Seasonal Pantry: How to make crab cakes for New Year's Eve
There are certain dishes we tend to enjoy more in restaurants than we do at home. And with several of them, if we do make them at home, we tend to do so when there is a big holiday. We’re not likely to make lasagna from scratch on a school night or prepare Dungeness crab cakes when we get home from work at 6 p.m. and have to return the next morning.
But when we can shelter a few hours from other obligations, we are so well rewarded by making these foods from scratch ourselves.
Seasonal Pantry hasn’t explored crab cakes in many years, in part because so many of us have preferred versions in local restaurants and because the recipe, while not difficult, is lengthy. But it is looking like a great year for one of our popular winter specialties, so I’m revisiting and revising, to a degree, my favorite way to make them.
It’s crucial that you don’t rush. Relax into the process, enjoy some music while you cook and take all the time you need, perhaps a full day or two. The work isn’t continuous, of course, but you can easily spread it out so it doesn’t seem overwhelming. I prefer to make both the black bean puree that serves as a bed for the cakes and the chermoula that tops them a day before I serve them. I also prepare the crab meat in advance.
Done this way, the final process is easy and you won’t be tired when you start to form the cakes.
Most crab cakes have more filler or more binder in them than mine do. Mayonnaise, flour and more breadcrumbs are often added to facilitate the formation of the cakes but to me, these versions eclipse the pristine beauty of the crab. Be mindful as you form these cakes, lest they fall apart. It’s not a difficult technique; it just requires a gentle touch.
I don’t add a lot of flavoring agents, either, especially no Old Bay seasoning, which is ubiquitous in Chesapeake Bay crab and has been making inroads here, too. I prefer crab to taste like crab, with a few bold accents alongside but not within the crab cakes themselves.
For a number of years, friends in west Sonoma County would gather at my house on New Year’s Eve for oysters on the half shell, Dungeness crab and Champagne. Some of those friends would return the next day for these crab cakes and, of course, more Champagne and, if we had it, more oysters. It is a delicious way to start a new year.
Dungeness Crab Cakes with Black Beans & Chermoula
Makes 3 to 4 servings
For the beans:
1 cup dried black beans, picked through for rocks, rinsed, soaked overnight and drained
1 serrano, split but left whole
1 shallot, quartered
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 bay leaf
— Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
— Black pepper in a mill
For the chermoula:
3-4 garlic cloves
— Kosher salt
1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped