Feelin’ Crabby: Part Two


Seattle Chef, Tom Douglas, wrote an entire book of crabcake recipes. Photo by Allison Beuker.

Seattle chef Tom Douglas wrote an entire book on crab cake recipes.
Photo by Allison Beuker.


In Feelin’ Crabby: Part One we talked about the debate over the ‘perfect’ crab cake and what that means to mid-Atlantic cooks and eaters, and to Marylanders, in particular.
We shared a classic Maryland’s Way Cook Book recipe from 1966 recommended by Corks & Cake contributor, Kathryn Michel, and we thought it only fair and balanced (ahem) to share two more classic crab cake recipes.
Just like the Carolinas and Texas have their barbecue debates, people along the mid-Atlantic have been going at it in their  crab cake debates.  It turns out that the devil is in the DETAILS, as they say, because most Marylanders will agree on three basics (but the rest is up for argument):
Maryland Blue Crab.

Maryland Blue Crab.



1) Use lump (or backfin) blue crab, fresh and pasteurized, NOT FROM A CAN.  Blue crab from Maryland or Virginia is preferred but our local fishing industries have hit hard times (crab production is in environmental jeopardy; Maryland watermen cannot break even.)
Maryland hostesses (and very many caterers and restaurants) have had to admit they have bought crab caught and processed in Venezuela because it is cheaper and more available.  Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources started a campaign called “True Blue” that promotes  restaurants that serve Maryland certified Chesapeake Bay crab with a special logo for their menus and signage.  That way consumers will know what they are buying. Look for the logo.
2) Use little filler to bind.  That is a given, but there is much discrepancy whether the binding agent be fresh bread crumbs soaked in milk, fresh bread crumbs NOT soaked, or crushed saltines.  Mayonnaise as a binding aging with or without fresh bread crumbs is controversial.
3) There is some flavoring but it is very subtle.  Old Bay seasoning is NOT a given (for example, none is used in the Maryland’s Way recipe).  Seasoning usually takes form in a little bit of dry mustard or wet mustard, Worcestershire (a dash), Tabasco (a dash), or parsley and lemon.  Onions, shallots, chives, garlic, capers, green or red peppers, and herbs other than parsley:  all CONTROVERSIAL.
Photo by Ann Statton.  Country Living magazine.

Photo by Ann Stratton. Country Living magazine.



How you cook them is also subject to debate.  Pan fry in butter, pan fry in oil, broil, deep fry (NO! says Rebecca), or pan fry in butter/oil
and then finish in oven are all legitimate planks in the debate.
Chef Tom Douglas (a successful Seattle restaurateur and Delaware native who grew up eating and cooking crab on mid-Atlantic beaches) puts the debate in context for the restaurant business in his introduction to the I Love Crab Cakes book:
“Where do you get the best crab cakes?  Ask that question to a hundred people and you’re likely to get a hundred different answers….Restaurants can be made or broken on their crab cake reviews.  The rewards for the positive are lines out the door.  Beware the poor fellow who gets dinged for using ‘using too much filler’, a common reference for too many crumbs in your cake, for he shall hang his head in shame.”


Photo credit:  Howard L. Puckett, Coastal Living

Photo credit: Howard L. Puckett, Coastal Living



I think if you practice your technique, put your love (and pocketbook) into it, then the best, most classic, genre-defining crab cake will come from your kitchen.  That crab cake will be the one your loved ones love, the one they ask you to make on special occasions like their birthday, graduations or when they are home on holiday.

Here’s Tom Douglas’s recipe for Chesapeake Bay Classic Crab Cakes (which I have made often and adapted by using Hellman’s mayonnaise instead of making my own and substituting shallots for the scallions):


Chesapeake Bay Classic Crab Cakes

  • 1/4 C. good quality mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T. minced shallots, sauteed lightly in 1/4 tsp. of butter
  • 5 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 pound lump crab meat, drained and picked clean of shell
  • 4 C. fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 C. chopped parsley


Crab cakes dressed for company with sriracha remoulade. Photo by John Penovich.  Food styling by Rebecca Penovich.

Crab cakes dressed for company with sriracha remoulade.
Photo by John Penovich. Food styling by Rebecca Penovich.


  • In a small saute pan over low heat, melt 1 T. unsalted butter. Add the chopped shallot and cook over low heat until shallots have released their water but are not brown.  Let cool.
  • In a bowl with the mayonnaise, add the 1 T. mustard, 1 T. Old Bay Seasoning, 1 T. fresh lemon juice and fold with a spatula until combined.  Add the crab meat to the mayonnaise mixture and fold gently until evenly mixed.  Do not break up lumps and do not overmix.
  • Place the fresh bread crumbs and chopped parsley in a single layer onto a platter or baking sheet lined with parchment.  Gently scoop ½ C. portions of crab mixture and shape into patties. Place the crab cake on the crumbs, and sprinkle crumbs over the top.  Turn the cake over and sprinkle with more crumbs.  Repeat to make the remaining crab cakes, 10-12 in all. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or more.  (Chef Douglas recommends leaving the formed crab cakes on the platter or baking sheet of crumbs and wrapping the whole thing.)
  • In a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat, melt 2 T. of butter. When the butter is melted, gently slide half of the crab cakes into the pan (give them room in order to turn them.) Cook each side until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. If crab cakes are browning too quickly, reduce the heat.  Melt 2 more T. of butter to do the second batch.  Keep cakes warm in a low oven.
  • Serve with your choice of sauce and lemon wedges.


Photo credit: fitchicla.com

Photo credit: fitchicla.com


A Corks & Cake friend, Kay Krogh Gallagher, submitted a comment with her absolute favorite crab cake recipe from the venerable Vidalia restaurant in Washington, DC.  Vidalia’s award-winning chef and owner Jeffrey Buben knows a thing or two about regional American cuisine with Southern influence and his version of the crab cake has been on Vidalia’s menu since the restaurant’s opening 20 years ago.  It is a top seller.

Vidalia’s recipe is classic on the crab cake spectrum (lump meat, delicate hand, saltines as filler) but calls for 2 tsp. of chopped cilantro which Kay says adds something special.

The following recipe was published in Washingtonian magazine, Recipe Sleuth, Anna Spiegel, July 13, 2011.


Vidalia’s Crabcake
Makes 4

  • 1 pound Maryland jumbo-lump crab meat (picked and checked for shell or cartilage)
  • 8 saltine crackers, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon Duke’s mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 dash hot-pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


  • In a medium bowl, combine crab meat, saltines, cilantro, salt, and pepper. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, mayonnaise, butter, mustard, Worcestershire, and hot sauce. Combine that mixture with the crab meat and mix well.
  • Shape the mixture into 4 crabcakes and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 24.
  • Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat until the oil is hot. Sauté the crabcakes in batches until golden brown on each side, about a total of 3 to 5 minutes. Set on a paper towel momentarily when they’re done.
  • Serve immediately, garnish with tartar sauce, a mustard buerre blanc, or other mustard-based sauce.




Feelin’ Crabby: Part One

Corks & Cake Contributor: Kathryn Michel

Drinks on the veranda.

Drinks on the veranda.  Photo by Allison Beuker.


Our guest contributor today is Kathryn Michel, a native Marylander who grew up in Potomac.  Kathryn has served as Social Secretary to several prominent Washington hostesses and is a consummate event planner.  She’s planned parties in just about every venue around town from the White House, to the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the Corcoran, and the Capitol building.  In addition to her passion for parties she has a passion for animal rescue work, in particular with horses.  She is also riotously funny (I can attest!) and is a great person to have on board during a complex event because she keeps her cool.


Blue crab, wild caught in the USA. (This is from Virginia, not Maryland, full disclosure.)

Blue crab, wild caught in the USA. (This brand is from Virginia, not Maryland, full disclosure.)
Photo by Rebecca Penovich.


The lady knows her way around a crab cake (the most popular party appetizer in these parts).  She, Allison, and I agree that our favorite crab cake is the classic Maryland crab cake and by that we mean NO FUNNY STUFF.  No tarragon, no potato chips, no green peppers, no bacon, no artichoke hearts, just stop it already you crazy chefs!


 Title page of this vintage tome reads:  To The Generations Of Maryland Cooks Who Since 1634 Have Blended The Fruits Of Bay, Field and Forest Into Maryland's Way Photo by John Penovich.

Title page of this vintage tome reads: To The Generations Of Maryland Cooks Who Since 1634 Have Blended The Fruits Of Bay, Field and Forest Into Maryland’s Way
Photo by John Penovich.


My go-to crab cake recipe comes from the venerable Maryland’s Way Cook Book, published by the Hammond-Harwood House Association in 1966.  The Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis was built in 1774 by the colonial architect, William Buckland, and is on the National Historic Landmark registry.

There are five recipes for crab cakes in this vintage book (out of 21 for crab in general.) The one I call for is the one named “Yardley’s Crab Cakes.”  I don’t know who Yardley was (no surname) but the credit lists Baltimore Sun under his name.  A very cursory Google search leads us to believe this recipe could have originated with either a very popular cartoonist with the Baltimore Sun newspaper named Yardley, or a prominent Baltimore gastroenterologist named John Howard “Jack” Yardley.  Culinary sleuths, please report out in the comments if you have any intel.

Use the best lump crab meat that you can afford and treat it gently.  Don’t try to stretch it with too much filler, just make the cakes baby-size and let everyone enjoy one perfect bite of the dish that speaks to the heart of Maryland cuisine:  fresh seafood from the Chesapeake Bay, enhanced but not covered up.

I change it up sometimes by adding lots more parsley and less bread.

Crab cakes dressed for company with sriracha remoulade. Photo by John Penovich.  Food styling by Rebecca Penovich.

Crab cakes dressed for company with sriracha remoulade.
Photo by John Penovich. Food styling by Rebecca Penovich.

Yardley’s Crab Cakes from Maryland’s Way Cookbook

1 pound lump crab meat
1 egg
2 slices white bread
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon prepared mustard (Grey Poupon Dijon, preferred)
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
Pull inside of bread into small pieces, soak well in beaten egg with mustard and seasonings, add crab meat (trying not to break it).  Form into cakes and cook until brown in 2 T. very hot bacon fat (or butter).  Makes 6 big cakes or 16 golf-ball size cakes.
Rebecca’s Notes:  I whirred my bread in the food processor to get coarse crumbs before soaking.  I find that chilling the formed crab cakes in the refrigerator (under plastic wrap) for at least 30 minutes before pan-frying helps them keep their shape.  If you do chill them, you might want to put them in a warm oven (350 ° for 5-6 minutes) after getting a good browning on both sides to ensure that they are warm throughout but not overcooked.
In Feelin’ Crabby Part Two:  Kathryn shares her grandmother’s celebrated dinner party dish of Deviled Crab and Rebecca offers up a modern take on the Maryland crab cake from chef Tom Douglas, author of I Love Crab Cakes.