Crab Cakes

from The New Southern Cook

There are as many recipes for crab cakes as there are coastal villages in the South, but those with neither bread nor mayonnaise in them are, in my opinion, the best. Some chefs just bind some crabmeat together with some mustard and egg and bake them off, but I prefer the traditional fried cake. In any case, as Chef Jimmy Sneed says, "The secret of the dish is in the quality of the crabmeat!"

Crabcakes are delicious for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They are heavenly topped with a poached egg and napped with a mousseline sauce. They are at home with a down home tartar sauce, with an elegant puree of roasted red peppers, or with a variety of relishes and sauces.

I prefer to serve these cakes on a warm pool of quick tomato puree to which I have added a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes while it is cooking or to which I add bottled hot pepper sauce to taste. A good serving of black bean relish made with fresh dill and a handful of tortilla chips rounds out this delicious dish.

1 pound fresh lump crabmeat
1 lemon
2 eggs, separated
1 heaping tablespoon coarse grain mustard
¼ pound (1 stick) butter, divided
2 tablespoons minced mild onion
½ cup chopped ripe red bell pepper or ¼ cup green
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice
fine dry bread crumbs

Sprinkle the juice of half the lemon over the crabmeat in a bowl to freshen it. (If the lemon is not juicy, use the juice from the whole lemon.) In a separate small bowl, mix the mustard with the egg yolks.

Melt half the butter (4 tablespoons) in a skillet over low heat and add the onion and bell pepper, cooking until the onion begins to become transparent. Add the vinegar, raise the heat, and reduce until the vinegar has evaporated. Pour the mixture over the crabmeat, add the egg yolk mixture, and toss all together, being careful not to break up the big clumps of crabmeat. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cayenne, and a tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs.

In another large mixing bowl, add about 2 cups of fine dry bread crumbs. These are infinitely tastier if you use dried leftover rolls or baguettes and freshly grate them (I keep them in a paper bag.). Just before cooking the crabcakes, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Beat the egg whites stiff and fold into the crab mixture.

Reach down into the crab and fill your palm with a scoop of the mixture. Gently press it into a cake about 3 inches wide and about 1 inch thick. Place 1 cake at a time down in the bread crumbs. Scoop up crumbs from around the cake and pour over the top of the cake. Do not mash the cake or press the crumbs into it: you only want a dusting of crumbs on the cake, not in it.

When the butter is foamy, gently pick up the first cake and put it in the pan. Continue making the cakes and placing them in the pan. You should have six cakes which should fit into the skillet. Cook until browned -- about 3 minutes -- on the first side, then carefully turn each cake and cook on the other side.

When cooked, the cakes should resemble nothing more than seasoned crabmeat, slighlty crisp on the outside. Work carefully and they will not split.

Makes 6 cakes to feed 3 as main course or 6 as appetizers.