palm of your hand to gently flatten each ball into a crab cake. Place the crab cakes on a piece of wax paper on a plate or baking sheet, then place in refrigerator to chill for about 15 minutes--this will help the crab cakes hold their shape.
Beat the egg in a shallow bowl, and place the fine bread crumbs on a pie plate or other shallow bowl or plate. After 15 minutes of chilling, remove crab cakes from refrigerator and gently dip on both sides in the egg wash and then dredge in the bread crumbs to coat. Return the crab cakes to the wax paper and refrigerate for at least half an hour. Discard any remaining egg wash or bread crumbs.
When ready to fry the crab cakes, heat about an inch of oil in a large, deep skillet (cast iron works best) to about 370°F. Remove crab cakes from refrigerator and use a spatula to gently lift from the wax paper and place them in the hot oil, being careful not to crowd the skillet--you may need to fry them in batches. Fry until browned on each side, then drain on paper towels and serve plain or with your favorite crab cake sauce, cocktail sauce or tartar sauce.