Here's a simple crab-cake recipe that is perfectly good when made with pasteurized crabmeat and truly excellent when made with fresh-picked crab. Shaping the cakes into straight-sided hockey pucks, instead of traditional patties, makes them easier to turn over with a pair of chef's tongs. If you want to get fancy, form them in an oiled ring mold - or a well-cleaned tuna fish can that's had its top and bottom removed. Even if you use a nonstick skillet, make sure you use enough oil so that most of the pan's surface is covered - otherwise the cakes won't brown nicely.
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 pound crabmeat
2 to 4 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs, plus more for dredging
Vegetable oil for frying
1. Combine mayonnaise, mustard, Old Bay Seasoning and parsley in a bowl.
2. Place crabmeat in a strainer and blot with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Add crabmeat and 2 tablespoons bread crumbs to mixture in bowl and mix until everything is well integrated. Shape some of the mixture into a test cake and, if it doesn't hold together, add a bit more bread crumbs.
3. Place a wide skillet over medium-high heat and film the bottom with oil. Form 4 to 8 hockey-puck shaped cakes from the crab mixture and dredge in breadcrumbs. When oil is hot, place cakes in skillet, leaving at least 1 inch between them. (You may not be able to fit them all at the same time.) When the bottom of each cake is brown (3 to 5 minutes), use a pair of chef's tongs to grab it around its circumference and flip it. Brown the other side, blot momentarily on paper towels and serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
DISSECTING A CRAB
There are grades of crabmeat based on size, texture and, in some cases, color. In the top categories, the terms overlap. It's a matter of degree. Colossal and jumbo lump are easily identifiable. All producers, however, don't use each classification and may, yes, lump a couple together.
COLOSSAL refers to the largest, firm whole, pearl-white, sweet pieces taken from the leg muscles or swimming fins. Colossal usually is served on its own but can be made into a crab cake.
JUMBO LUMP means unbroken pieces of sweet white meat, not as weighty as colossal. High-end crab cakes typically are made with jumbo lump.
LUMP AND BACKFIN may include broken pieces of jumbo lump and small, fine sections of meat; similar texture. Also used in good crab cakes.
SPECIAL includes broken pieces of crab meat, shreds and flakes. Used in some crab cakes.
WHITE MEAT is composed of flakes, generally from the front of the crab, and used in mixed-ingredient preparations, including crab cakes.
CLAW MEAT has a dark pink to reddish-brown hue, with very flavorful shreds of meat. Often used in stews, soups and mixed dishes.
CLAW FINGERS are pink-red and include the pincers. They're used as garnish and sometimes in cocktails. - Peter M. Gianotti