Some problems with and solutions for crab cakes:
1. If you try to make crab cakes, you quickly realize that trying to keep the crab in an actual cake or patty shape without the crab cakes falling apart as they cook can be difficult. So, the key to helping with this problem is in how you make the crab cakes.
I have found that doing two things in conjunction with each other works best. First, mix all your binding ingredients together before adding them to the crab. Whatever you’re using – cracker crumbs, bread crumbs, cornmeal – mix that up with your eggs and herbs and liquids first and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, mix the binder into your crab pieces. You’ll need to take a few minutes to incorporate the binder well, but it’s worth those few extra minutes to do so.
The second thing to be done is to chill your crab cake mixture before forming the crab cake patties. Chilling allows the ingredients to better meld with another so that when you form the patties, they’ll hold together better. So, after you make your crab cake mixture, cover it well with plastic wrap or foil and let it rest in the fridge for a little bit. I find that fifteen minutes is really the minimum you should keep it in the fridge. I usually opt for about 30 minutes. You will find recipes that suggest an hour or two.
2. Another potential problem with crab cakes is the taste. People differ on their expectations about crab cakes. Some folks like the cakes to have a strong flavor of something other than crab so you’ll find recipes which use mayonnaise and mustard which make for a heavier taste. Other folks prefer the taste of the crab to come through and would rather use just some herbs. For my friend, the recipe she found was heavy on the mayonnaise, and she didn’t really like it. If you’re trying to compromise, you can do what I do which is to make a lighter crab cake with lemon juice and herbs and accompany it with a nice remoulade sauce which is essentially mayonnaise with herbs and seasonings.
Folks also differ about the type of crab to use. Fresh is said to be the best, and I would agree. Unfortunately budget limitations and availability of fresh crab can limit the opportunity to use fresh. I personally use frozen or canned crab meat. This time of year (winter) it’s usually canned. While you lose some of the texture and taste of fresh crab, you can still have great tasting crab cakes, so do what works for your budget and what’s available for you to purchase.
If using frozen, though, make sure thaw the crab pieces first, and if using canned, be sure to drain the crab pieces.
3. The final potential issue with making crab cakes is how you cook them. Recipes vary from deep frying to cooking them in the oven. It really comes down to preference and health issues. If you are trying to eat healthy, then baking the cakes in the oven is the best, but you will find that the flavor is lacking a bit. What I do is to put a teaspoon or two of olive oil in a bowl and lightly brush the olive oil on the top of the crab cake; then halfway through the cooking time, flip the cakes and do the same with the other side.
For my preference for cooking crab cakes, I cook them on top of the stove in a pan lightly coated with olive oil. This works well and is quicker than cooking the crab cakes in the oven.
If you do choose to deep fry the crab cakes, the key is to have hot oil, 350 to 375 degrees, so you can fry them quickly which reduces the amount of oil the cakes absorb.