I am passionate about crab cakes and rarely, if ever, order them out as I’m almost always disappointed. They’re too often filled with some gooey, doughy filler. (I’m not into eating anything referred to as “binder.”) I can smell it on the plate before it gets to me, and I know it’s bad. Herein lies the problem: I love crab cakes and I want to eat only the best ever made.
During a spring break trip with our kids a few years back, I found what I believed to be a perfect crab cake at Bud & Alley’s in Seaside, Florida. They had a golden crust covered in a lemon sauce. They smelled amazing—amazingly like crabmeat. The cakes were packed with lump crabmeat and there appeared to be no filler at all—just great buttery, lump crab flavor and heaps of it! I begged the waiter to tell me how they did it, but he didn’t know. I went back three more times and asked every time. Eventually, I gathered the basics: they mixed the crab with heavy whipping cream and froze the patties to keep them together—eliminating the need for the doughy filler/binder in the first place. Genius! So, I went to work. After several attempts, I refined the seasoning and landed on a recipe that will kick up your taste buds even as it accentuates the packed lump crabmeat.–Mitch Benjamin
Crab Cakes with Ritz Crackers
For the crab cakes
- 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
- 2 medium (3 oz) celery stalks, minced
- 1/2 medium (4 oz) yellow onion, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, preferably toasted, plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
- 1 tablespoon store-bought or homemade hot sauce
- 2 pounds jumbo lump crabmeat*
- 6 tablespoons heavy cream
- 3 large eggs
- 30 Ritz crackers, crushed
- Mild vegetable oil, for pan-frying
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 lemons, cut into wedges for garnish
For the lemon beurre blanc sauce (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
- 1 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon), preferably organic
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
- 1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, sliced and chilled
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Make the crab cakes
- In a small saucepan over low heat, melt one stick of butter until the solids separate. Skim off the white foam that rises to the top with a little ladle and pour the clear butter into a small bowl. Let cool.
- In another small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon (14 g) of butter. Add the minced celery, onion, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning. Cover and gently cook until the vegetables are nice and soft, 8 to 10 minutes. It’s going to smell amazing.
- Remove the veggies from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
- In a large bowl, combine the cooked vegetables, cooled clarified butter, and hot sauce. Add the crab and cream and mix gently. I repeat, gently! The worst thing you could do here is overmix the crab and break up the fat lumps you just paid a premium for!
- Cover and place this mixture in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. You want the mixture to be well chilled but not frozen.
- Remove from the freezer and use your hands to gently form the mix into 5-ounce (140 g) patties. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and return to the freezer for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
- In a small bowl, whip your eggs with a crack of freshly ground black pepper. In another medium bowl, combine the crushed crackers with the remaining 1 tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (178°C). If searing the crab cakes on the grill, prepare your grill for medium-high heat.
- Remove the frozen crab cakes from the freezer and dunk them in the egg and then into the seasoned Ritz crumble mix, taking care to cover the crab cake completely. Repeat with the remaining crab cakes.
- Get about 1/8 inch (3 mm) of your vegetable oil ripping hot in a cast-iron pan over coals on the grill. I like to cook these crab cakes outside in order to keep the oil smell from taking over the kitchen. There’s nothing better than a cast-iron skillet over hot coals. Okay, if you must, place over your gas stove at home. Get it hot. I like to drip water droplets in to see when the oil is hot enough. The droplets will sizzle and pop, and that’s how you know it’s ready.
- Carefully place the crab cakes in the skillet and fry until you have made a perfect golden crust (don’t burn the outside), 4 to 5 minutes per side.
- Move the entire cast-iron skillet to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. If desired, you can use a fish spatula or a slotted spoon to transfer the cakes to a rimmed baking sheet—and leave the oil smell outside.
Make the lemon beurre blanc sauce (optional)
- While the crab cakes are baking, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the onion, wine, thyme, lemon zest, and lemon juice, bring to a boil. Cook it down until it is almost dry, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the thyme sprig.
- Add the cream to the saucepan and heat until it bubbles up. Remove from the heat and let cool for 30 seconds.
- Remove the diced butter from the fridge and whisk into the sauce, one or two slices at a time. Whisk fast; we're making a fancy emulsion here.
- Continue to add the butter slices and season with salt and white pepper. The sauce should be rich and velvety. Set aside in a warm, but not hot place—or even in a little Thermos—until you are ready to serve. Your sauce will break if it gets too hot or too cold. If this happens, just warm up a little more heavy whipping cream and then slowly whisk into the broken sauce. It should come back together!
- Divvy the cooked crab cakes between serving plates. You can serve the lemon beurre blanc on the side or ladle it directly on top of the cakes, sprinkle some parsley all over. Drop a few lemon wedges on the plate and devour.
*What is jumbo crab meat?This recipe asks, specifically, for jumbo lump crab meat. How is that different from crab meat, and lump crab meat in particular? The large piece of muscle that connects the powerful back swimming legs of a crab is called the lump meat. The largest of these pieces are the jumbo pieces. Everything else is lump meat—the smaller pieces if you will. Jumbo crab meat is more expensive because of the size, which is precisely why Mitch Benjamin asks you to be careful with them. Jumbo lump is better for preparations like this one, where the crab is the star. Lump meat is better for dips and casseroles where you don’t want big chunks.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I’ve made crab cakes before and the recipes always include a binder to hold all the flaky crab meat together. I was intrigued by freezing as a way to maintain the integrity of the patty and the good news is that it works. The crab cakes with Ritz crackers held together well and were flavorful and as rich as you’d expect from all the butter and heavy cream.
The seasoning was perfect, all the flavors blended and worked well together. The crust of Ritz crackers gave each bite a nice light crunch. The lemon buerre blanc was delicious, full of buttery lemony goodness. Again, it was very rich and a little was all you needed. The cooking time to reduce the liquids took much longer than stated. I cooked it for 20 minutes and I think I should have cooked it longer because the finished product was a little thin and all the minced onion settled to the bottom rather than being suspended in the sauce.
This recipe seemed like a great idea–eliminate the binder and go for the pure briny taste of crab. These crab cakes with Ritz crackers require forethought because they must be frozen in order to dredge and fry without them falling apart. Pay little mind to the warning about a smoking hot cast-iron pan–I sautéed these indoors a little more gently than described and achieved a golden-brown crust. This approach seems like a good idea but adds back in a significant amount of butter so there are no calorie savings from omitting the binder. All in all, the finished taste is nice served very simply with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
I have a go-to crab cake recipe that I’ve been using for years and it’s a family favorite but I’m always up to try a newer version to compare. This recipe for crab cakes with Ritz crackers did not disappoint. It was a tad tedious and time-consuming, but there are steps that can be done ahead of time. I thought the step of rolling the cakes in crushed crackers was a genius way of still getting that salty cracker taste but not making it soggy in the filling. I also like the fact that they were flash fried then baked in the oven.
A very good crab cake recipe with the added benefit of not having to use a filler which often can be the ruination of excellent quality, very expensive crab meat. These crab cakes with Ritz crackers are packed with flavor from the seasoning and clarified butter. Definitely make the lemon beurre blanc sauce–it is a much better and more elegant accompaniment than any sauce you can make, even a great tartar or remoulade.
Be sure to follow the directions exactly, especially all of the steps that involve freezing–that’s the only way your cakes will hold up to the cooking process. The 5-ounce crab cake is quite large and one cake would be enough as an individual portion. Or you can make the crab cakes a bit smaller and be able to serve two per person. This would also enable the cakes to set up in the freezer more quickly. For the initial freezing of the mixture, I suggest spreading it on a sheet pan to allow it to set up more consistently than it would if you had kept it in a mixing bowl.