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Cooking with Rebecca Bent

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Picking your own meat for Crab Cakes

picking crab meatI love watching Tonya's Grandmom pick crabmeat. She is really fast and taught me a thing or two!

Once a season, I sit down with my family and pick crabmeat for homemade crab cakes.

I learned how to do this from my grandmother Edna when I was a kid. It was enjoyable to sit around the table with everyone doing the same thing for the greater good—to produce crabmeat for the perfect homemade crab cake…

Perhaps to someone that has never experienced picking crabs for crab cakes—this might seem odd, as in, why wouldn’t you just go buy a crab cake because it’s a lot of work to pick those crabs. But, if you have ever gathered around a table for this purpose, you know it is an experience worth having at least once.

Some of you might be wondering, how long does it take to pick a bushel of crab? In our house, as recently as last week, it takes about one hour to pick a bushel of crab between 2 to 3 people. And that’s non stop with no breaks in-between. Just pure picking. If that seems fast, trust me, it is not. If you compare that to a professional picker at a crab house, there is no competition. The women (it’s all women so I am just telling it like it is) can pick 10 crabs in a minute! The style they use to pick crabs in a crab house is also most likely different than the method you use your home. It is for us. Their style is all about getting the backfin, jumbo lump and everything else is secondary. They also use a very sharp crab knife where at home we use our fingers. (if you want to see more of this technique Tonya’s video is the best example of a professional picker.) Knifes are better and will save your fingers but it takes some practice.

Ok now that you have picked the bushel, how much meat can one expect? Obviously if you are picking a bushel of larger crabs, you’ll get more meat because it is far easier to get it all out. The smaller crabs have more nooks and crannies to get into which can make it a little bit harder. In general a bushel picked by non professionals will yield about 3 pounds of crabmeat. A professional picker is expected to yield 14% of a steamed bushel, which weighs about 30-34 lb—so closer to 4 pounds.

So once you have your pile of crabmeat, it’s time to create the crab cakes. I was always taught that less is more when it comes to crab cakes because adding too many ingredients will ultimately drown out the delicate crab flavor. This is a mistake most often done in restaurants, and the reason I think is because most restaurants use foreign crabmeat, or blue swimming crab, to prepare their crab cakes. Foreign crabmeat has a flatter flavor that isn’t sweet like Maryland meat—so when using Maryland crabmeat for crab cakes, keep it simple: less is more.

Another note about making crab cakes is to treat the meat tenderly. You don’t want to over mix the crabmeat. And for that reason, I always mix everything else together first and then fold in the crabmeat last. Once the crabmeat is folded in, I prefer to bake my crab cakes because I am guaranteed perfection and I can basically leave the crab cakes alone for 20 minutes in the oven until their done. Frying crab cakes in a pan also works but does require that you stand there the entire time and some skill is involved when flipping the crab cake (think of it like a really delicate burger.)

So to sum it all up, making homemade crab cakes from crabs you have picked is worth the experience. It’s labor intensive and maybe something you do once a season. It’s a good practice to bring friends and family together and then the reward of eating a hot, delicious homemade crab cake together is what it’s all about.

Chesapeake Crab Cakes with Tartar Sauce
Makes 4 Servings
Using a minimal amount of filler (breadcrumbs or crackers, mayonnaise) helps the Maryland crabmeat flavor come through. It’s best to fold in the crabmeat at the last possible moment to avoid breaking it up too much. Our family motto is, “Don’t mess with it too much!” When making crab cakes, this is the best advice.

1 large egg, beaten
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons finely chopped pimiento
8 no-salt saltine crackers, crushed 1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 pound freshly picked lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage (click here to order our freshly picked crabmeat)

Click her to order Fancy Tartar Sauce for serving.

Preheat the oven to 400F with an oven rack set in the middle.

Prepare the crab cakes. In a medium bowl, combine the egg, mayonnaise, pimiento, half the crushed crackers, salt, seafood seasoning, and parsley. Mix well. Gently fold in the crabmeat. Avoid over-blending. Form the mixture into 4 patties, which will be fairly wet. Gently coat the patties with the remaining crackers on both sides.

Place the crab cakes on a metal sheet pan and place them in the oven to bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Half way through the cooking process turn the crab cakes around so they cook evenly. For added flavor, brush the crab cakes with butter or mayonnaise on top before baking.

Serve the crab cakes immediately with tartar sauce for dipping.

To fry your crab cakes: Choose a skillet large enough to hold all the crab cakes. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and ½ tablespoon of unsalted butter in the skillet over medium-high heat until the oil slides easily across the surface. Fry the crab cakes until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side, gently turning once with a thin metal spatula.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had fun picking crabs last week with you. Beck and dad's crabs were great. Tonya's grandmom is so fast I have to get some lessons from her next time!!!


August 26, 2008 at 2:13 PM  
Blogger The Crab Place said...

Thanks, Jen. Maybe we'll video your crab pickin' lesson...could be fun!

August 26, 2008 at 4:56 PM  

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