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Crab Cake Evolution
I found some interesting information and history around Maryland's delicacy. I decided to share but I will share my crab cake!!! (please see full site credit below)
Crab cakes, as we Americans know them today, are most often associated with Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay area. They are considered a popular traditional specialty. How did this recipe evolve? Food historians tell us the practice of making minced meat cakes/patties (seafood/landfood) is ancient. Minces mixed with bread/spices/fillers came about for two reasons: taste and economy. Primary evidence suggests recipes for crab-cake types dishes were introduced to the colonies by English settlers. About rissoles and croquettes.
About Maryland crabs [blue soft shell (molting) crabs are used for making crab cakes]
About blue crabs [biology, industry & FAQs]
A survey of historic American cookbooks confirms crab recipes were popular from colonial days forward. In the 19th century crab recipes proliferated. Many of these combined bread crumbs and spices; some were fried. These recipes are variously called "to stew crabs," "to fry crabs," "to dress crab," "crab patties" or "crab croquettes." Sometimes they stand alone, others they are noted as possible variations under similar fish/shellfish recipes. The phrase "crab cake" appears to be a 20th century appellation. Notes here:
"Crab cake. A sauteed or fried patty of crabmeat. The term dates in print to 1939 in Crosby Gaige's New York World's Fair Cook Book, where they are called "Baltimore crab cakes," suggesting they have long been known in the South. A "crabburger" is a crab cake eaten on a hamburger bun."
---Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 103)
The earliest print references we find for "crab cakes," were published in Maryland (and surrounding area) newspapers. They were generally restaurant advertisements; not recipes. Sample here:
"Dolls' and City Hotel Cafes...crab cakes..."---News [Frederick MC], April 24, 1899 (p. 3)
The proliferation of commercial canned crab products promoted recipes: Sample here:
"Crab Meat in Cans. The clean, white meat, picked out and packed by the Tangier Packing Co., by reputation the best in their line. Directions on each can for preparing...crab cakes."---Trenton Times [NJ], November 1, 1909 (p. 4)[NOTE: recipe not included in the advertisement.]
Crab cake recipes through time
"To fry Crabs
Take the meat out of the great claws being first boiled, flour and fry them and take the meat out of the body strain half if it for sauce, and the other half to fry, and mix it with grated bread, almond paste, nutmeg, salt, and yolks of eggs, fry in clarified butter, being first dipped in batter, put in a spoonful at a time; then make sauce with wine-vinegar, butter, or juyce of orange, and grated nutmeg, beat up the butter thick, and put some of the meat that was strained into the sauce, warm it and put it in a clean dish, lay the meat on the sauce, slices of orange over all, and run it over with beaten butter, fryed parasley, round the dish brim, and the little legs round the meat."
---The Accomplist Cook, Robert May, facsimile 1685 edition [Prospect Booksevon] 2000 (p. 412)
[NOTE: This book contains several crab-cake type recipes.]
"To Dress a Crab.
Having taken out the Meat, and cleaned it from the Skin, put it into a Stew-pan, with half a Pint of White Wine, a little Nutmeg, Pepper, and Salt over a slow Fire; throw in a few Crumbs of Bread, beat up one Yolk of an Egg with one Spoonful of Vinegar, throw it in, and shake the Sauce-pan round a Minute, then serve it up on a Plate."
---The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, By a Lady (Hannah Glasse) facsimile reprint with essays [Prospect Booksevon] 1995 (p. 95)
"To dress a Crab.
Boil the crab well in sat and water, and when cold break it up, mix the meat in the inside of the shell well together, break the large claws, take out the meat, and cut it fine, lay it over the shell-meat as handsome as you can in the shell, put it in the dish, split the chine in two, and put at each end, crack the small claws and put them round; mix some oil and vinegar, a little mustard, pepper, and salt, and put it over the meat in the shell; garnish with parsley."
---The New Art of Cookery According to Present Practice, Richard Briggs [Printed for W. Spotswood, R. Campbell and B. Johnsonhiladelphia] 1792 (p. 99)
Crab and Lobster Cutlets, Jennie June's American Cookery Book, Jane Cunningham Croly
Lift the shell at both sides and remove the spongy substance found on the back. The pull off the "apron," which will be found on the under side, and to which is attached a substance like that removed from the back. Now wipe the crabs, and dip them in beaten egg, and then in fine bread or cracker crumbs. Fry in boiling fat from eight to ten minutes, the time depending upon the size of the crabs. Serve with Tartare sauce. Or, the egg and bread crumbs may be omitted. Season with salt and cayenne, and fry as before. When broiled, crabs are cleaned, and seasoned with salt and cayenne; are then dropped into boiling water for one minute, take up, and broiled over a hot fire for eight minutes. They are served with maitre d'hotel butter or Tartare sauce."
---Miss Parloa's New Cook Book and Marketing Guide, [Estes & Lauriat:Boston MA] 1880 (p. 129)"
Note: ancient recipes aside, please steam our crabs... Do not boil them & that goes for shrimp too!
Modern recipe for crab cakes:
1 lb. crab meat
2 slices of bread
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
2 tsp. parsley flakes
1/2 tsp. prepared yellow mustard
Crumble bread into small pieces, mix all ingredients well with the crab meat. Shape into patties & broil or fry. Makes awesome sandwiches!
Information credit found here
About culinary research & about copyright
Research conducted by Lynne Olver,
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