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Top Pick Of The Week

September 11, 2007

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Crab Cake

If you measure three inches with a ruler, you’ll find that these crab cakes are the diameter of a large orange. As you can see, they’re solid jumbo lump crab meat—no filler. They’re golden brown from baking in the oven—no extra fat required. Photo by Victoria Marshman | THE NIBBLE.

WHAT IT IS: Jumbo lump crab cakes.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: The crab is delicious and the lumps of white crab meat are truly jumbo. In the three-inch crab cake above, the center top portion that’s visible, from front to back, is composed of five large lumps of meat. We love the flavored varieties even more than the plain ones—you can tell these crab cakes are made by caterers who aim to please.
WHY WE LOVE IT: There’s no need to go in search of great crab cakes: They come to you, and practically jump out of the box, into the oven, and back onto your plate, ready to eat.
WHERE TO BUY IT: Call 1.301.682.8080 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, Eastern Time. TheCrabLadies.com website is under construction.
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The Crab Ladies:
Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes

Railroad tycoon Diamond Jim Brady (1856-1917) was a grandiose eater. He was known to begin dinner with 72 oysters, followed by a course of six deviled crabs, moving on to a few servings of green turtle soup, six or seven lobsters and some terrapin. He had a couple of ducks and a sirloin steak before ending with desserts (followed by two pounds of candy). But the man loved his seafood.

Diamond Jim would have been the number one customer of The Crab Ladies. How many crab cakes would he have worked into breakfast, lunch and dinner? Which flavors? The Crab Ladies offer three—Original, Artichoke Three Cheese and Bacon & Gruyère (plus a gluten-free Original). These are three-inch diameter crab cakes, mounded high. One crab cake makes an ample first course, or even a second course with enough sides. And the meat is spectacular. The huge lumps of white crab are so beautiful that everyone will comment on their loveliness before settling down to the gastronomical pleasure of actually eating them. Great for dinner parties, gifts, even dieting—the crab cakes get baked, not fried. Read the full review below.

  • Read reviews of more of our favorite gourmet seafood  in THE NIBBLE online magazine.
  • See the Table of Contents of the September issue of THE NIBBLE, plus the prior issues archive and our most popular articles.
  • All of the Top Pick Of The Week newsletters are permanently archived on TheNibble.com, in chronological order and by product category.
THE NIBBLE does not sell the foods we review
or receive fees from manufacturers for recommending them.

Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories.

 

The Seafood Diet

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The Crab Ladies: Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes

INDEX OF REVIEW

MORE TO DISCOVER

The Crab Ladies frozen gourmet crab cakes has been three years in the making. That’s because, say the ladies who founded the business, it has taken them that long to figure out how to freeze their jumbo lump crab cakes without compromising the taste. Since selling fresh crab cakes to a nationwide audience of crab cake devotees didn’t make logistical sense, freezing was the only way. So they kept experimenting. The breakthrough came when they used a natural plant additive that keeps the crab tasting fresh after it has been frozen.

So the good news is, the experiments have paid off. You’d never know you weren’t eating a delicious, fresh crab cake. Thanks are due to Jill Rabin and Roma Campanaro, partners in a Maryland catering firm, who invested the time to figure out how to bring their signature dish, jumbo lump crab cakes, to crab cake dévotées nationwide.

The slightly bad news is, good crab cakes don’t come cheap. But for less than you’d pay at a restaurant, you can enjoy jumbo, juicy crab cakes at home—without spending for gas, gratuities, cocktails and wine mark-ups. You can even pretend you made them yourself. Each is shaped by hand, and whose to say those hands weren’t yours? Given the price of good meat these days, they might not even seem expensive. For a special occasion, or as a gift for the person who has everything, they are a crabtacular solution.

There are those (like us) who order crab cakes whenever they see them on the menu, hoping that a mound of solid crab meat will be placed in front of them. This is what The Crab Ladies deliver, only they’re bigger than the usual restaurant crab cakes, and the meat is truly jumbo lump meat. The excitement of forking through those jumbo lumps justifies the price. Most crab cakes, even pure crab meat (not filled with bread crumbs and other binders), don’t offer the wow factor of forking through such big, pure nuggets of white lump meat. The Crab Ladies are demanding in their search for the primo crustacean.

Rest assured that these crab cakes are solid meat, with just a teeny bit of egg and flour binding to hold the lumps together. There’s even a gluten-free version for people with allergies.

And, the cakes are made to bake in the oven—no need to add extra fat by frying, so dieters can enjoy them, too. (While the cooking instructions directed us to brush lightly with canola oil or melted butter, we didn’t, and were perfectly happy with our no-fat-added, beautifully-browned crab cakes. Nor did we grease our baking pan as directed—we used a nonstick baking sheet.)

Blue Crabs
Blue crabs from Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay.
Photo by Michael Thompson | IST.

Crab Cake Varieties

The Crab Ladies make more than delicious crab cakes: these have visual excitement, too. Huge lumps of crab meat are mounded into three-inch-diameter crab cakes—larger than we’ve seen at any restaurant. Hand-shaped, the cakes are lovely to look at. You can see the celery seed, bay leaf and red pepper. The crab cakes brown beautifully in the oven: In 40 minutes from freezer to oven, it looks like you spent all day picking crab meat and forming fulsome crab cakes.

One crab cake makes an ample first course, or even a second course with enough sides (see our serving suggestions below).

Artichoke Three Cheese Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes. Our tasters agreed: This flavor takes the cake. The artichoke gets a bit overwhelmed by the crab and the three cheeses, but the crab and cheese together are divine. (The crab ladies are mum on the three cheeses, but we can tell that one of them is Gruyère).

Bacon & Gruyère Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes. This variety isn’t too bacony, but the Gruyère adds such a delightful touch that we still preferred it to the “Original” (plain) crab cake. The Crab Ladies say they went intentionally subtle on the bacon because they didn’t want to overpower the crab flavor.  In our opinion, they can amp it up a bit, although the oceans will freeze over before we could create a better bacon crab cake.

Original Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes. If you think you want a plain crab cake, chock full of big lumps of crab, that’s what you get here. We really liked it—we just liked the crab and cheese combos more.

Gluten-Free Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes. The Original, but made with rice flour instead of wheat flour. So little flour is used that there is no discernable taste difference.

Crab Cakes
Shred scallions, carrots and zucchini as a garnish. Photo by Marc Levack | IST.

Jumbo Lump Crab
A crab cocktail is so delicious (and low calorie), it can be eaten plain or with a squeeze of lemon.
The lump crabmeat shown is available from Hancock Lobster.

About Lump Crab

The blue swimming crab (or blue crab) is known for yielding the finest crabmeat available, and lump crab is the top grade of crabmeat. The large, solid lumps of snowy white meat are hand-picked intact (i.e., not flaked) from the swimming legs (the back legs). The meat is then selected for superior quality. Good lump crabmeat has sweet, succulent flavor and dramatic visual appeal.

Lump crabmeat is used in the most elegant presentations—when you want to see large pieces of crab—in a crab cocktail, crab cake, stuffed tomato or avocado. It is generally not used in a crab salad, where the crab is somewhat camouflaged when it is mixed with mayonnaise and celery, so flaked crab will do as well.

Jumbo lump crabmeat is generally sold canned, and it does come with sticker shock: Expect to pay $40.00 to $50.00 a pound.

Crabmeat comes from a variety of sources. Much of the U.S. crab supply comes from the Pacific Rim, where there is not only a supply of crustaceans, but the labor to painstakingly process it. The Crab Ladies keep seeking out the best sources of premium jumbo lump crab, and are currently using crabmeat from Indonesia and Venezuela, among other sources.

Crab Cakes And Salad
Serve crab cakes with a side of baby greens, decorated with snipped chives and some rémoulade sauce
. Photo by Kelly Cline | IST; crab cakes are not from The Crab Ladies but are shown as a serving suggestion.

Serving Suggestions

What to serve with crab cakes? These crab cakes are too good to smother in tartar sauce, but if you must...a dab. We prefer rémoulade sauce (shown in the photo—see recipe below), The Ojai Cook mayonnaises (any of the seasoned Lemonaise flavors in addition to their Bite Back Tartar Sauce), or the Garlic or Saffron Aïoli from Restaurant Lulu (both lines are Top Picks Of The Week).

For more elaborate plating, serve the crab cakes with:

  • A cup of lightly dressed baby greens—try a citrus olive oil; or regular olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • A piping of rémoulade sauce
  • A fan of fresh papaya
  • Roasted potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes
    or mashed sweet potatoes, French fries or
    sweet potato fries
  • Asian slaw or cole slaw
  • Grilled or steamed vegetables with a dab of herb butter or other compound butter (see Epicurean Butter)
  • Cold string bean salad or three-bean salad

We also like something a little sweet on the side: a conserve like cranberry sauce, or our homemade chunky apple sauce.

You can reheat leftover crab cakes or serve them cold on sandwiches—preferably on crusty bread or French rolls.

 

Rémoulade Sauce Recipe

Rémoulade is a popular sauce for seafood dishes. It can be used as a condiment for crab, shrimp, lobster and salmon dishes, fried seafood, or as a dressing for crab and shrimp salad. There are many variations on the recipe. Some are similar to Russian or Thousand Island dressing, in that they use some use ketchup have chopped sweet pickles. Others use and whole-grain mustard, chopped garlic, green onions, and celery. The classic Sauce Rémoulade from Julia Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking (Volume 1, 1961) adds anchovies, pickles, capers and herbs to mayonnaise. In the 1965 version of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, published a few years after Child’s first edition, the sauce is described as “mayonnaise highly seasoned with prepared mustard and parsley. Add (for 2 cups) 1 tablespoon capers and 1 sour pickle, chopped fine.”

Here is one that’s been “kicked up a notch” by Emeril Lagasse. You can find it along with other variations on Emerils.com. Here, instead of using prepared mayonnaise, you are making your own by combining vegetable oil with the egg and lemon juice.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions or scallions (green part only)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 2 tablespoons Creole or whole-grain mustard
    (learn more about the many types of mustard in our Mustard Glossary)
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard (we prefer Dijon)
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil or olive oil

Preparation

  1. Put the green onions, garlic, horseradish, mustards, ketchup, hot sauce, Worcestershire, lemon juice, egg, salt and cayenne in a food processor or blender. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds.
  2. With the motor running, slowly pour in the vegetable oil through the feed tube. The mixture will thicken. Transfer to a container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using. Best if used within 24 hours. Yield: about 2 cups.

Crabs walk sideways because that's the way their legs bend. Marine creatures have adapted to their environment: Water is about 830 times as dense as air, about 60 times as viscous. It’s much more difficult to move through. But no one will have difficulty leaping through air when you put crab cakes from The Crab Ladies on the table.

—Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to anyone who likes crab cakes or sends luxurious gifts.

THE CRAB LADIES

Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes

  • Six Four-Ounce Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
    Artichoke Three Cheese, Gluten-Free or
    Original
    $71.70
    Bacon & Gruyere
    $68.64
  • $8.00 Packaging Charge Includes
    Shipping In Dry Ice In Reusable
    Styrofoam Ice Chest
  • FedEx Shipping Charges Based On
    Delivery Destination

To order call 1.301.682.8080.

Website under development: TheCrabLadies.com

Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change.

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The Crab Ladies


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