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Crustacean Sensation
Published: 06/16/2010
Dungeness Crab cakes at EVOO Cannon Beach Cooking School
Dungeness Crab cakes at EVOO Cannon Beach Cooking School
photo by Gary Hayes

Coastal chefs share their secrets for creating sensational crab cakes.

Choosing your favorite crab cake can be as difficult as picking your favorite color. Sweet local Dungeness crab is the preferred crab on the West Coast. In Maryland, where many crab cake recipes originated, blue crab is still the favorite. Many local crab cake recipes still call on techniques and ingredients dating back to the 1930s and beyond.

Local Northwest chefs all offer their own interpretation of delicious crab cakes. At EVOO Cooking School and Restaurant in Cannon Beach, chef and owner Bob Neroni uses fresh ­Dungeness crab. "In Maryland," he said, "we used blue crab with Old Bay seasoning, but here we make our own spice mix without the salt." Dungeness crab," he says, "is saltier than blue crab."

Chef Neroni does not use fillers in his crab cakes. Instead, he squeezes the moisture out of the crab before forming them. "The reason our cakes stay ­together without using a filler is because we wring out the crab meat," he said. "Removing the excess moisture helps the cakes retain their shape."

Neroni sears the crab cakes in a combination of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and butter until they have a nice caramel color on each side. His favorite garnishes include garlic-chive aioli and spicy mustard microgreens. At the end of summer, he serves crab cakes with corn crusted fried green tomatoes, a lightly smoked tomato sauce and a bitter green salad on the side.

Chef Neroni recommends pouring Sineann pinot gris, or Abacela Umpqua cuvee syrah.

Executive Chef Alfredo Cacho of Georgie's Beachside Grill in Newport features Chilean rock crab in his crab cakes. Lightly blended with cream cheese, mayonnaise and Japanese Panko, his crab cakes sparkle with notes of paprika, cayenne pepper and diced red onion. The hand formed crab cakes are deep-fried in Canola oil and garnished with roasted red pepper sauce, spicy aioli and fresh lemon. To accompany his crab cakes, Chef Cacho recommends a Northwest pinot gris or sauvignon blanc.

At Baked Alaska in Astoria, Chef Chris Holen uses either Dungeness crab or wild Chilean crabmeat to make his golden, pan-fried crab cakes. He tosses the crab lightly with salt, pepper, dried garlic, onions, scallion, and adds a small amount of mayonnaise to bind the cakes."We use very minimal seasoning as we want the crab to taste like crab," he said. Chef Holen then breads them – dredging them consecutively in flour, egg and Panko. They are pan fried in oil until golden and garnished with a simple chili aioli. For wines, Holen recommends chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris, but says his ­personal favorite is Walnut City Wineworks Viognier. - Lori McKean

Dungeness Crab Cakes

Yields eight 3-ounce crab cakes or 4 servings

1 1/2 pounds Dungeness crab meat
2 eggs, beaten with 1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 green onions, finely diced
1/2 cup roasted red bell pepper
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
Canola oil or vegetable oil as needed (1/4 cup approximate)

Drain the crabmeat thoroughly and press through a fine sieve to remove excess liquid. Transfer the crabmeat to a mixing bowl and gently mix in all of the ingredients, except the panko and canola oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To form the crab cakes, scoop out 3-ounce portions (an ice cream scoop works great). Press the cakes into patties (about 1-inch thick). Place the panko crumbs in a shallow bowl and press the crab cakes gently into the crumbs, so that they adhere on both sides. Place the cakes on a tray and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To cook, heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet. When hot, add the crab cakes and cook until golden on one side. Gently turn over and cook until golden. Serve hot with your favorite accompaniments, such as tartar sauce, aioli, fresh lemon slices or pickled ginger.

Chili Aioli
From Chris Holen at Baked Alaska

3 egg yolks
Juice of one freshly squeezed lemon
Pinch of cayenne pepper, to add spice
Pinch of paprika, for color and a hint of smoke flavor
A small drizzle of Cholula hot sauce, or other hot red pepper sauce, for additional spice and acidity
Pinch of sea salt, to marry flavors
Equal amounts of Canola oil and olive oil, as needed (about 1/4 cup each)

In a food processor, combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, cayenne, paprika and the Cholula sauce; pulse them together. While blending, slowly drizzle, in an equal amount, the two oils. As soon as the aioli has emulsified (thickened), you know that you have added enough oil. We use the two different oils so that you have the flavor of the olive oil, but not too much. Season to taste with sea salt.

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