When You Need the Whole Crew to Make Crab Cakes

Kitchn Diary: Anne in South Carolina

I love the beach, the more old school, the better. I like sitting on the beach with a book and a cold cocktail in a Tervis tumbler, dipping my feet in the bucket reserved for that purpose to rinse off the sand before I go inside. I like to cook in a barely air conditioned kitchen with worn, wood floors and just enough light to make the food look pretty. Coffee tastes best on a hot screen porch overlooking the ocean, shrimp tastes better over grits, and crab cakes are even more delicious when you pick the crab yourselves, no matter how much work it is. It's like a team building exercise for the whole family!

The group effort begins at once. I've usually been at the beach for several days. Whoever is coming in right before dinner has to stop at Flowers Seafood and pick up the live crabs, two dozen large males, please. When they get to the house, I'll put the whole bag in the freezer to calm them down.

While they steam, someone covers the table on the porch with newspaper or a plastic table cloth and we get out the picking tools. As soon as the crabs are cool enough to touch, the work begins. We sit around the table, cracking and picking, some more skilled than others. (The kids get better every year.) We share tools, eating a little bit of crab and talking up a storm, because our hands are too dirty to go anywhere near a cell phone.

If someone decides to take a break and washes their hands, that's fine. They can re-fill our drinks and bring more napkins. This is not a pretty job, but it's rewarding. Though it seems impossible at the beginning, the fresh crab meat starts to pile up in the bowl in the middle of the table, even though we're eating as we work. The view makes the work a little less tedious.

I'm a little bit of a control freak. Crab isn't cheap, and it's hard work, so I've been known to rifle through the pot full of discarded shells, just in case someone missed a juicy leg or failed to see a hidden chunk of meat in the corner of a shell. One thing I know from picking crab myself is that crab cakes in restaurants are expensive for a reason, at least the ones with more crab than filler. This is time consuming work and it takes a fair amount of precision! Those cans of crab meat are ruined for me. Imagining how they manage to sell them so cheaply makes me wonder where that meat came from, and what it really is.

By the time we've picked all the crab, we usually aren't hungry for more than a little roasted asparagus and a salad. There is an awful lot of eating that goes along with the picking. But the next day? Crab cakes are on the menu. All crab, with a little bit of chopped pepper and onion for flavor, and just enough egg, mayo and bread crumbs to hold them together. Crab cakes are never as good away from the beach.

What do you make that's worth the effort? And are there dishes you only make in certain places?

(Image credits: Anne Wolfe Postic)