I always forget about crab. It’s a shame, really, considering how delicious and easy it is to work with. My market keeps it all tucked away in some stray corner of the seafood cooler case, escaping my radar. Plus when you’re married to someone who won’t eat anything that grew up in water, occasions are few and far between to crack them claws open.
Wanting to gussy up my offerings for a 4th of July BBQ recently, I went big. I went bold. I went for crab cakes — and (I’ll pat myself on the back here) I nailed it. Like most memorable things in life, bacon has the assist and — with such a clean palate of ingredients employed — the smokier the better.
While crab cakes may sound like a budget-busting endeavor for a plastic, gingham-tablecloth day in the sun, they don’t have to be. Crab comes in different grades usually labeled (in ascending order of quality) special, claw and lump. The texture of the lump meat is certainly lovely, but I like to reserve it for a simple presentation — like a crab salad, for instance — where its pricey texture can really shine. In this case, since we’re mixing the crab with all sorts of other things and then frying it, reach for “special” grade — the flavor is the same. They won’t, however, last very long. Get your “cook’s-spoils” bites in early.
Bacon Crab Cakes with Pimiento-Corn Relish
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
4 strips smoked bacon
For the relish
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups corn kernels (from about 3 ears of corn)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 4-ounce jar diced pimientos, drained
For the crab cakes
1 pound lump crab meat
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 small onion, finely grated
1 clove garlic, finely grated
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/4 to 1/2 cup crushed pretzels, as needed
3/4 teaspoon seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay
Few dashes hot sauce
Place a large saute pan over medium heat and cook the bacon until golden brown and crisp, 7 to 8 minutes total. Reserve about 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat in a dish and 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat in the pan. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to cool.
Return the pan to medium heat and add the celery, onion, corn, and some salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables until beginning to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vinegar, sugar and pimientos to the pan and cook until the vinegar has reduced and the corn is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Adjust the seasoning as needed and set the relish aside to cool.
Place a large skillet over medium heat with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat. In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients for the crab cakes along with the reserved crisp bacon, adjusting the seasoning as needed with salt and pepper. Working in batches as needed, scoop out about 1/4 cup of mix for each crab cake and cook in the bacon fat, turning once, until golden brown and heated through, about 3 minutes per side. As batches finish cooking, reserve them on a plate; add more bacon fat to the pan as needed throughout cooking.
Serve the warm crab cakes over warm or room temperature relish.
COOK’S TIP: One of the greatest tips Rachael Ray ever taught me was how to get corn off the cob without littering your cutting board. When cutting off the kernels, invert a small bowl inside of a larger bowl. Set the corncob on top of the small bowl and start cutting. As the kernels fall off the cob, your makeshift moat will catch them all, keeping you from chasing them down from all corners of the countertop.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest tweets on Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.