If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you may remember me mentioning our friends the Tolberts. They’re our dear longtime Brooklyn friends who spoil us rotten every couple of weeks or so to magnificent dinners at their home. Jeff grew up in the South and makes the tastiest gumbo known to man, sources the best oysters available in NYC, and makes the hottest jerk chicken that we dream about for days after! Kasia sets the table with enough appetizers for the entire block, making a point to remember everyone’s favorites. I always say “when I grow up, I want to be like Kasia” – too late, I’m grown up now, I think.
She makes these INSANE crab cakes. Whenever we’re there for Sunday Dinner, I’m always poking about in the kitchen trying to see if she’s making them. I’m crazy for crab cakes in general, but how many times have you had a crab cake that’s life-changing? These are exactly that and better than any crab cake you’ll find most anywhere.
Kasia cooks like I do – there’s no hard and fast recipe for anything. She cooks by feel, using whatever she has on hand and the crab cakes are a little different every time. Yet, delicious. Every time. Lucky for you, I’ve been in the kitchen with her, made them with her and eaten them enough times that I’ve learned how to make these magical things – so here’s the recipe. This is the version I made last Saturday at a friend’s BBQ – remember, there isn’t one single definitive version, so feel free to play with what goes in these to suit your tastes.
One of the secrets of her crab cakes, and I bet this comes as no surprise to most of you, is to not add too much stuff. Crab is an amazing substance, why sully that perfect sweet seafood flavor with this and that and the other? Most crab cakes that you get at restaurants and seafood places are half crab and half godknowswhat, which is why they’ll never be as good as these. The last time we had them at Kasia’s she added minced red bell pepper. I’m not really a fan of red bell peppers, but somehow, when fried they turn into this unctuous, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth mush that adds just the right amount of flavor and texture to the main ingredient. The red bells are an ingredient that I will always use in crab cakes, no matter what else I add or subtract!
As for the remoulade, there are a million ways to make this. It all depends on what you have in your pantry or fridge. The two main ingredients are mayonnaise and Hot Chilli Sambal, and you can flavor this however you like. Jeff adds rice vinegar, a touch of sesame oil, and black pepper. My version from last weekend is below. Enjoy!
Crab Cakes (serves 6 – 8 as an appetizer)
1 lb lump crab meat
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs (Panko or Italian)
1 large egg
1 shallot (minced)
1/4 small red bell pepper (finely chopped)
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp Hot Chilli Sambal
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for deep frying
- Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Cover and store in the refrigerator for an hour.
- Heat about 2″ of oil in a cast iron pan or deep skillet. Once the oil is shimmering, gently form the crab mixture into little cakes, about the size of golf balls and drop into the hot oil. Don’t press and pack the mixture tightly – you want a loose patty with lots of bits sticking out which create more surface area to turn golden brown and crispy delicious!
- Fry about 2 minutes, then turn over and brown the other side. Cooking times will vary depending on your cookware, so just look a lovely golden brown then remove to paper towels to drain.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp Hot Chilli Sambal (or more to taste)
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use. I like to make this a couple of hours ahead of time, to give all the flavors a chance to get to know each other and play nice!
A note on deep-frying: Please don’t be afraid to deep fry these. Or anything else for that matter. I used to hate deep-frying, justifying my disdain for a messy kitchen with ideas of eating healthier (ie. pan frying). In a misguided attempt to cook healthier, folks pan fry thinking that less oil is better for you. However, pan frying allows your food to soak up the oil that it’s cooked in, turning it into a slick, soggy, unappetizing mess. Yuck! Some of the worst potato latkes I’ve had are the result of exactly this! In deep frying, IF your oil is hot enough, your food crisps up yet does not soak up the oil. The truth is that once you master the art of deep frying, it’s actually better for you. Let the oil come to a nice hot shimmer, then carefully go about frying your crab cakes, potato latkes etc.