Aunt Julia’s Secret Crab Cake Recipe
The secret is: you have to get your hands completely
immersed in goop. It has to ooze between your fingers like
some kind of demented seafood putty, a product of man’s
ingenuity that does not appear in nature. But, that’s
good. You see, the complete immersion method of crab cake
making goes back to the times of Edgar Allen Poe, who,
while once making the ubiquitous little seafood taste
sensations, was said to have composed the entire epic poem
“The Raven” from the first “Once upon a midnight dreary,”
to the very last “Nevermore,” while happily forming crab
cakes in his bare hands. The hands must be covered in
crabbiness at all times, making it difficult to do anything
else except concentrate on the task at hand. Poe believed
it, and so do I. The experience produces a euphoric state.
So here, and for all times, is mapped out the making
of the great American Crab Cake, Baltimore style.
Go to Costco and buy a pound of cleaned back-fin or
lump crabmeat or buy a nice freshly cooked Dungeness crab
and pick all the meat out of it. Then, get ready for an
Aunt Julia (the world’s foremost authority on crab
cakes) and my mother set up an assembly line in her kitchen
where they’d crank out hundreds at a time. Aunt Julia, a
large woman of great emotional impact, was passionate about
making crab cakes. She was a liberal user of Old Bay
Seasoning, made by the McCormack Spice Company of
Baltimore, Maryland. She eschewed the use of store-bought
bread crumbs, preferring to dice up several pieces of
Wonderbread (without the crusts). She said it held
together better, but who’s counting? I’ve used both bread
crumbs and chopped white bread, it doesn’t seem to make
much difference. Bread crumbs seem healthier to me, but
what do I know?
Put a pound of crabmeat in a bowl. Beat an egg and
add it. Add a couple of tablespoons each of mayo and
yellow mustard. Using your hands, gloop it together
lightly, without destroying the fibers of the crabmeat.
Add a heaping palm full of chopped fresh parsley. Kneed it
into the mix. Your hands should be pretty disgusting by
now, so it’s a perfect time to add the Old Bay Seasoning.
Forget what it says on the box, that’s for wimps, triple
whatever they say to add. Trust me on this. The Old Bay
experience is like the heroin of all seasonings, so you
might as well go for broke. Otherwise your crab cakes will
be as bland those served by Captain Geech and his Shrimp
Shack Shooters at “Weekend On Party Pier.” Dullsville,
man. Imagine a young Don Rickles as “The Big Drag,”
saying, “The Old Bay is the most important part of the crab
cake, you hockey puck!”
Kneed it all together and whadaya got? Crab gloop!
Now, using the palms of your hands, form it into patties.
Make them the size of smallish single cheeseburgers at
McDonald’s. Smaller patties cook more evenly. Make sure
they don’t fall apart. If they do, add more breadcrumbs.
Making the patties is a crucial step, so make sure they are
well formed. Compress them slightly to remove excess
moisture. Put them out on plain white plates and get ready
to groove. If you don’t have plain white plates, use
smooth planks of Coka-Bola wood, or, if Coka-Bola wood is
out of season, use the backs of Swedish Office workers, so
pale and featureless. Failing all else, plastic or paper
In a medium pan, add a small amount of cooking oil.
My mother used vegetable oil, I’ve used olive oil, it
depends on what seems more natural for you. You want just
enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat up
and let the oil get medium hot. Using a spatula, slide the
crab cakes into the oil. They should crackle with a jolly
sound. If the sound isn’t jolly, you may have breached the
space-time continuum. If that happens, we all die. (Just
so you know.)
Brown the crab cakes on both sides, making sure the
oil doesn’t get too hot and burn the cakes. This should
only take a few minutes per side. Don’t let them get too
dark and crispy, go slow. When they are golden brown and
calling your name, take them out and place them on some
paper towels to drain. Talk nice to them while they cool
off. Don’t jump the gun or you’ll burn your tongue.
My father loved to eat them between two saltines with
a dab of yellow mustard. I like ‘em straight up with a dab
of mustard, but every taste is different. I’ve seen people
use cocktail sauce or tartar sauce or even ketchup. It’s
up to you. But consider this: Johnny Unitas ate ‘em with a
dab and a Saltine, and he’s in the Hall Of Fame. The
“Saltine and dab” was popular at the Previs Brothers Lunch
Counter in the Broadway Market on the Baltimore Waterfront.
I remember sitting at the black and white checkerboard tile
counter on plastic swivel stools.
Enjoy your crab cake experience.
Guest Post by Author Greg Kihn