Born in New Orleans, but having spent my childhood on the coast of Maine, the concept of “Crab Cakes” has been a bit conflicting for me.
In New England, Crab Cakes are prepared as fluffy, cake-like compounds mixed with real New England crabmeat and minimal amounts of heat or spice. The idea is that the crabmeat is built into a “cake” where more common regional ingredients like white wine, garlic and Old Bay Seasoning dominate the flavors of this dish. Popular in most coastal towns, the New England Crab Cake is prepared either baked or broiled, and few chefs go to the trouble of pan-frying their cake-like compounds.
But the longer I live in Southern Louisiana, the more I realize this popular course couldn’t be more different than the crab cakes I grew up with. Louisiana Crab Cakes are frequently spicier than their New England counterparts and, in many recipes, offer trace amounts of breading or crumbs. Frequently, this dish is held together not by a thick batter (as in New England restaurants or kitchens), but by the personalized touch of a local chef who takes the preparation of this southern dish seriously. The presence of spices unique to cajun or creole cooking are often dominant within the batter leaving little room for eggs, breading or crushed ounces of Ritz crackers you sometimes see up north.
Last month, I had the opportunity to explore these variances with my visit with Executive Chef Ryan Andre at Baton Rouge restaurant Le Creolé. One of the first things we discussed wasn’t the “Chef’s” tattoo that somehow always makes its appearance into every article about Andre (here and here), but the crab cakes he was putting on the grill. Always available on the restaurant’s specials menu, Le Creolé’s Crab Cakes are prepared upon ordering and lovingly handled by the executive chef. At Le Creolé, Andre man’s the grill, prepares many of the dishes, and always plates his food with love even if it means taking an extra few minutes to watch, flip and handle the crab cakes individually before they arrive at customers’ tables.
I watched in astonishment as Andre used an oval-shaped ring to hold each individual cake together until the final moment of plating. Andre’s Crab Cakes weren’t pre-made rounds ready to pop in the broiler, but separately scooped up patties monitored closely for each table. According to Andre, Crab Cakes should fall apart the second a fork digs into their structure and reveal the vast amounts of crabmeat used to make the dish. One should be able to see “claw meat sticking up” and that a Crab Cake is more crab than cake.
A simple oval or circular ring (such as a cookie cutter) makes all the difference in pan-frying and handling a crab cake with love.
For today’s recipe, I take a cue from Andre’s tips and embrace my southerly roots. Made with trace amounts of breading (almost none besides a few tablespoons) and no eggs, these crab cakes require no bread, no broiling, and certainly no Old Bay Seasoning. For sure, these aren’t my mother’s crab cakes, but something a little bit better–creole-style Crab Cakes inspired by Executive Chef Ryan Andre at Baton Rouge’s Le Creolé.
This recipe is inspired by the workings behind Chef Ryan Andre’s Crab Cakes at Le Creolé. Although his dish normally retails for around $14, you can make about 6-8 quality-size cakes for under $25.
*1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
*3 tablespoons bread crumbs
*3 green onions, thinly sliced
*2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
*1 teaspoon Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning
*1 teaspoon cayenne
*1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
*2 tablespoons mayonnaise
*butter, to coat pan
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT NEEDED:
*circular or oval cookie cutter (I used a 2.5-inch diameter ring)
1.) Transfer crabmeat to a mixing bowl and pick over for shells or cartilage (toss). Add next seven ingredients and mix to combine.
2.) Warm butter in non-stick skillet and place circular ring in pan. Using a clean hand, stuff ring with crabmeat until full. Pan fry for about 4 minutes or until bottom is golden and crispy. Using a flat metal spatula, pick up ring and flip (feel free to use your free hand to hold crab meat into ring so that it doesn’t fall out or crumble. Pan fry for an additional 3-4 minutes or until bottom is golden brown and slightly crispy.
3.) Transfer crab cakes (in ring) to a plate and gently lift off ring. Your cake will stay in place and can be garnished with micro-greens, aioli, or a spicy Cajun sauce. Makes 6-8 crab cakes.
This recipe was re-published for my “Fresh Ideas” Column for Louisiana’s state newspaper, The Advocate, on Thursday, October 10th, 2012. You can read the reprint here.
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Written by: Helana Brigman