How To

Crab Cakes for Free

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There’s nothing better than crab cakes at any time of the year, and if you’re going to the shore for a vacation, you can catch all the crabs you need for crab cakes throughout the winter for free or nearly free.

There’s nothing better than crab cakes at any time of the year, and if you’re going to the shore for a vacation, you can catch all the crabs you need for crab cakes throughout the winter for free or nearly-free.

Have you checked the prices of crab meat in the seafood stores lately? If you have, you know that it’s often the most expensive meat per pound sitting on ice behind the glass window. However, often for less than $20, you can catch plenty of blue crabs all along the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.

As a youngster, any time my family vacationed at the beach, I’d have a roll of 150 to 200 yards of nylon line packed in my suitcase. When we arrived at the beach or the bay, I’d go to fish cleaning stations and hunt for discarded fish heads. I’d take those fish heads back to where we were staying, walk out on the closest pier or dock, tie the fish heads onto a link of nylon line, let the fish heads down by the dock and watch my lines. I’d usually have six to eight lines out at all times. When I saw the lines move, I would take my long-handled dip net to the spot where I had tied the line and begin to very slowly pull in the line. Most of the time, I would see a big fat blue crab holding onto the fish head with its pincers. I would dip up the crab and the bait and put the crab in a plastic bucket. In a morning of crabbing, I could catch from 10 to 30 blue crabs and about the same number in the afternoon. I also learned that when I could put out my crab lines near a fish cleaning station, the number of crabs I caught went up dramatically.

Later, I purchased a circular crab net. I would tie my bait in the bottom, swing it off the dock and let it lay flat on the bottom. When I pulled the net in, the crabs would be caught inside the net, and I could catch more than one crab at a time. Then when I was older, after buying a crab basket, I’d fill up the bait trap inside the wire basket, set it beside the dock, let it sit for two or three hours and catch even more crabs. Every night, we’d prepare a big pot of boiling water with commercial crab boil you can buy at any seafood store and most grocery markets, and drop the live crabs I had caught into that boiling water. Within about five to 10 minutes, the crabs would be cooked. We’d pour the crabs out on old newspaper and clean them. We’d crack open the crab claws to get the meat inside, and we’d get the chunky crab meat from inside the cooked crab shell. We always would have more crabs than we could eat. So, we’d pick the meat out of the pincers and shell, and put the meat in a container on ice or in the refrigerator. The next night we would have crab cakes—which I dearly love.

Check out some of my favorite crab recipes below.

Learn how to clean and prepare crabs for cooking here.

Catching crabs is as easy as tying a fish head onto a string and pitching the fish head out in the water to attract the crabs.

Catching crabs is as easy as tying a fish head onto a string and pitching the fish head out in the water to attract the crabs.

Fried crab fingers

Crab fingers are a delicious appetizer that can be served to accompany other seafood dishes or vegetables. Soak the crab fingers in the wet mix first, and then put the crab fingers in the dry mix before frying.

Ingredients for wet mix:

  • 1 egg
  • 2/3-cup of milk
  • 1 teaspoon creole seasoning
  • 1/2-teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2-teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2-teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/2- teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon corn flour or fish fry mix
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • Salt and freshly-ground black or white pepper

Ingredients for dry mix

  • 1 cup corn flour or fish fry mix
  • 1/2-cup corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons creole seasoning
  • 1/2-teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2-teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon and pepper seasoning

Preparation

Prepare the crab claws by peeling away the shells. You’ll only be using the pincer ends of the claws. Put the claws in the wet mix, stir, and marinate them for 30 or more minutes in the refrigerator. Place the claws in the dry mix, and let sit a minute or so, stirring it just a little. Use about 1 inch of peanut oil in a pan, depending on the depth of the pan, and heat to 350 degrees. Fry the claws until golden brown. Claws cook quickly. Yield: depends on amount of crab fingers.

Crab cakes for two

This simple crab cake recipe is probably our family’s favorite.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of fresh lump crabmeat not frozen (fresh crabmeat won’t have an overly fishy smell)
  • 1 lemon, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 large egg white
  • Flour
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 handfuls butter lettuce
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (citrus, if available)
  • Champagne vinegar, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons capers

Preparation

Place fresh crabmeat in a bowl; pick over for shells. Squeeze 1 lemon wedge over crab; salt and pepper lightly. Beat egg white until foamy, and mix in with the crab. Using as little flour as possible (1 to 2 tablespoons), form this mixture into four crab cakes. Melt 2 to 3 tablespoons butter in a flat, heavy skillet, until sizzling and just beginning to brown. Carefully add crab cakes. Brown on one side until crispy; turn carefully; and brown the other side. Remove to a platter. While cakes are browning, put lettuce in a bowl. Drizzle lettuce with extra-virgin olive oil, and toss until coated. Then sprinkle with champagne vinegar to taste, and toss. To make sauce, add remaining two tablespoons butter to the hot skillet, stirring to dislodge any crab bits stuck to the skillet. When the butter begins to brown, squeeze in the juice of 1/2-lemon, and turn off the heat. Throw in capers, and toss. Divide lettuce onto two plates, top each with two crab cakes, and drizzle with sauce.

More crab recipes are available from John and Denise Phillips’ The Best Wild Game and Seafood Cookbook Ever: 350 Southern Recipes for Deer, Turkey, Fish, Seafood, Small Game and Birds, available here from Amazon.

Images by John E. Phillips

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