Craig’s dad Steve has opinions about the title of this post. “Well,” he says, “if people like it, great. If they don’t, tell them it’s not my recipe.”
I have no qualms about calling these the world’s best crab cakes. Here’s my evidence: 1. The crab is freshly caught Dungeness crab; 2. That crab is cooked in sea water; 3. The crab cake itself is composed mostly of that crab; and 4. The man who makes them has the following sign in his kitchen.
In case you haven’t been following along on Instagram, Craig and I went on a massive road trip: L.A. to Carmel, Carmel to Ashland, Oregon, and then Ashland to Bellingham where we set sail for Eliza Island, in the San Juans, where Craig’s parents share a cabin with their friends. (I’ve told you about it before.)
We helped Craig’s dad carry his boat to the beach, set up a motor, and then he pulled up the crab traps that he dropped the day before with turkey legs to lure in the highly prized Dungeness crabs. Back on shore, we boiled the crabs in sea water and then picked them apart at a table while drinking rosé.
The hardest part of that task was not eating each piece of crab meat as we pulled them out. Finally, Steve invited me into his kitchen to show me how he makes the world’s best crab cakes.
The recipe comes from The San Juan Island Cookbook, but like most recipes, it’s less about how closely you follow the directions and more about the motions that you make while doing so. As you can see, this is a well-loved recipe.
The family forgoes the celery because of an aversion, but every other ingredient remains the same. I had the honor of chopping the red onion; when I suggested adding lemon zest from the lemon, it was meant with skepticism. Some recipes aren’t to be trifled with.
The most important step in the process is the shaping of the patties. Steve works the filling together with his hands, just enough to bind everything, but not so much that all of the crab falls apart. Once combined, he rolls the filling into balls, shapes into discs, that he then coats in Panko. Then he reforms them once again on a cookie sheet, really packing it all together.
The final step is to cook the crab cakes in hot oil. Steve recommends cooking on high heat on the first side, then lowering the heat a bit for the second side so they don’t burn. As you can see, they look kind of dreamy in the pan.
To serve, Steve whips up a quick aioli using mayonnaise, garlic, and lemon juice. It’s the better way to go than making the aioli from scratch because then nothing distracts from those crispy, crabby wonders you’re about to put into your mouth. Except the salad, which balances things out nicely.
So if you find yourself with fresh Dungeness crab, or fresh crab of any kind, really, or even if you’re trapped at home with a can of crab and want to imagine you’re on vacation, whip up Steve’s crab cake recipe. They’re the best in the world, even if he’s wary of saying so.
The World’s Best Crab Cakes
For the aioli:
- 1 – 1/2 cups mayonnaise
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 – 1 lemon
For the crab cakes:
- 4 cups crab meat (1 pound) Use the best you can get.
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs), plus more for breading
- 1 Tbs flour
- 2 1/2 tsps fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
- 1 cup finely diced celery Steve doesn't use it; up to you!
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup Vegetable oil, plus more as you need
- Make the aioli by combining the mayonnaise, the garlic, and the juice of half a lemon. Taste and adjust with more lemon and garlic to your personal preference. Set aside.
- In a colander, drain crab, using your hands to squeeze excess moisture from the crab meat. Place in a large bowl and add the mayonnaise, the egg, the 1/2 cup Panko, flour, fresh lemon juice, onion, celery (if using), salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
- Shape crab mixture into 12 balls, pressing balls tightly together. Flatten balls into patties, dip into Panko, coating evenly on both sides. (The cakes are so delicate, they tend to fall apart, but continue to press together.) Be sure they're tightly packed; it sometimes helps to re-form them.
- In a large frying pan, over high heat, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering but not smoking. Add the crab cakes one at a time, but don't crowd the pan (you may have to do this in batches). Let cook until golden brown on the first side, then flip carefully and lower the heat to medium. Continue cooking on the second side until golden brown (about 5 to 6 minutes total).
- Serve right away with the aioli.
My Dungeness Crab Adventure (Amateur Gourmet)
Dungeness Crab Cakes (Simply Recipes)
The Best Crab Cakes (Serious Eats)
Crab Cake Burgers (Leite’s Culinaria)
Regina Schrambling’s Crab Cakes (The Wednesday Chef)