My 5 trap recreational lobster license gets me plenty of lobsters when they’re crawling around the bottom. But when they’re not around, I get peekytoe crabs instead. Most are too small to bother with, but the larger ones go into my floating crate and stay there until I decide to have a meal of the sweet, tender native Maine crabmeat.
Crabs deserve their name. They’re well, crabby. Ready to fight as soon as you try to grab them, they raise their claws and maneuver around like Muhammad Ali. The best way to handle them is to wear a thick rubber glove and get them from behind, and fling them into a bucket before they have time to grab you. In the bucket they will fight with whatever is already in there. I usually find missing legs when I dump them out.
When it’s time to make a meal of them I use long tongs to get them out of the floating crate. Last time I cooked 13 of them and ended up with 1-1/3 lbs of picked meat, which at our local supermarket would cost at least $25.00. That’s a little under 2 ounces per crab. I talked in detail about how to cook and pick the meat here.
Picking crabmeat is tedious and slow, best accomplished by the full group of folks who will be eating the meal. Making the pound and a third of meat into crabcakes is one of my favorite ways of using it, and it is able to feed four people with leftovers. Crabmeat is very rich; you won’t want more than 1/4 pound per person. The recipe below is my favorite, substituting egg whites for the usual mayo. Don’t expect to have completely shell-free meat, there will be fragments. Chew lightly. If you follow this recipe and use your own crabs or very freshly picked meat, there will be no chance you will ever have a better crabcake at any price.
Please be aware that crab meat is not something you want hanging around in your fridge. Use it quickly; within a few days.
1 pound fresh lump crabmeat
2 eggs, separated
1 heaping tablespoon coarse grain mustard
¼ pound (1 stick) butter, divided
2 tablespoons minced mild onion
½ cup chopped ripe red bell pepper or ¼ cup green
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice
fine dry bread crumbs
Sprinkle the juice of half the lemon over the crabmeat in a bowl to freshen it. (If the lemon is not juicy, use the juice from the whole lemon.) In a separate small bowl, mix the mustard with the egg yolks.
Melt half the butter (4 tablespoons) in a skillet over low heat and add the onion and bell pepper, cooking until the onion begins to become transparent. Add the vinegar, raise the heat, and reduce until the vinegar has evaporated. Pour the mixture over the crabmeat, add the egg yolk mixture, and toss all together, being careful not to break up the big clumps of crabmeat. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cayenne, and a tablespoon of fresh chopped herbs.
In another large mixing bowl, add about 2 cups of fine dry bread crumbs. These are infinitely tastier if you use dried leftover rolls or baguettes and freshly grate them (I keep them in a paper bag.). Just before cooking the crabcakes, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Beat the egg whites stiff and fold into the crab mixture.
Reach down into the crab and fill your palm with a scoop of the mixture. Gently press it into a cake about 3 inches wide and about 1 inch thick. Place 1 cake at a time down in the bread crumbs. Scoop up crumbs from around the cake and pour over the top of the cake. Do not mash the cake or press the crumbs into it: you only want a dusting of crumbs on the cake, not in it.
When the butter is foamy, gently pick up the first cake and put it in the pan. Continue making the cakes and placing them in the pan. You should have six cakes which should fit into the skillet. Cook until browned — about 3 minutes — on the first side, then carefully turn each cake and cook on the other side.
When cooked, the cakes should resemble nothing more than seasoned crabmeat, slightly crisp on the outside. Work carefully and they will not split.