This is the last crab cake recipe you’ll ever need. Bright Thai flavors, sweet crab, a crispy crust and a sweet, spicy sauce all come together for crab cake nirvana.
“This is the best crab cake I’ve ever eaten.” End quote. No matter that these words were spoken by perhaps the most biased judge (my husband). No matter that he was starving and he was likely buttering me up so I would continue to feed him throughout the week. I completely believed him. Maybe because I was munching on my own crab cake and thoroughly enjoying it, I accepted the compliment. Because man, this really is a damn good crab cake.
I came late to the party with Asian cuisine. It wasn’t something that I grew up with, or even sought out, until I moved to Manhattan in my 20’s. I was a girl from upstate New York that ate Italian or classic American fare on a daily basis. I thought heating up a can of condensed Campbell’s won-ton soup was adventurous. But when I moved to the city, I dipped my toe in the water of world cuisine and subsequently dove in.
It wasn’t long before I would eat just about everything, and as anyone that’s lived in New York City knows, had all my favorites on speed dial. Hungry for bowl of curry at noon, sushi at 6pm or dim sum at midnight? You can find it. And it will be good.
We had a fantastic Maylasian place on the corner, a solid Thai place a couple blocks down and our go-to sushi and Chinese take-out places within spitting distance. And then we moved to the suburbs. <sigh> Our stash of take-out menus is now paltry in comparison to our city days, because there simply aren’t as many options.
So, I took a stab at cooking some of my favorite Thai dishes at home. Two of my favorites are Thai-style coconut chicken curry and Thai chicken basil and they have been in our regular rotation for years. I now keep fish sauce, ginger, garlic, palm sugar, coconut milk, cilantro and limes at the ready. And when I see stalks of lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves in the produce section of my market, I nab them.
What I love most about Thai cuisine is the harmony of flavors…sweet, salty, spicy and sour. And as I got ready to make my regular crab cake recipe for dinner, it occurred to me that those flavors would compliment the sweet crab perfectly. So I folded cilantro, lime zest, scallions and grated ginger into the crab mixture with a splash of fish sauce and lime juice. I used mayo for my binder, but not a speck of bread crumbs in the filling as there’s nothing I hate more than a crab cake full of starchy filler. I use an ice cream scoop to portion out my cakes and pop the scoops into the freezer to allow them to firm up a bit. This freezer trick makes it easier to dredge them in flour and then dip them in egg and panko before frying.
The result was a crab cake in which the crab was the star and those bright Thai flavors really sing. And I didn’t stop there. Hello sweet and spicy chili sauce! This dipping sauce cooks up in minutes and don’t be afraid to make extra to have on hand for nights when you order in spring rolls or dumplings. I like a little extra heat, but you can dial down the chili paste if you prefer it a bit milder.
These crab cakes with that sweet chili sauce have managed to dethrone our reigning crab cake king and I’m guessing a bite size version will be appearing in our football Sunday or Superbowl spreads. Make ahead tip: cool the fried cakes to room temperature, layer between pieces of parchment or wax paper and place in plastic freezer bags to freeze. The frozen cakes can be put on sheet trays and into a hot oven (400 degrees) to heat through. And this sauce will keep for at least of week in the refrigerator. Now you have no excuse like a sad menu drawer to prevent you from enjoying your favorite Thai flavors at home. Suddenly the suburbs don’t seem so bad.
- Crab Cakes
- 1 lb lump crab meat picked over
- 4 scallions finely sliced, white and pale green parts only
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp lime juice
- 2 tsp lime zest
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce
- 2 Tbsp cilantro minced
- 1 Tbsp grated ginger
- dash red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- Canola oil for frying
- Kosher salt to taste
- Sweet Chili Sauce
- 2 tsp canola oil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2 Tbsp chili paste sambal oelek
- 1 Tbsp lime juice
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tsp corn starch
- 2 tsp water
- *ice cream scoop
Crab Cakes: Mix together the crab, scallions, mayo, lime juice, lime zest, fish sauce, cilantro, ginger and red pepper flakes.
Using an ice cream scoop, lightly pack the crab mixture into the scoop and scoop out 10 mounds on to a wax paper-lined sheet tray. Freeze, 15-20 minutes, or until slightly firm.
Remove from freezer and roll each ball first in flour, shaking off excess, dip in egg, then in panko and place back on the sheet tray, flattening slightly.
Pour enough oil to cover the bottom of a large nonstick pan and heat over med/high heat until hot but not smoking.
Cook the crab cakes in two batches (adding more oil if needed), about 3-4 mins per side, turning once. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Serve with dipping sauce
Sweet Chili Sauce: Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until hot and add garlic.
Cook garlic until golden, about 2 mins and then stir sugar, vinegar, chili paste, lime juice and fish sauce. Bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved, about 3 mins.
Stir corn starch and water together in a small bowl and whisk into chili sauce. Cook about 2 mins and remove from heat. Serve sauce hot or at room temperature.
*Crab cakes can be held in a 250 degree oven to keep warm.