Goldilocks Crab Cakes

Crab cakes come in three styles:

  • Those that have so much filler you wonder if there is any crab at all;
  • Those that are all crab, but unfortunately, don’t hold together in the pan or on the plate (I love these, usually prepared by seasoned restaurant cooks who have a knack for it, but it’s frustrating to cook them at home);
  • Those that are mostly crab, but have just enough binding ingredients to delicately hold them together without upstaging the crab.

This recipe, from my last cookbook, Par Fork! The Golf Resort Cookbook, is firmly in the latter camp — plenty of crab but also just enough binder so the cakes stay together before and after cooking.

Think of them as Goldielocks crab cakes — just right.

There is no flour or bread crumbs in the crab mixture, although I use both to coat the cakes. Because of that, chilling the crab cake mixture is extremely important in keeping these crab-heavy cakes together.

There are three parts to this recipe but the good news is each recipe can can stand alone — sort of.

You can make just the crab cakes. You can make just the citrus fennel slaw. The citrus aïoli? I’m not certain you want to eat it by itself, but you might want to make a batch to use on a simple grilled fish or chicken breast, or as a lovely topping for spring asparagus.

This citrus flavored aïoli is a short cut, calling for prepared mayonnaise, but if you’d like to make your own, watch this Food 52 video about making it from scratch. Then just substitute your homemade mayo for the commercial kind in the recipe below.

Whatever you do, I hope you try each of these easy recipes — together or separately.

Crab Cakes with Citrus Aïoli & Fennel Slaw

Good crab is paramount to good crab cakes. Don’t use the shredded crab found in 6 ounce cans in the grocery store. Look for a quality brand sold in 1 pound containers at high end grocery stores or specialty markets. Some Costco outlets sell a good brand called Phillips.

[print recipe]

Makes 7 (3-inch) cakes

Crab Cake Ingredients:

1 pound cooked lump crab meat
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup finely chopped fennel bulb (replace with finely chopped red onion if you prefer)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 teaspoons lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg

Scant 1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Vegetable or peanut oil for frying


1. Pick over crab to remove any shells. Blot with paper towels if excessively moist.

2. Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. When hot, add celery and fennel. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove from heat to cool.

3. Mix crabmeat, cooled vegetables, mayonnaise, herbs, and lemon zest together until well combined. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Beat in 1 egg until well combined. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, up to 4 hours.

4. Set up a breading station with the flour in 1 bowl, the 2 beaten eggs in another bowl, and the panko in a third bowl.

5. Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Pour in enough oil to come to a 1/4-inch depth. While the pan is heating, prepare the crab cakes.

6. Scoop 3-ounce portions, roughly 1/3 cup. (A #12 ice cream scoop is 1/3 cup.) Form into patties, about 3 inches in diameter.

7. First dip in flour to lightly coat cake, dusting off excess. Dip in beaten egg then roll in panko to completely cover. You can prepare the cakes up to this point and store covered in the refrigerator, up to 4 hours.

8. Heat the oven to 350°F. Fry cakes until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.  Place on a baking sheet and finish cooking in the oven until done, about 5 to 7  minutes.

Quick Citrus Aïoli

Makes 1 cup


1 cup mayonnaise
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon lime juice
Salt and freshly ground white pepper


Whisk first 5 ingredients (mayonnaise through lime juice) together.  Season with salt and white pepper to taste.  May be prepared 2 days in advance.  Store covered in the refrigerator, up to 3 days.

Fennel & Endive Slaw with Citrus Vinaigrette

You can make the citrus vinaigrette ahead of time, but wait to slice the fennel and endive until you’re ready to serve to keep the salad fresh and bright.  For super thin fennel, use a mandoline or slicer.  Try to find purple-tinged Belgian endive to add a color contrast to the pale fennel.

Serves 4

Vinaigrette Ingredients:
1/4 cup grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
1/2 teaspoon minced shallots
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Slaw Ingredients:

1 small fennel bulb thinly shaved (about 2 cups)
2 to 3 small Belgian endive (5 ounces) thinly sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped tarragon


1. Whisk (or blend in blender) the first 7 ingredients (grapefruit juice through garlic) together. Slowly whisk in olive oil (or drizzle into blender with machine on).

2. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper to taste. Store covered in the refrigerator. (May be prepared up to 3 days in advance.)

3. Toss fennel with endive and herbs. Drizzle with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the salad and toss again. (You may have leftover vinaigrette. Use up within 3 or 4 days.)

2 replies
  1. Linda
    Linda says:

    Just in time, I have a 1/2 package of crab that I needed to use by today and now I don’t even have to think about what to make with it! Yay and thanks! xoox

    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      Thanks, Linda… and I know that you’ll put your own spin on them and they’ll be outrageously delicious! xo


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.