It’s a given that the best crab cakes are made with sweet, plump meat that’s just been picked from the shell. But fresh lump crabmeat can be prohibitively expensive and hard to come by, so many cooks don’t even consider making crab cakes at home. That’s a shame, though, because they’re relatively quick and easy to throw together: You just mix the meat with seasonings and a binder, dredge the cakes in bread crumbs, and fry in a pan.
I have some good news: Fresh-shucked meat isn’t the only option. Some brands of pasteurized crabmeat, like Phillips, make a surprisingly good alternative to the fresh stuff.
I made it my goal to come up with the best possible crab cakes–sweet, plump meat delicately seasoned and seamlessly held together with a binder that didn’t detract from the seafood flavor–regardless of whether I was starting with fresh crabmeat or not.
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The Best Binder for Crab Cakes
The answer, it turned out, came from thinking back to my restaurant days, when I was sometimes charged with preparing mousseline. This delicate, savory French mousse is composed mainly of pureed meat or fish and just a little cream–and it turns out that it makes a stellar binder for crab cakes. That’s because proteins are sticky, and since shrimp is mostly muscle, processing it creates a sort of meat glue, adhering to itself and any ingredients added to the mixture.
Why You Should Add Shrimp
Not only does using a shrimp mousseline to bind the cakes avoid flavor-muting ingredients like eggs, mayo, and bread crumbs, but the crustaceans actually enhance the briny sweetness and plump bite of the crabmeat. You don’t need much of it, and since the shrimp are pureed you can use whatever size is the least expensive.
How to Make the Best Crab Cakes
1. Pulse peeled and deveined shrimp in a food processor until finely ground, then add a small amount of heavy cream and pulse to combine.
2. Add the shrimp puree to lump crabmeat with seasonings.
3. Shape the mixture into cakes, and refrigerate the cakes for 30 minutes to help them set.
4. Coat each cake in panko, then gently pan-fry them on both sides until they’re golden brown and crisp on both sides.
To learn more about the other clever tips Lan came up with for crab cakes, check out the full recipe.