One of my favorite rituals around Christmas is feasting on local Dungeness crab. In California, the season typically opens right around Thanksgiving, after much dramatic back and forth between fisherman and wholesalers over the price. Once the price is set, the markets are flooded with the red-gold crustaceans, and any good West Coast dweller gets to work making a fine mess of cracking crab legs and dredging the delicate, sweet meat in warm pools of herbed butter.
While eating steamed crab in clarified butter is an unparalleled treat, there’s much to be said for the virtues of a crab cake with fresh, succulent lumps of crab meat tucked away inside. It’s flexible in a way that a glorious, indulgent feast of whole crabs is not. You can serve crab cakes with a poached egg for a classy holiday brunch, or tiny versions of the cakes at a boisterous holiday party with many mouths to feed. There is much less mess to be made, and they can be prepped in advance, which is a small luxury this time of year. Happiest of holidays to you all!
12-16 ounces fresh crab meat (a two-pound crab will yield approximately 12 ounces of meat)
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh, chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons fresh, minced ginger
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Zest of one lemon, plus more lemon for garnish
1 egg, beaten
Sea salt to taste
Butter lettuce for garnish
Mayonnaise for dipping, optional
If you are working with a whole Dungeness crab, have your fishmonger crack and clean it for you. Use a nutcracker, hammer, or the handle of a screwdriver to crack open the crab shell. Place the meat in a medium mixing bowl.
When all the crab meat is prepped, add the bread crumbs, yogurt, parsley, ginger, mustard, lemon zest and cayenne pepper. Stir just enough to combine everything, making sure to preserve the lump meat. Taste the mixture and add salt if needed. Add the beaten egg and combine with the fingers.
Shape the mixture into about 10 patties, or opt for smaller, bite-size party appetizers by making into 20 small cakes. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for one hour. Can be made and chilled a few hours in advance, though crab meat is very delicate and won’t hold up well for long periods of time.
Heat a large skillet over a medium flame. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
Add about half the patties to the pan, being careful not to overcrowd. Fry until the bottom is golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Flip once and repeat.
Serve on a bed of lettuce with plenty of lemon wedges.
All photos by Kimberley Hasselbrink.