Monday, May 12, 2008

Crab Cakes with Green Mango Salsa

Does anyone make crab cakes at home anymore? I don't think I've ever ordered one in a restaurant, but I know they are usually one of the most popular things on the menu. When I worked at Legal Seafoods, they were a perennial bestseller, appearing in, I believe, three different guises on the menu--appetizer, salad and main course. Everyone loved the crab cake.

I never order them, because there are so many things that can (and do) go wrong--too much bread, soggy crust, not enough flavor. And just because someone claims to use 1/2 pound of jumbo lump crab meat in every ginormous cake, that is no guarantee of flavor. So, since I have to admit that a good crab cake can be awfully tasty, we make them ourselves every once in awhile. Crab cakes are also an excellent excuse to make mango salsa--the luscious fruit has a natural affinity to the sweet crab meat, and a little lime makes everything sing.

I adapted the crab cake recipe from one I learned in a cooking class I took several years ago. It was all about fish, and I learned a lot, including some great ethnic recipes and a killer smoked trout dip. The mango salsa has no special secrets, but I will say that green mangoes or mango that aren't yet soft and ready for eating make the best salsa. You still get a little tartness to go along with the fruit's disarming sweetness, and the cubes of mango hold their shape better. I've suggested ingredient amounts for the salsa, but exact quantities aren't important as long as your proportions give you the flavor, heat level and texture you want.

Crab Cakes
Best quality canned crab meat is great in this recipe, but never buy the imitation stuff. I'd like to tell you what it's actually made of, but I'm a little afraid to find out. Old Bay is a seafood seasoning blend often sold by the fish counter in supermarkets, or with the spices; it contains salt among other spices, so none is added to the recipe. If you want to check your seasoning (which I'll often take the time to do with these kind of recipes), fry up one miniature crab cake first and add extra salt or spices if you like.

Makes about 6

2 tsp canola oil, plus 2 tbs
1/2 onion, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten, plus one egg white if needed
1 pound crab meat
4 to 6 tbs Panko or breadcrumbs
1 tbs mayonnaise (light is fine; I use canola mayo)
1 tbs Old Bay seasoning
2 tbs chopped fresh cilantro, or parsley
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

For serving: Green Mango Salsa, sour cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat 2 tsp of the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat and cook the onion until soft. In a large bowl, combine the egg, crab, 4 tbs. panko or breadcrumbs, mayo, Old Bay, cilantro and onions; mix gently with your hands or a large spoon, leaving large chunks of crab intact. Try to form a patty, and if the mixture does not hold together, add additional breadcrumbs and/or the additional egg white (the recipe varies depending on the crab and its water content).

Form 6 crab cakes, cover and chill for at least thirty minutes or up to several hours (the purpose is to help the cakes stay together, but I have skipped this step before with no problems). When you're ready to fry, place the flour in a shallow bowl and dip each cake in flour, shaking off excess. Heat about one tablespoon of oil in a skillet over high heat and add half the cakes. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Repeating with remaining cakes, transfer to oven and bake 10 minutes or until cooked through. Serve immediately with salsa and sour cream.

Green Mango Salsa
In Thailand, a common street snack is unripe mango slices dipped in a mixture of sugar, salt and hot ground chile, and that combination partly inspired this salsa. Use a chile powder with flavor you like, whether it's mild or hot and smoky, such as ground chipotle. If you don't like heat at all, try smoky paprika.

1 green or underripe mango, diced
1 to 2 jalapeno chiles, diced (seeds optional)
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 tbs chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground red chile powder
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Drizzle of olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lime, or to taste

Combine all ingredients. Serve right away or let salsa sit at room temperature for up to 30 minutes so flavors can blend.


Peabody said...

I still make them at home. In fact I have an entire cookbook about them. They can be difficult, but when you get it right...oh so yummy, eh?

Rachel said...

Living in Baltimore, everyone makes crab cakes at home and has their own "special" recipe. I'd do it more often if a pound of jumbo lump wasn't $30lb on sale!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I make them at home, too. I have two versions -- one similar to yours, and one very spicy. Old Bay is a must!

Dana said...

These sound really good -- I like to see that you keep the breadcrumbs to a minimum. So many crab cakes have WAY too much filler. I'll have to try these!

Bruised Orange said...

Don't be afraid! Imitation crab meat is just Tilapia.

Julie said...

Pea: I think I've seen that cookbook--talk about specialized!
Rachel: In Baltimore, that makes perfect sense. This recipe is Maryland style.
Lydia: I like adding a little extra heat to mine too.
Dana: filler is so awful! Don't bother if you don't use enough actual mean, ya know?
Bruised Orange: I knew it was some common fish (plus food dye), but it certainly undergoes some imaginative processing, doesn't it!

Funnygirl said...

I've made mango salsa many times, but never with green mangos. I'm going to try this, as it sounds amazing.

Niall said...

These tuned out really great. I used regular lump and backfin crab meat. I was doubting the sour cream at first, but it contrasted well with the mango salsa. I also subbed cayenne pepper for chili powder in the salsa. I prefer to make the crab cakes smaller because I get more of the crispy outer layer and they kept together more easily. Thanks for a very nice recipe.

Julie said...

Niall: Thanks for letting me know this worked out so well for you! Making them small for more crispness is a great tip.