Crabcakes Pure and Simple (with Orange Scented Cocktail Sauce)

It’s summer and I can hear you humming a certain tune in your head and that little ditty is crabcakes.

It’s a song we all know, but New Englanders claim to have written it.

But out here in California we have a pretty toe tappin’ version ourselves. And I am talking about Dungeness crabcakes. Dungeness crabs are the sweet and delicious. Of course, all crab is sweet and delicious but I hold a special place on my taste buds for Dungeness. It is a sustainable west coast choice and it is regularly found at the Hollywood Farmers Market.

Now people hold some pretty strong opinions about crabcakes, and I fully endorse that. At their best crabcakes should be very crabby, we all agree with that. The traditional cakes of the Chesapeake Bay area are often lump (blue) crab and very little else. But that sort of gem is not commonly found because it can be tricky getting it into the pan, while still holding shape. Which just brings up even more questions. Should you roll crabcakes in breadcrumbs or add breadcrumbs to the mix? Some people cross themselves and turn away just at the mention of breadcrumbs. See what I mean? What about an egg? Is that cheating? Well in my mind both the breadcrumb and egg discussions are valid because they both address texture. But you have to be careful, too many ingredients make a wet, sticky mixture. Which may mold easily and hold its form quite well, but once fried up, you get something close to a hockey puck. It may look beautiful, but its virtues end there.

The way I look at it is this. A good crabcake mixture is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. I think it should hold together, but just barely. Concerning egg– sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. But  I am a firm believer in breadcrumbs (always fresh, never toasted). I think fairly cheap sandwich style white bread is best. But of course, you need perfectly fresh, absolutely pristine crabmeat, left plenty chunky.

Crabcakes Plain and Simple with Orange Scented Cocktail Sauce

serves 8 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 3/4 c ketchup
  • 1/4 t orange zest
  • 2 T freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3 T drained bottled horseradish
  • 1/2 t tabasco sauce
  • 1 lb fresh cooked Dungeness crab meat, picked over
  • 1/4 c onion, minced
  • 1/4 c green bell pepper, seeded & minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 t kosher salt
  • 1 c fresh breadcrumbs (from soft white sandwich bread,
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 T canola oil
  • 24 chives left whole, optional
  • 32 cucumber slices, optional

Prepare the cocktail sauce: In a small bowl mix ketchup, orange zest, fresh orange juice, horseradish, and Tabasco until well combined. Set aside.

Prepare the crab cakes: Place the crab meat in a cheese cloth lined colander set over a large bowl. Pull the cheese cloth tightly around the crab meat and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Repeat the same process with a new piece of cheese cloth with the onion and green bell pepper. Discard the liquid.

In the large bowl stir together the onion, bell pepper, egg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss in the breadcrumbs and crab, mix gently until well combined. Do not over mix, it should still be somewhat loose. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.

Shape the crab mixture into 8 cakes about 1 inch thick. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the butter with canola oil over medium heat. When the butter is frothy, add the cakes to the pan (8 should fit comfortably). Cook until dark golden brown on the underside, about 4 minutes. Flip the cakes, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue cooking until the other side is well browned, 4 to 5 minutes more. Garnish with chives and cucumber slices (optional) and the cocktail sauce on the side.


Greg Henry

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