Great crab cakes aren’t rocket science. This isn’t the territory of complicated ingredients or difficult techniques; the secret to great crab cakes is just to chock them full of crab. The only problem with this method is it’s expensive, especially if you’re planning on making them for more than 2 people.
Luckily, you can bulk up your cakes without having to settle for an inferior finished product, as long as you choose the right ingredients. The recipe I like comes from Mark Bittman, who can always be counted on for balance and reason. He cuts the crab with grated celery root, delivering twice as many cakes without washing out the flavor of the seafood star of the show. The celery root also makes the cakes seem more substantial and texturally interesting, in my opinion.
If you’ve never worked with celery root before, it’s the ugly looking, knobby bulb that sometimes goes by the name celeriac. It has a vague celery flavor, but not so much that I would have picked it up if “celery” wasn’t in its name.
To peel, cut off the rooty bottom so that you have a flat surface to stand it up on. Then, using a chef’s knife, cut the outside off in strips, working from top to bottom. This recipe calls for it to be grated, which is an easy task if your food processor has a grating attachment but can also be done on a box grater. Like most root vegetables, it will turn brown when exposed to the air, so don’t peel it too far in advance of use.
And if you are serving these crab cakes to friends, remember it’s all how you sell it. If anyone raises an eyebrow to celery root in their crab cake, don’t admit you’re a cheapskate. Rather, you are an individual concerned with ocean sustainability and committed to consuming less - purely noble reasons. But I’m pretty sure after they try them, no one will be complaining.
Affordable and Responsible Crab Cakes
This recipe makes four massive cakes suitable for two gluttons (which was the direction I went), but you could easily make them bite sized for hors d’ oeuvres. I served it with an unconventional choice of chipotle mayo, but it would be fancier with a nice remoulade. A squeeze of lemon is all it really needs, though.
- 8 oz fresh lump crab meat, picked over for cartilage and shell
- 1 small celery root (1/2 lb - 3/4 lb), peeled and grated
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2-3 tbsp bread crumbs, preferably homemade (white or whole grain)
- 1 cup flour
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tsp curry powder (optional)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- Mix the crab, celery root, egg, and a light sprinkle of salt and pepper in a bowl.
- Add 2 tbsp bread crumbs and mix just until combined, adding another tbsp of crumbs if the mixture seems very loose.
- Place mixture in the fridge, covered, for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours.
- Mix curry powder and flour and put on a plate or shallow dish.
- Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. While the oil is heating, form cakes. They should be 1 inch thick and whatever diameter you fancy.
- Dredge the cakes lightly in flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- When the oil is hot and shimmery, fry the cakes gently, working in batches to avoid crowding the pan. Cook about 5 minutes per side, turning once when a golden crust has formed.
- Serve warm with lemon wedges.
Celery root pictures courtesy Gourmet and World Community Cookbook.