Some folks say “Yum!” Some let off a long, low “mmmmmm.” Me? I praise the Lord. I mean, I have church. It’s the perfect bite that brings it out of me. It can happen anywhere–in a restaurant, at my mama’s table. When I taste it, the words just naturally roll off my tongue. Crunch. Thank you holy Jesus. Taste. Glory to your name Father. Swallow. Halleluiah. It’s not every time I eat, but when it happens, you’ll know. I raise my hands in praise and get the oddest looks from those around me. When I made these crab cakes, it happened.
This is what a crab cake should be. This my friends, is the best crab cake in the world. If heaven were a taste, you’re looking at it. Made up of lump crab meat and a few spices with only an egg white to bind everything together, the flavor of crab meat is the main event. No saltines, no breading–this is a true crab cake. Inspired by the King of the Lowcountry himself, the late beloved writer Pat Conroy, this recipe comes from “The Pat Conroy Cookbook.”
Any good cook will tell you, a beautiful meal starts with the finest ingredients. Prosser’s Wholesale Shrimp is a hidden gem in Brooklet, Georgia. It’s where the locals go to get wild Georgia shrimp, crab legs, crab meat and all the fixin’s for their lowcountry boils. It’s where I went to get my crab meat. Even while I shopped, the owner’s father was shrimping on the Southern seacoast.
At the Statesboro Mainstreet Farmers’ Market, I picked up some homegrown hot peppers and a bunch of garlic chives. I seeded and chopped the pepper, and it gave my crab cakes a nice kick and punch of color.
Combine one pound of lump crab meat with chopped pepper and garlic chives, then season with cayenne pepper, freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt.
Beat one egg white lightly and pour over the crab mixture.
Fold everything together gently. Once the crab meat has absorbed the egg white and is sticky to the touch, sift one tablespoon of all-purpose flour into the mix.
The recipe makes eight cakes. They are very fragile. To form the cakes, divide the crab mixture into eight balls. Then flatten each one slightly with the palm of your hand. Season each one with a little more kosher salt. Refrigerate the cakes for at least an hour.
Combine a teaspoon of peanut oil and about a tablespoon of butter in a skillet and let it get hot. This is the secret to a beautiful, crunchy crust.
Gently lay the crab cakes in the skillet. I put my first one in the pan as if it were a hamburger and it immediately crumbled. It’s all good though, because you’ll have eight chances to get it right. When you flip them, a small flat spatula will make the job easiest. Keep them very close to the bottom of the pan and be as delicate as possible. Not going to lie, flipping crab cakes is a stressful experience. Here’s the good news: they’re edible no matter what their shape. 😉
Serve them on a bed of greens with lemon wedges, a side of grits and a cold glass of sweet tea. It’s sure to be a lowcountry experience no matter where you live.
Excerpted from “The Pat Conroy Cookbook” by Pat Conroy copyright © 2004
Pat Conroy’s Crab Cakes
- 1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over and cleaned, with all shell fragments removed
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten (until just foamy, not stiff)
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons fresh chives, finely snipped
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons peanut oil
- Lemon wedges
Place the cleaned crabmeat in a medium mixing bowl. Pour the egg white over crabmeat slowly, stopping occasionally to mix it through. When the crabmeat has absorbed the egg white and feels slightly sticky to the touch, sift the flour over crabmeat and sprinkle the chives, black pepper, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon of the salt evenly over the top. Lift the crabmeat from the bottom of the bowl, turning it over gently, to mix the ingredients without overhandling.
Separate the crabmeat into 8 equal portions and gently roll each between the flattened palms of your hands to form loose balls. Flatten slightly and transfer to a plate. Sprinkle both sides liberally with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cooking.
Line a baking pan with paper towels. Fry the crab cakes in two batches to ensure a crisp crust. Using a small (8-inch) heavy skillet that conducts heat well, melt half the butter and oil together until the mixture is foamy and begins to brown. Carefully place the crab cakes in the hot fat and fry until a crust forms, turning only once, about 2 minutes per side. (The fat should be sizzling hot, enabling a crisp crust to form before the crab absorbs the cooking fat. This is the Southern secret to perfect crab cakes.) A small pastry spatula (with a thin tongue) will make lifting and turning the delicate crab cakes a lot easier. Remove the crab cakes and drain in the prepared pan. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm while you make the second batch.
Carefully pour off the cooking fat from the first batch, wipe out the pan, and return it to the heat. Prepare the second batch of crab cakes using the remaining butter and oil.
Serve hot with lemon wedges. Makes 8 crab cakes.
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Georgia native Rebekah Faulk Lingenfelser is a freelance writer, entertainer and food enthusiast who writes and speaks about her love of good food and the Coastal South. A Season 2 Contestant on ABC’s “The Taste,” she is the former Statesboro Herald food columnist and past host of the television program “Statesboro Cooks.” From 2012 – ’14, she appeared regularly as Celebrity Chef at the Statesboro Main Street Farmers’ Market and wrote as a guest blogger for Visit Savannah and The Local Palate. In addition, her work is published in Moments magazine and Connect Statesboro. Her culinary accomplishments are recognized in two publications: She is a featured alumna in Georgia Southern Magazine (Spring ’14) and the “Go Girl!” in Moments magazine (March 2104), a tabloid for moms and modern women. To learn more, visit RebekahFaulk.wix.com/RebekahFaulk.