Recipe: Nancy Tanner’s Crab Cakes

We’ve been spending a lot of time on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay, and Nancy has been looking for the best crab cakes around.  She also has been inspired to cook crab cakes herself, and has found and customized an excellent crab cake recipe she found here.

This is an unusual (for me) recipe in that each element save one, about which more below, is essential, and the measurements matter.  Oh, and there’s no garlic or bacon grease.  The crab meat must be fresh, of course.  The mustard must be Dijon mustard.  The filler must be Saltine crackers, and you must use precisely 2/3 cup.  You need the fresh parsley.  If you are hell-bent on making it spicier by adding more Old Bay, reduce the salt accordingly.  Old Bay is very salty, and while I like salt as much … more than the next guy, crab has a delicate flavor and over-salting hurts.

As I mentioned, one ingredient is controversial, and after considered judgment, Nancy has adjusted the recipe she started with, the one linked above.  The recipe calls for lump crab meat.  Nancy determined that you should use jumbo lump crab meat. The rationale behind lump crab meat is that it holds together better and forms a nice regular cake, and thus fulfills the Burkean concept of beauty.   Here’s a nicely round if slightly over-browned example from a restaurant that shall remain nameless:

lighthouse crab c 

The rationale for  jumbo lump crab meat, which can create a craggy crab cake, like the one at the admirable Ketch 22,

ketch crab

is that it tastes better.  And lovely in its own way — in Burkean terms it is sublime rather than beautiful.  Jumbo lump also costs more, but then making the crab cakes at home is a lot cheaper than going out.

This recipe calls for a baked crab cake.  If you prefer to sauté the crab cake, you’ll want to flatten it into a hockey puck shape so that the center of the crab cake cooks.  And use a lot of butter during cooking.

You will need:

1 large egg

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons dijon mustard

2 teaspoons Lea & Perrins

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more for serving

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 pound fresh jumbo lump crab meat

2/3 cup Saltine cracker crumbs (about 14 crackers)

2 Tablespoons melted butter

To assemble —

Whisk the egg, mayonnaise, parsley, dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce, Old Bay, lemon juice, and salt together in a large bowl.

Place the crab meat on top, followed by the cracker crumbs. Fold together very gently with a rubber spatula or large spoon.  Take care not to break up the crab meat.

Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 day.

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Generously grease a rimmed baking sheet with butter.  You also could use a silicone baking mat, but butter is better. Butter always is better.

Using a 1/2 cup measuring cup, portion the crab cake mixture into 6 mounds on the baking sheet.  Do not flatten the crab cakes.  Use your hands or a spoon to compact each individual mound so there aren’t any lumps sticking out or falling apart. For extra flavor, brush each with melted butter.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges and on top. Drizzle each with fresh lemon juice and serve warm with some corn on the cob, cole slaw, local tomato slices, and that crusty bread I mentioned.

In the unlikely event that there are any crab cakes left over, cover them tightly and refrigerate overnight.  Start your morning with crab cakes Benedict.  At any rate, use them within the next 5 days.   You also can freeze them for a month or three, but there is the terrible danger that you will quickly forget them until you happen across a lump of inedible frost several years later.

These crab cakes can, of course, be eaten as a sandwich on a bun.  My own thinking is that the bun doesn’t add much to the delicate flavor of the crab.   The crab is the star, so let it shine.  

Give the recipe a try.  You’ll love it.


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5 thoughts on “Recipe: Nancy Tanner’s Crab Cakes

    1. Ah — injecting controversy! I prefer Hellman’s, but am reconciled to Duke’s. While I personally won’t use any others, thesis America and you can use whatever you like. I understand that people prefer whatever they grew up with.


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