Gertie’s Crab Cakes
Gertie Cleary hailed from Baltimore’s Greenmount Avenue and her cooking was legendary throughout St. Ann’s parish and northeast Baltimore. Her crab cakes are my absolute favorite. I must, however, admit my bias. Gertie was my grandmother, and I grew up on these wonderful spiced morsels of crab. This recipe is in the most traditional style of Bay crab cakes. It uses as lightly spiced mixture of mayonnaise and egg, and is lightly bound together with cracker crumbs.
To clarify butter, place solid unsalted butter into a heavy-bottomed pot and slowly melt over a low heat. When the butter is completely melted, remove from the heat. There will be three distinct parts of the butter remaining: a foam on the top; a clear, golden-colored liquid in the center; and a milky liquid on the bottom. The trick is to separate the golden liquid from the foam and milky solids.
First, skim off the foamy topping and discard. Next, with a small ladle, carefully remove the golden liquid to a clean, dry container, being careful not to take up any of the milky solids from the bottom. The clear, golden butter is clarified butter and is excellent for most sautéing needs.
Cooking Methodbroiling, pan-frying, sauteeing
Total Timeunder 2 hours
Make Ahead RecipeYes
One Pot MealYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party
Recipe Coursemain course
Five Ingredients or LessYes
Taste and Texturerich, savory, spiced
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Chesapeake Seasoning
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- Dash of Tabasco Sauce
- 1 pound backfin crabmeat, picked over
- 1/3 cup saltine cracker crumbs
- Vegetable oil, for frying (optional)
- Clarified butter (see Note) and/or olive oil, for sautéing(optional)
- Tartar Sauce and lemon wedges, for accompaniment
Mix the egg, mayonnaise, mustard, pepper, Chesapeake seasoning, Worcestershire, and Tabasco together in a blender or mixing bowl until frothy. Place the crabmeat in a bowl and sprinkle on the cracker crumbs. Pour the egg mixture over the top. Gently toss or fold the ingredients together, taking care not to break up the lumps of crabmeat. Form the cakes by hand or with an ice cream scoop into 8 mounds about 3 inches in diameter and ¾ inch thick. Do not pack the mixture too firmly. The cakes should be as loose as possible, yet still hold their shape. Place the cakes on a tray or platter lined with wax paper, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cooking.
Pour oil into large skillet to a depth of about 1½ inches. Heat the oil and fry the crab cakes, a few at a time, until golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side. Remove with a slotted utensil to paper towels to drain. Or broil the cakes: Slip them under a preheated broiler until nicely browned, turning to cook evenly, about 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Or sauté the cakes: Heat a small amount of clarified butter or olive oil, or a combination, in a skillet and sauté the cakes, turning several times, until golden brown, about 8 minutes total cooking time.
Serve at once, with Tartar Sauce and lemon wedges on the side.
1998 John Shields