Nancy Faidley-Devine, co-owner of Faidley Seafood in Lexington Market—well-known for its award-winning crab cake—gives us the scoop on cocktail vs. tartar, broiled vs. fried, and more.
Q: What are the essential ingredients for a crab cake?
A: There are three types of crabmeat to consider: jumbo lump (large pieces that come from the hind legs), backfin (smaller pieces from the crab's body), and regular (shreds from the claws and elsewhere). Faidley Seafood makes cakes from all three, but "jumbo lump's the filet mignon," Faidley-Devine says. Crushed saltine crackers and a brief rest help the baseball-sized cakes absorb the seasoned mayonnaise she calls her "sauce" and develop a light texture. Backfin and regular crab cakes are bound with bread crumbs, which result in denser, flatter cakes. Home recipes usually call for eggs, but Faidley eliminated them after the company started shipping crab cakes across the country. Most important? "The technique," says Faidley-Devine. "Make small batches and don't break up the lumps."
Q: Should crab cakes contain Old Bay Seasoning?
A:"It's not essential, but I sprinkle a little on the crabmeat. I don't put it in the sauce. It's got salt in it, so watch your other ingredients."
Q: Which is better with a crab cake: tartar sauce or cocktail sauce?
A: "This is a personal preference, but I don't like cocktail sauce. Crab has such a delicate flavor, I think the horseradish in cocktail sauce—ours is hot and spicy—overpowers it. Tartar sauce is more popular with the locals in Baltimore. Out-of-towners sometimes seem to think that all seafood needs cocktail sauce."
Q: What's the best kind of bread for a crab cake sandwich?
A: "Two-thirds of our customers prefer to eat their crab cakes with a fork, maybe with some saltines on the side. You might see big, hungry workmen who put them on any kind of bread they can find."
Q: Which is more authentic, broiled or fried?
A: "Crab cakes are formed in a round shape that's made to be fried. I drop them in 425-degree oil for two to three minutes till they're warm inside and the outside is sealed with a beautiful crunch. If you're going to broil crabmeat, you don't need the binder—just put it under the broiler in a dish."
Q: What are the best side dishes to have with a crab cake?
A: "Coleslaw and french fries are the best sellers, but we also make pickled cucumber salad, pickled beets, macaroni salad, marinated vegetables, and sweet carrot salad with pineapple and raisins."
Q: We know ice-cold beer goes well with steamed crabs, but what should you drink with crab cakes?
A: "We offer white Zinfandel and Moscato wines that go really well, along with beer. People who don't want alcohol seem to like the half-and-half iced tea and lemonade [known as an Arnold Palmer]."