Seasonal Pantry: How to make crab cakes for New Year's Eve

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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

½ cup lightly packed fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped

2 teaspoons sweet paprika, preferably Spanish

1 teaspoon hot paprika, preferably Spanish

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon chipotle powder or piment d’Espelette

— Juice of 2 lemons

½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

For the crab cakes:

2 large cooked Dungeness crabs, chilled

2 tablespoons butter, plus more for frying

1 serrano, seeded and minced

1 shallot, minced

2 inner celery ribs, minced

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

½ teaspoon hot Spanish paprika

1 large farm egg

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

¼ cup coarse sourdough breadcrumbs, lightly toasted

First, make the black beans. Put the soaked and drained beans into a medium saucepan and cover with water by about 1½ inches. Add the serrano, shallot, garlic and bay leaf, set over high heat and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer very gently, until the beans are fully tender. When they begin to give off their aromas, season fairly generously with salt and stir in the cumin. When tender, remove from the heat and let cool for 15 or 20 minutes. Use tongs to remove and discard the bay leaf and serrano, along with the shallot and garlic if you can see them (sometimes they nearly dissolve into the beans).

Use an immersion blender to purée the beans until they are almost but not quite completely smooth.

Taste, correct for salt, add several turns of black pepper, cover and set aside.

This can be done several hours or a full day in advance.

For the chermoula: Put the garlic into a suribachi, sprinkle lightly with salt and use a wooden pestle to crush the garlic into a paste.

Add the cilantro and parsley and continue to grind with the wooden pestle until a uniform puree is formed.

Add the paprikas, cumin and chipotle powder or piment d’Espelette and stir in the lemon juice.

Season with salt and stir in the olive oil. Taste and correct for salt and acid, adding more salt if the sauce tastes flat and more olive oil if it is too tart. Cover and chill; remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before using. (Chermoula will keep for a day or two in the fridge but is best the day it is made.)

For crab cakes: Keep the crabs’ body meat and leg meat separate. You should have about 2½ cups of body meat; if you don’t, break up some of the leg meat until you do. Set the meat aside.

Put the two tablespoons of butter into a small sauté pan set over medium heat, add the serrano, shallot and celery, season lightly with salt and sauté until very soft and fragrant, about 12 to 15 minutes. Season with several turns of black pepper, add the paprika and set aside to cool.

Put the egg and cream into a large mixing bowl and whisk until light and thick.

Add the body meat, 2 tablespoons of the parsley and the bread crumbs and use 2 dinner forks to toss together very gently. Do not overmix. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To finish the cakes, remove the batter from the refrigerator and put the flour into a wide shallow bowl.

Heat the black beans. Set a large heavy frying pan over medium high heat, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter and heat until the butter is fully melted and foaming.

Using an ice cream scoop, make balls of crab somewhat bigger than a ping-pong ball but smaller than a tennis ball. Press together gently and dredge in the flour, gently working to keep each ball together.

Add 4 balls to the frying pan, leaving plenty of space between each one. Use a metal spatula to press down gently on each crab cake until it is about ¾-inch thick. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, until browned on one side. Gently turn and cook on the other side. Continue cooking, adding more butter as needed, until all the batter is used.

While the crab cakes cook, pour a generous pool of black bean puree on individual plates. Set 2 or 3 cooked cakes on each plate, half on and half off the puree. Top the crab cakes with the reserved leg meat. Drizzle with a few slashes of chermoula, garnish with a lemon wedge and sprinkle with a bit of the remaining parsley. Enjoy right away.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The New Cook’s Tour of Sonoma.” Email her at

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