My first step into the world of professional cooking was in the country of Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea. Several years later, I decided to make cooking my career.
I knew that to learn what I wanted to, I needed to travel, and work to gain the culinary knowledge that school could never teach me.
After graduation, my dog Titan, great friend Josh Silverman, and I crossed the country from Flagstaff, Arizona to Bar Harbor, Maine with the mission of honing our seafood skills. The three of us ended up residing in an attic space in an old New England style four-story house. The house was fairly run down, and when there was a strong wind you would feel the disturbing movement of the old building rocking back and forth.
I picked up an early morning job in a bakery making bagels. At noon, I would head across the street to a small 30-seat restaurant that served bistro-style casual French fare. The fresh fish we received daily was something that I had never seen before on that scale.
The owner and I would receive the orders and prep in the afternoon, and in the evening, the owner would tend the dining room, while I worked the line and did the dishes. The kitchen was a one-man show during service. I loved the food and pace, and the learning curve was huge.
Although the menu changed daily, there were always a couple of staples. New England style crab cakes with lemon aioli was one of them.
The most important thing I learned about crab cakes was less is more.
Crab cakes should be predominantly crab, and the best quality you can find. Lumps of crab meat should be visible, and the mixture should just barely hold together. If breadcrumbs are involved, they need to be used sparingly to avoid that gummy, sticky texture that can develop if overworked.
In the following recipe I have taken what I learned all those years ago in Bar Harbor, and added some Cedar flavor and smoked aioli for a Northwestern flair.
Crab Cake Ingredients:
- 3 Cedar Grilling Wraps
- 1 lb. Lump Crab Meat
- 4 slices Prosciutto
- 3 Tbsp. Mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
- 1/3 Cup Panko Bread Crumbs, plus extra
- 1 Tbsp. Lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp. Chives, chopped
- Kosher Salt and Pepper
Smoked Aioli Ingredients:
- 1 cup Maple Smoking Chips
- 1 cup Mild Olive Oil
- 3 Egg Yolks
- 1/2 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
- Kosher Salt
This recipe uses a new technique that I have been working on that I call ‘wrap form.’
This involves cutting a Cedar grilling wrap into strips, which get wrapped around something before cooking. I find this technique to be an effective way of infusing Cedar flavor into food items that require a sear, like crab cakes.
It is important to incorporate the ingredients gently, so the crab keeps its texture, and the cakes do not become pasty. This recipe makes about 10 crab cakes.
Smoked Aioli Directions:
Aioli is a scratch-made mayonnaise which is essentially an emulsification of egg yolks and oil. For this aioli, I smoked the oil before incorporating the eggs (this oil can be stored for other uses like smoked vinaigrette).
- Place the oil in a shallow pan and set in a cold smoker (you can also use a smoking gun and pot with a tight-fitting lid).
- Smoke the oil for 2 hours, adding more chips every 30 minutes.
- Remove the oil from the smoker.
- Place the egg yolks into a food processor and while the machine is running, add the oil in a very slow steady stream. This will take about 5 minutes. It is crucial to add the oil slowly. If you incorporate the oil too quickly it will not bind with the egg, and the aioli will simply not form.
- Add the lemon juice and salt, then put the aioli in the fridge to chill.
Crab Cake Directions:
- Drain the crab well. You can gently squeeze it to remove the water.
- Add the crab, mayonnaise, mustard, panko, salt, pepper, lemon juice and chives to a mixing bowl.
- Mix carefully, being cautious not to break up the crab meat. Take a little of the mixture and squeeze it into a ball, if it holds its shape you are ready, if not add a little more panko.
- Using your hands, form ten crab cakes.
- Cut the ham into 1″ wide strips and wrap one around each crab cake.
- Place the crab cakes in the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up, which makes the next step of adding the Cedar grilling wraps much easier.
- Soak the Cedar grilling wraps in warm water for a few minutes and cut into 1″ wide strips, making sure you cut or tear with the grain.
- Remove the crab cakes from the freezer and carefully wrap a piece of Cedar around each one and secure with twine.
- Add the extra panko to a shallow dish and gently press the cakes in it to coat the top and bottom.
- To cook the crab cakes, pre-heat a cast iron skillet or saute pan. Add some oil (I used some extra smoked oil) and when it’s very hot, add the crab cakes.
- Cook on high heat for 2 minutes before turning over, and cook for 2 more minutes.
- The crab cakes should be golden brown on both sides.
- To serve the cakes, remove the Cedar strips and top with smoked aioli, chopped chives and fresh lemon wedges.
This recipe really brings me back to my kitchen days in Maine. Sadly, neither Titan or Josh are with us today, but this recipe is dedicated to them. Although one of them would consume a lot more of these than the other, I know they would both find these crab cakes delicious.
Matt worked his first kitchen job in the country of Malta at the age of 15. He has worked as a restaurant Chef in Arizona, Maine, Spain, the UK, Oregon and finally North Idaho. Now the Executive Chef at Wildwood Grilling, he thoroughly enjoys his day job.