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I'm happiest when the food I make becomes a backdrop to a lively conversation. When I'm not cooking, I'm traveling or dreaming about travel. Come sit with me, and enjoy! Read more here.

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« going fishing? try fish meuniere with capers | Main | rugelach: a buttery favorite I can't live without »

no more crumby crab cakes

Many know Chef Michel Richard through his enormous coffee table cookbook “Happy in the Kitchen.” If you have the book, you also know that he’s a genius in food science and innovation.

I discovered Richard’s no-crumb crab cakes not from the elephant size book (you won’t find this recipe there) but at the St. Michaels Food and Wine Festival I attended on Maryland’s Eastern Shore a couple of weeks ago. The French-born chef uses scallops and unflavored gelatin to bind the crab cakes. His tartar sauce takes the dish a step further, brightening it with flavors of fresh ginger, chili, and leeks. Richard himself was unable to attend so he sent Cedric Maupillier, the (now former) executive chef of his Washington D.C. bistro ‘Central', to demonstrate this magic.

Meet Cedric:

Cedric Maupillier

Cedric Maupillier

Meet the crab cake he made, which demonstrates in its form and simplicity why he is Central's executive chef.

Cedric Maupillier crab cakes

The recipe Cedric handed out at the festival lacked a few details, so I have adapted it with a few tips you might find useful.

Hint: Try this tartare recipe with any fish. It's delicious!

Crab Cakes with Leek Tartare

1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
2 large scallops
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tsp mustard seed
1 package unflavored gelatin
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

For the tartare
2 ¾ pounds leeks (about 4), about 1 to 1 ½ inches in diameter
1 shallot, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vineager
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
½ tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon chopped pickled ginger
2 tablespoons minced chives
3 drops Tabasco sauce
fine sea salt, or to taste
freshly ground black peper

In a blender, blend the scallops with the mayonnaise (if you chop the scallops first, a hand blender works fine). Dissolve the gelatin in two tablespoons of warm water. With a spoon, mix the scallop mixture and the gelatin together in a bowl with the crab meat very tenderly. Add the mustard seed and salt and pepper.

Roll out a sheet of plastic wrap and pour mixture in. Wrap the mixture so it forms a small (2-3 inch diameter) tube and twist and tuck the ends so it’s contained. Store in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Make the tartare.

Cut off the dark green tops of the leeks and discard or set aside for another use. Cut off and discard the root ends. Cut each leek lengthwise in half. Place each half cut side down and slice crosswise into 1-inch pieces. You should have about 1 ½ cups of leeks.

Fill a large bowl with warm water and add the leeks. Using your hands, separate the layers of leeks, and swish them in the water; the sand and dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl. Let stand briefly. Then, with your hands or a skimmer, lift the leeks from the water without disturbing the sediment that has settled to the bottom.

Set a steamer basket in a pot over simmering water. Place the leeks in the basket, cover, and steam for about 8 minutes, or until they are almost translucent. Spread the leeks evenly on the lined pan, and place in the refrigerator to cool quickly.

Chop the leeks until they are a thick, mushy consistency. Wring out all the water by using a double layer of cheesecloth (I used a chinoise and pressed out the water using a wooden spoon).

Combine the leeks, shallot, and olive oil in a medium bowl. Stir in the vinegar, followed by mustard, mayonnaise, sugar, ginger, chives, Tabasco, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Remove the crab cake roll from the refrigerator. With a sharp knife, divide the tube into equal parts so each slice forms a crab cake (I like mine about an inch thick). Remove the plastic wrap.

crab cakes

crab cakes

Make sure each cake is packed tightly (you may need to gently push in the sides). Brush the crab cakes with olive oil and sauté each side on a non-stick griddle until golden brown (about two minutes per side). I like using a griddle because you need to flip them gently and the griddle allows you to flip them closer to the surface.

Place the crab cakes on an oven-proof plate and cook in the oven for five minutes.

Serve with tartare sauce and a squeeze of lemon.


Reader Comments (10)

This post is very inspiring. The "tarter sauce" is almost like a creamy salad which is beautiful.

Awesome post!

May 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterWe Are Never Full

This sounds fantastic! I hate those gooey cloyingly mayonaisy things often passed off as crab cakes. Makes me wonder where the crab is.

May 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commenternorecipes

i can honestly tell you that those are the best-looking crab cakes my eyes have ever seen. i haven't yet met a crab cake i liked, but this one has potential! :)

May 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGrace

We are never full: Thanks! I totally agree about the tartar sauce -- it's almost a meal onto itself!

NoRecipes: I hear ya! I hate it when restaurants "pad" the crab meat with a bunch of bread or mayonnaise. Thanks for visiting!

Grace: Thanks! I hope these crab cakes will convert you! :)

May 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Those are gorgeous!

I recently learned to make breadcrumb free salmon cakes and they were great.

I love Michel Richard's book, it's so pretty.

May 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrilynn

It's very gutsy to test & push the envelope on the crab cake but it works here. The gelatin approach is so cool, chemistry in the kitchen.

As for you, my dear Angela...you keep bangin' out wonderful dishes...I bow!

May 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPeter M

i love crab cakes (and uh, who doesn't??) and would love to try this out with agar agar instead of the gelatin!

May 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermimi

Thanks, Brilynn! I love 'Happy in the Kitchen' too. It's such a gorgeous cookbook. The salmon cakes sound great. I'm curious to know what you use as a binder.

Thanks, Peter! Yeah, the gelatin is such a cool idea. These little cakes are so dense and rich! As for banging out the great dishes, look who's talking -- I bow to YOU, my friend.

Mimi: Thanks! I would be interested to know how agar agar works. Let me know if you find out!

May 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Who would have known? Wow, I love how inventive this is. It is humbling, isn't it?

Jenn: It's true -- great food innovations are so humbling! On the one hand, you think, 'I should have thought of that,' and on the other hand you're so thankful someone else did so you can enjoy it!

May 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

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