Over the years, my husband, daughter and I have visited our family who live in Washington DC to participate in a couple of very special celebrations. My brother-in-law Jeff is an excellent and diverse cook who creates wonderful meals for us all to enjoy. During our stays I happily take on the mantle of prep cook obliging his requests for minced garlic, shredded cheese, and prepping vegetables as needed in favor of court-bouillon and a myriad of side dishes. I can picture him now, with reading glasses resting on top of his head, his upper body slightly bent over the stove, inspecting the progress of the contents bubbling in the soup pots.
On one such occasion, we were preparing food for a Friday night dinner for a collection of friends and family who had gathered to celebrate on the eve of my niece's Bat Mitzvah. Jeff and his gregarious friend, Saed planned an ambitious menu. With the help of one additional couple and fueled by margaritas, our boisterous group collected a nice little crowd in the kitchen that wanted to watch us turn out marinated filet of beef, roast of salmon, couscous salad flavored with dried cranberries, fresh mint, caramelized almonds tossed with a citrus dressing, baked tomatoes with pesto and bread crumbs, scalloped potatoes, and a vegetable medley comprised of peppers, green beans and caramelized onions.
That was "just" the main event, the appetizers were: baked brie with a hot and sweet tomato jam, chicken skewers with tzatziki sauce, skewered and barbecued shrimp flavored in a margarita marinade and mini baked crab cakes. My lovely and talented sister-in-law, Sue purchased beautiful desserts and assembled a tray of mixed tarts and chocolates.
|On the dance floor at the post Bat Mitzvah party. Photo by Elmo Thamm.
A crab cake pairs well with any number of sauces such as a traditional rémoulade, mango salsa or Thai Sweet Red Chili that makes it perhaps the equivalent of the "little black dress" in the food world. By dressing it up or dressing it down and accessorizing appropriately, you can serve a tray of crab cakes at just about any occasion and fit them comfortably into just about any menu. The crab cakes are also versatile in the fact that they are just as happy being tucked into a sandwich or sitting atop a salad or eaten as a finger food.
Baked Crab Cakes
I like to serve crab cakes as a special appetizer for parties because: #1 crab is delicious, #2 crab makes even simple gatherings feel like a special occasion, and #3 (best of all) crab cakes can be prepared ahead, shaped and stored overnight in the refrigerator on prepared baking sheets - just make sure to cover and seal well with plastic wrap or foil. From the refrigerator, remove the covering and pop the cookie trays into a preheated oven.
As mentioned previously in the post for Tasty Hot Crab Dip, when fresh crab is not available I prefer to use Phillips Lump Crabmeat in a 16-ouce jar available for a reasonable price at Costco. In fact, since an unopened jar has an incredibly long "shelf life", if you peaked in my refrigerator, you would always see a jar sitting side by side with other staples, ready to be called to service at a moment's notice.
This recipe is adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, 1999). I own all of Ina's cookbooks. She is a wonderful cook with recipes that are simple to prepare and a joy to eat.
2 Tbsps unsalted butter
2 Tbsps olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced (about 5 or 6 stalks)
1 cup fennel, stalks discarded, bulb diced
3/4 cup large red bell pepper, diced
3/4 cup large yellow pepper, diced
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
2 Tbsps capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tsp Tabasco® sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp Old Bay Seasoning®
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pound crab meat, drained
1 cup plain dry bread crumbs, preferably homemade or Panko bread crumbs
1 cup good mayonnaise, such as homemade, Best Foods® or Hellman's®
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
4 extra-large eggs, or 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
2-3 cups Panko bread crumbs
Olive oil spray, as needed
1. In a large skillet, or flat bottomed wok, heat the butter and the oil over medium heat, add the diced vegetables, parsley, capers, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay Seasoning, sea salt and ground black pepper. Cook until the vegetables are soft, 15-20 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
2. In a large bowl, combine plain bread crumbs, mayonnaise, mustard, and whisked eggs. Stir until well combined, gently mix in crab meat. Add the cooked mixture and mix well. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. Alternatively, once the mix is cold, the crab cakes can be formed and coated in panko, then stored overnight in the refrigerator on baking sheets wrapped in plastic.
3. To form the crab cakes: Prepare two cookie sheets, lined with parchment and sprayed twice with olive oil. In a medium bowl, add 2 cups panko bread crumbs. Using a 1/4 measuring cup (appetizer portion) or 1/3 measuring cup (entree portion), scoop the mixture, pack with fingers, and drop into panko bread crumbs. With fingers, gently turn the cake so that all sides are covered by the panko. Place each crab cake on the cookie sheet leaving a little room between rows.
4. Preheat oven to 400°F. When ready to bake, spray the crab cakes twice with olive oil, and bake until cooked through and golden brown, about 30-35 minutes, rotating the pans after 15 minutes. Serve with dipping sauce of choice, following are some suggestions: Thai Red Sweet Chili, Special Mustard Sauce, mango salsa, rémoulade and tartar. Makes about 50 mini crab cakes, and about 20 regular crab cakes.